Encouraging our leaders and others

Do you have a favorite sports team? If so, I want you to lock that team into your mind for just a moment. Perhaps you graduated from the TAMU or UT, so you are a die-hard Aggie or Longhorn. Maybe you live and breathe the Dallas Cowboys or the Rangers. If so, God bless you. What happens when your favorite team wins a big game? You respond like this: “WE DID IT! WE WON!” You may run around the living room high-fiving, chest-bumping, and doing a little jig. Now my question is: What role did you play in this victory? Maybe you bought a jersey or a cap, but the truth is you didn’t do anything that contributed to your team’s success. Yet, you feel intense ownership because this is YOUR team.

If you and I can feel this strongly about our favorite sports team, how much more intense should our feelings be for our local church? We need to think of the church as “we,” not “they.” Although churches are made up of individuals, when you and I speak of the church we must never say “they.” Instead we should say “we”…for we are the church!

 

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, we will learn about a church that we can get excited about. Although there are no “perfect” churches, the church in Thessalonica is a model church. As we study this church, we will learn how we can be a church that glorifies God and leads the world to Him. Specifically, in 1 Thess 1:1-10, we will see that God uses the church to encourage leaders. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

  1. Leaders need encouragement in ministry (1:1-5).

In this first section, we discover that even godly and competent leaders need encouragement. Even though many leaders look confident and secure on the outside, on the inside they can be discouraged and insecure. God’s leaders are constantly under attack from Satan and need to be encouraged. In 1:1, Paul introduces his letter with these words: “Paul and Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” Paul has written 13 New Testament books, yet this is the shortest of any of Paul’s greetings. He is obviously fond of this church and they are familiar with Paul and his traveling companions. Paul does not include his official title “apostle” in either 1 or 2 Thessalonians. This is also true of Philippians and Philemon. In Paul’s other nine epistles he uses his title, most likely because he is “under fire” from others. The reason for its omission in every case appears to have been the intimate and affectionate character of his relations with the parties addressed.

Paul includes “Silvanus and Timothy” because they were with him in Corinth when he wrote this letter, and these men had also assisted him in the building up of the Thessalonian church. More importantly, Paul seems to be affirming team leadership as the basic New Testament pattern. Paul was a team player that shared ministry and trained others to do ministry.

 

In your area of ministry, are you seeking to build a team? Have you sought to train others for ministry? Do you seek to train others so well that they surpass you in your ministry? Our MBC leaders have a team ministry philosophy. We are all co-equals who simply fulfill different responsibilities.

 

When Billy Graham received his Congressional Medal of Honor, the first thing he is reported to have said upon receiving the award is, “This has been a team effort from the very beginning,” and he proceeded to name the people who had ministered unto him through the years. In closing he said, “We did this together.” What a humble and God-honoring attitude!

 

It is worth noting that the phrase “in God” is as unusual as the phrase “in Christ” is familiar. The Thessalonians needed to be reminded that their sphere of protection and provision was “in God.” In the midst of tribulation and suffering it is easy to forget this. Still, in the greeting, Paul accords Jesus Christ equality with God the Father. Furthermore, he uses the full title of our Savior: “Lord Jesus Christ.” “Lord” refers to Yahweh—the God of the Old Testament. As “Lord,” Christ is God and the supreme Creator and Sustainer of the universe. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” This is His earthly name and points to His humanity. Yet, Jesus is not just an exalted man but the eternal God who became man that He might die for our sin. “Christ” refers to the long promised Messiah who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

 

The final words of Paul’s greeting are “grace and peace.” “Grace” was a common Greek salutation that meant “greeting” or “rejoice.” “Peace” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew shalom meaning “favor,” “well-being,” and “prosperity in the widest sense,” especially prosperity in spiritual matters. Paul used both words when he greeted the recipients of his epistles. God’s grace is the basis for and leads to our peace. When you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He gives you grace that leads to peace with God.

 

Paul now launches into the longest thanksgiving section in the entire New Testament. He is pumped about this church! Although Paul is quite pleased with this church, there is another reason he spends so much time expressing thanks. It is fairly certain that this congregation lacks confidence in their salvation. Consequently, Paul spends time affirming them. In 1:2-3 he writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.”

 

It’s been said, “You can tell a man’s values by what he appreciates.” In these verses, Paul expresses his deep appreciation for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians. The words “always” and “constantly” don’t indicate an uninterrupted task of incessant praying, but rather a faithful, regular pattern of prayer and thanksgiving. Nevertheless, these verses are challenging. They call you and me to pray for our church, specifically. Not just a generic, “Lord, bless our church,” but specific expressions of gratitude for individuals in our church. Start with your small group. Cry out to God for individuals in your ministry. Paul had a prayer list. Do you? Use a prayer list, a prayer diary, a prayer card. Stick a photo on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, or on the steering wheel of your car. Whatever it takes!

 

In 1:3, Paul shares three characteristics he appreciates about the Thessalonian believers. First, he mentions their “work of faith.” Salvation is God’s gift. Faith rests upon the work of God, not our work. Yet, when we rest on God’s work, God produces His work in us. Paul blesses these believers because of the works that followed their faith. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

Second, Paul refers to their “labor of love.” The word “labor” denotes wearying toil involving sweat and fatigue to the point of exhaustion. It is a love of blood, sweat, and tears. I remember one summer when I worked as a handyman’s apprentice. It was hard work. I labored because I had to, but I also labored because I wanted to. You see, I was working to learn things I have used ever since. This was a valuable time for me, but it was some of the hardest work I have ever done.

 

I know many individuals in our church who work their tails off. Like most people, these folks have a spouse, children, and work responsibilities. Nevertheless, they refuse to say, “I don’t have time to serve the Lord. I have family responsibilities, I have work responsibilities, and I need my free time.” These choice people are concerned about all of these responsibilities, but they are equally concerned about their obligation to their Lord. Interestingly, it is those people in our church who serve the most that also tend to have the best marriages and families. They are also the most successful in their careers. God is no man’s debtor. If you labor for Him, He will multiply your time and bless you to boot!

 

Lastly, Paul refers to their “steadfastness of hope.” Our English word “steadfastness” seems soft and passive. Yet, the Greek term behind this translation is tenacious and aggressive. Similarly, the English word “hope” transmits the idea of wishful thinking. We say, “I hope it is sunny tomorrow.” We mean by that, “I wish for another warm day tomorrow.” Biblical hope, however, is not wishful thinking. No, hope has the idea that we have assurance in the future because of who God is. Hope helps us claim the promises of God. In other words, the problems we currently face do not daunt us because we see beyond the moment. We possess a holy stick-to-it-iveness that enables us to remain steadfast in the midst of trials and difficulties.

 

Our dog, Maggie can hold onto a toy longer than any dog we have ever had. Do you have this type of tenacity? If God calls you to a task, do you refuse to let go? Those who want to advance the cause of Christ in the world cannot give up.

These three characteristics can only be lived out by noting the last phrase of 1:3: “in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we abide in Christ and live in Him, supernatural living occurs. This is what is really exciting!

 

“What do I give thanks for?” Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

Paul continues his thought in 1:4 and explains why the Thessalonians are able to live such godly lives. The short and sweet phrase he pens is: “knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.” With the word “choice,” we are confronted with the doctrine of election, a doctrine that has different effects on various people. It can be a frightening, confusing, and maddening doctrine, for in election man’s finite mind meets head-on with the infinite mind of God.

 

But this issue doesn’t have to be as hard as we like to make it. Scripture teaches both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. How does all this work together? I’m not sure. But I know this: We will never understand the total concept of election this side of heaven. But we should not ignore this important doctrine that is taught throughout the Bible. In the end, we must recognize that the doctrine of election includes these two irreconcilable truths that are nonetheless true.

 

It is sufficient to ask this question: Do you understand how a brown cow can eat green grass and give white milk and yellow butter? Of course not! Yet, we enjoy the products. In the same way, even though we can’t completely understand or explain election, we should still enjoy it because the Bible teaches it.

 

Since Paul doesn’t elaborate on the doctrine of election neither will I. I will just quickly break down this phrase. First of all, Paul is confident that the Thessalonians are elect so he uses the word “know.” There are no doubts, no ifs, no maybes, and no buts. We can know that we are elect, if we have believed in Christ. Works give further human or visible confirmation of one’s election (James 2:14-26). Paul affirms the Thessalonians in three expressions: (1) brethren, (2) beloved by God, and (3) chosen of God.

 

When it comes to election, all you need to know is this:

(1) Salvation begins with God.

(2) Salvation involves God’s love.

(3) Salvation requires faith. God chose you to be saved. If He had not chosen you, you would not be saved today.

 

Election and evangelism go together. The person who says, “God will save those He wants to save and He doesn’t need my help!” understands neither election nor evangelism. In the Bible, election always involves responsibility. God chose Israel and made them an elect nation so that they might witness to the Gentiles.

 

Sometimes we speak of “finding” the Lord, but if He had not found us first, we would never have found Him at all. Salvation begins with God, not with us. He chooses us and then we believe. Salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, this should give you incredible confidence. The assurance of your salvation does not depend upon you; it rests on God’s choice of you.

 

Many godly people try to explain away election and in doing so remove one of the strongest arguments for assurance and the security of the believer. The truth is: Nothing gives security to salvation like the concept of election. God is the creator, sustainer, and preserver of your salvation. Even if you are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13) because He has chosen you and adopted you into His family. You may choose to fall away from God, yet He will not choose to cast you out of His family (John 6:37-40). He loves you and will remain loyal in His commitment to you.

 

Paul is confident of the Thessalonians’ election because of the evidence of God’s grace at work in them and the gospel that he delivered. He concludes this section in 1:5 with a “triple whammy:” “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know that kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

 

(1) God’s election is effective because it is the Word of God. The gospel is based upon the promise of God who says, “Whosoever will believe in Christ can have eternal life.”

(2) God’s election is effective because it comes in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even when we have done our best as preachers, it will count for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. God must prepare hearts and make them receptive to His Word.

(3) God’s election is effective because it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers. This means people are so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven. The phrase “full conviction” also means that the preacher and the hearers can be confident that the Word of God has been preached.

 

Paul closes this section by saying, “The gospel is not word only, for talk is cheap. We proved to be godly men among you.” The gospel will be most effective when Christians live a life worthy of their calling. This means cultivating the fruit of the Spirit and godly character.

John Wooden, the former basketball coach at UCLA said, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” Will you work on your character this week? Will you strive to become a contagious Christian? Will you become a person of faith, love, and hope? Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

[Leaders need encouragement in ministry because it is easy to become discouraged. In our next section we will clearly see that…]

  1. Our lives can provide much needed encouragement (1:6-10).

In this section, Paul shares the specific reasons why he is so excited about the Thessalonians. Before we jump into these reasons, we must remember that this church is not typical of many churches today. It was not even typical of churches in Paul’s day. (Think Corinth) Nevertheless, the church at Thessalonica is God’s ideal—it is the type of church that He wants every church to become. Sometimes you see a label on a bottle of powerful cleaner (antifreeze, car window cleaner, etc.) that says, “Do not use at full strength. Dilute with water first,” because the liquid is too strong in its undiluted form. In this section we see Christianity in its earliest, undiluted form. No wonder the first Christians turned the world upside down. We need to work through this section and pray for undiluted Christianity. In the paragraphs that follow, Paul provides several reasons why he is particularly excited about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

 

  1. The church followed their spiritual leaders (1:6a).Paul writes, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord.”The word translated “imitators” comes from the word mimos meaning “a mimic.” Throughout his letters, Paul urges believers to “mimic” him as he mimics Christ. It is important that young Christians respect spiritual leadership and learn from mature believers. Just as a newborn baby needs a family, so a newborn Christian needs the local church and the leaders there. It is equally important that leaders give believers something to look up to and mimic. Fortunately, many of you are worthy of imitation. You are an inspiration to me in every area of your lives.

 

  1. The church received the Word (1:6b).The Thessalonian Christians “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”Paul does not use the typical word for “received,” instead he uses an unusual word that refers to the warm welcome of a guest (as in Luke 10:8, 10; Heb 11:31). The Thessalonians seized the gospel with joy even in the midst of suffering. They received the Word with gladness. They could not get enough of it. What a congregation! A dream for every preacher! They were hungry for the Word; they were drinking in every word that was spoken; they were sitting on the edge of their seat. And they kept coming back for more. Does this describe you? Do you look forward to coming to church to hear God’s Word? Do you look for opportunities throughout the week to get into the Word?

 

Please note that the Thessalonian believers received the Word “in much tribulation.” The word “tribulation” means “to press.” Do you ever feel like the world, your flesh, and Satan are pressing in on you? Trusting in Christ does not guarantee a life free from tension. These believers experienced rejection from family members, loss of employment, and social disgust. Today, many believers experience physical persecution and even martyrdom. Yet, we must recognize that God may bring suffering for the sake of an effective corporate witness. Persecution can be the fastest way to grow a church in health and number. I know some of you willingly suffer for Christ. You’re willing to be an outcast at work. You don’t always fit in with your family and friends because of your faith. But you continue to persevere in Christ. I can assure you that God will honor you in the life to come.

 

  1. The church encouraged other churches (1:7). By following their leaders and receiving the Word in much tribulation, yet with joy, the Thessalonians “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” This verse is the only place in the New Testament where a whole congregation is viewed as an example for other churches. And notice the word “example” is singular. Paul is referring to the whole church, not just a few standout members. The word “example” refers not merely to being an example which others are to follow, but also a pattern which influences them.

 

It’s not enough to passively live our lives before other Christians. Sometimes we must be more direct in our influence. Perhaps you have seen star- shaped cookies. Those cookies were prepared using a mold. But it isn’t enough to show off the mold, one must press the dough into the mold and onto the baking sheet. This is what Paul is talking about—intentionally influencing Christians for Christ. When we do this, we will be able to lead the world.

  1. The church spread the Word (1:8).The Thessalonian believers were both “receivers” (1:5) and “transmitters”—the Word went out from them. Paul writes, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”The verb “sounded out” is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. Outside of the NT, it is used of a clap of thunder or the sound of a trumpet. It means “to reverberate like an echo.” Wherever Paul went, the people told him about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

 

It is interesting to note that the town of Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. We may not have our church in Austin, but if we showcase godly lives and sound forth the Word, we are capable of impacting our entire state. But this must involve you. That is why we are trying to engage our community.

 

For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them at work about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Most people require a personal invitation in a one-on-one context. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. The Word must sound forth from YOU!

 

When I was in 7th grade, I tried to play the guitar. I took lessons because I wanted to lead music in our youth group. I was interested in 70s music and wanted to really rock the house. Unfortunately, I gave up the guitar after just a few months of unsuccessful lessons. I never did learn how to rock. I believe there are some Christians out there who want to rock. They want to “sound forth” God’s Word but have never learned how and have struggled to be faithful in this task. God doesn’t want you to give up; He wants you to persist until He makes our church what He wants it to be. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

  1. The church turned to God (1:9). Paul writes, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.”

The people throughout Thessalonica and Macedonia saw a change in the Thessalonian saints and they talked up the church. This is the best form of advertising there is! What made this church “the talk of the town?” They turned to God from idols and immediately began serving the Lord. Note the order of words here. We would normally think in terms of turning from idols to God but here Paul’s argument is that they first turned to God and then away from idols. The Thessalonians didn’t leave their idols and then go out to find God. They turned to God and then left their idols. Conversion is not only turning from something but it is a turning to Someone. Don’t worry about cleaning yourself up first. Let God do this. Now not everyone turns immediately or sufficiently, but this is God’s business. He is more interested in the growth and health of His children than we are. Let Him work in His time and in His way.

 

  1. The church waited for Jesus’ return(1:10).Paul writes that these believers who converted to Christ responded by “wait[ing] for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The word “wait” is only used here in the New Testament, but it is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe a servant’s eager waiting for his wages (Job 7:2). It is also used to describe the longing of an afflicted person for his deliverance (Isa 59:11). The word means literally, to wait up. The Thessalonians were waiting up for the Lord’s return.

 

The “coming wrath” could refer to a couple of significant events.

(1) It could speak of the frightening eternal judgment of God.

(2) It could refer to the tribulation period when God pours out His wrath on earth for a period of seven years.

It seems to me that “the coming wrath” of 1:10 is best understood to refer to a particular wrath, the wrath of the Tribulation.

 

Chronologically, the next great expression of God’s wrath is the Tribulation, which is a time of God’s wrath poured out on a Christ-rejecting world. The judgment of the Great White Throne (see Rev 20:11-15)—a judgment of all the unbelieving of all generations—does not occur until after the millennial reign of Christ, which occurs after the Tribulation and the events of Revelation 6-19. In this book, the resurrection of believers and the deliverance of believers are closely related or tied together (see 1 Thess 4:13f). Thus, the implication is that deliverance comes through the rapture.

 

When you schedule a family vacation, likely you count down the days until you can “take off.” If someone is engaged, they count down to the wedding day! If someone has a spouse in the military and they go away for a year, does the family s count the days until they return? Looking for the Lord to return at any moment will change our lives. It will transform our way of doing things. It will change the way we deal with temptations. It will alter our priorities. It will lead us to do something about broken relationships. Many of you are living this type of life and I thank God for you. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

Paul’s last words in 1 Corinthians

I received some good advice many years ago: “On any given Sunday, only one or two people really get it. Don’t be discouraged by the masses, instead focus on the one or two people that will truly get what you’re saying.” Today, I ask you this question: will you be one of the few that get it? Will you apply God’s Word to your life and be changed? We have finally reached the conclusion of the book of 1 Corinthians. We are about to wrap up this multiple month study. My prayer is that as we conclude this book we will all “get it.” In 1 Cor 16:13-24 Paul will suggest that love is the remedy for church ills. In this passage, Paul provides three elements of spiritual maturity.

  1. The Exhortations of Spiritual Maturity(16:13-14). In these opening two verses, Paul unveils five moral exhortations: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” These five exhortations are all present tense imperatives demanding continuous action. Therefore, we must recognize that God’s commands are not good advice. They are not optional. God’s commands are not like a cafeteria where we can pick or choose what we want. All five commands are incumbent upon the believer. The first four commands employ military metaphors to encourage resoluteness in the faith, while the final command summarizes the previous four.
  • Be on the alert.This command is a warning to watch out for those that seek to bring about division. Paul urges the Corinthians to be watchful regarding danger from inside as well as outside the church. Most of the problems in Corinth, and in most of our churches today, arise from within the congregation, so we must be especially alert. The expression “be on the alert” sometimes occurs with anticipation of the Lord’s coming, so that may have been in Paul’s thinking as well. We should expect the return of the Lord at any time, and our behavior should reflect the Lord’s values and should not be characterized by deeds of darkness.
  • Stand firm in the faith.This is a military image that urges the Corinthians “to hold their ground” and not retreat before an enemy. The command to “stand firm” has already served as the bookends for chapter 15 (15:2, 58). The phrase “the faith” here probably denotes both the body of Christian teachings and our own personal relationship with the Lord. Since there are many temptations out there that can cause us to depart from the faith we need to be vigilant and stand firm. Are you standing firm in the faith or are you like shifting sand?
  • Act like men and be strong. These next two commands should be taken together. The verbs are frequently combined in the Old Testament to exhort God’s people to have courage in the face of danger, especially from one’s enemies. The word Paul uses for “be strong” is in the passive in voice, meaning “be strengthened.” We cannot strengthen ourselves; that is the Lord’s work. Our part is to submit ourselves to Him. General George Patton summed it up well, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

The fifth and final command is the glue that holds the other four together. In 16:14, Paul exclaims,

  • Let all that you do be done in love. Paul makes his point especially clear by framing this letter’s closing: “Let all that you do be done in love” (16:14), and “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus” (16:24). This love involves both love for the Lord (16:22) and love for one another (16:24). Paul earlier challenged his readers with the fact that “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (8:1). Love is the greatest motivating force for ethical behavior. The old saying is still true that “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”

[What does love look like in the body of Christ? We don’t really have to speculate because Paul paints a picture of it for us in the next six verses.]

  1. The Characteristics of Spiritual Maturity(16:15-20). In these six verses, Paul shares five characteristics of spiritual maturity: service, submission, friendship, hospitality, and affection. All five of these are essential aspects of growing to maturity in the Lord and in our relationships with God’s people. In 16:15-20, Paul writes, “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” 

Let’s now consider the five characteristics of spiritual maturity.

  • Stephanas and his family were Paul’s first converts (“first fruits”) in Achaia, the province in which Corinth stood (1:16). They had given themselves selflessly to serving the Corinthians. They were probably loyal to Paul and may have been the source from which he received some of his information about conditions in this church. Verse 15 states that the household of Stephanas “devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.” The King James Version translates the verb “devoted” as “addicted.” I like this! They were serving in ministry so consistently, so regularly, that it was like an addiction; they were hooked on ministry. That’s not such a bad addiction, is it? Could anyone accuse you of this?
  • The Corinthians had a problem with submission to authority. They were competitive, stubborn, and even arrogant at times. Many in the church wanted to do their own thing. Verses 16-18 would have encouraged them to appreciate some less flashy servants of the Lord. Submission is not earned by holding an office; it’s earned by godly character and service. There’s no indication that Stephanas was a pastor, or even a church officer. He was apparently just an ordinary Christian with extraordinary love. But he deserves as much respect as pastors and elders. Mutual submission is a key theme of Spirit-filled living. All believers are to submit to each other (Eph 5:21). Service, not status, should be the basis for honor in the church. Are you submitting to the various servant leaders in our church? Do you esteem them above yourself? Do you seek creative ways to honor them?
  • Apparently, when the financial support for Paul’s missionary work dried up, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus bailed him out. But even more meaningful is the fact that they “refreshed” his spirit. One of the finest compliments that can be paid of another Christian is to say that he or she is refreshing to be around, picks up your spirit, and encourages you to keep going. I know a lot of people in our church who are like that; I always feel better after being with them. They are a blessing to everyone they come in contact with.

Let me ask you: when you enter a room, is there more joy, peace, and love than before you arrived? When you leave, is the atmosphere and attitude better? Do you refresh your fellow-believers or bring them down? And let me ask another question: when you experience refreshment from other believers, how should you respond? Paul says, “Such people deserve recognition.” Thank them. Write them a note. Give them a hug and tell them how much they mean to you.

As a leader in our church, I occasionally have people tell me that they like our worship services but are not making friends in our church. They tend to assume it is the fault of our church. I used to take this personal until I began to notice a trend. Those individuals that approached me with this grievance didn’t want to be involved in a small group, an adult class, or in any type of service. It quickly dawned on me that that problem did not lie with us. It has been well said, “We don’t find friends, we make them.” Mobberly is a wonderful place to cultivate lifelong friendships, but we must invest in the body in order to reap the benefits.

  • Aquila and Priscilla opened up their home and hosted a church. According to the New Testament, this dynamic ministry couple lived in at least three different cities—Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome—and in all three places they had a church in their house. Furthermore, it was at their house that Paul stayed during his very first visit to Corinth, probably for more than a year and a half. There may be no greater tool for ministry than the Christian home. Because the home is a testing ground for the power of love and acceptance, it serves as a living demonstration of God’s love for those seeking to be part of God’s family.

By the way, as we consider these characteristics of spiritual maturity, it is worth noting that the entire household of Stephanas is recognized in 16:15. Parents, children learn love and service in the home, and they learn the lack of love and service there also. They learn hospitality as they see their parents practice it; they also learn to hold on to their stuff tightly as they watch parents who do that. As a parent, are you helping your children learn through observation and practice how to live out these characteristics?

Affection. Paul sees the custom of the holy kiss as a proper corrective to the cliquishness and bickering that characterized the church at Corinth. It could also serve as a remedy to the tremendous personal isolation that so many feel today. Why, then, has this custom of kissing one another on the cheek all but passed from the church? First, it faded because it was liable to abuse. Some people had trouble distinguishing holy kisses from other kinds. Second, it faded because the church became less and less of a fellowship. In the little house churches, where friend met with friend and all were closely bound together, it was the most natural thing in the world; but when the little fellowship turned into a vast congregation, and houses gave way to cathedrals, intimacy was lost and the holy kiss vanished with it. The kiss, of course, is not the important thing; a hug, or a warm two-handed handshake, or an arm around the shoulder can express the same feelings, and in some cultures might be more appropriate. The key is the love and intimacy that the gesture symbolizes. Who needs a hug or a holy kiss from you today? How will you communicate your love to others in the body of Christ? Love is the remedy for church ills.

[We have considered the exhortations and characteristics of spiritual maturity, but now Paul closes this passage and the entire book of 1 Corinthians with…]

  1. The Mark of Spiritual Maturity(16:21-24). Please notice that this third and final point is singular, not plural. In fact, in these four verses, Paul boils down everything that he has said in this passage and in this letter to a single word: LOVE. First, however, he provides a note in 16:21: “The greeting is in my own hand—Paul.” This verse indicates that this letter, like most of Paul’s letters, is written by a scribe. In our day, this is akin to an executive that dictates a letter to a secretary but signs it and adds a brief note at the bottom. The point is this: Paul picks up the quill and signs off this letter with a personal touch.

In 16:22, Paul’s personal touch is a verse with a curse: “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.” This verse is rather sobering! The word “accursed” means “devoted to destruction.” The question is: does Paul have in mind temporal or eternal destruction? Most scholars argue for the latter; however, there is no contextual reason to assume that Paul is now all of a sudden discussing unbelievers or false teachers. Rather, it seems that he is still addressing believers. True to form, some of the Corinthians do not love the Lord. Lack of love for the Lord refers to factiousness, self-seeking, strife, and carnality that practically denies one’s love for Christ. In this context it means lack of obedience to Him in such things as exalting human wisdom over the wisdom of the cross, tolerating incest, attending idol feasts, dividing over spiritual gifts, and abusing the Lord’s Supper. Those that fail to love the Lord and other believers will face God’s curse. This probably is exclusion from fellowship in the local church. The opposite of this is “Maranatha,” an Aramaic word that means, “Our Lord, come.” This is similar to John’s final words in Rev 22:20: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Paul now prepares to close the book of 1 Corinthians. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Paul concludes this strong but loving epistle with a prayerful benediction of God’s grace. This is the very same way that he began his letter: “Grace to you” (1:3). What a wonderful reminder that people need the grace of God, for without it they are hopeless. The most loving act that we can perform is to show people God’s grace. First, we must share God’s grace in salvation. This means informing people that God’s love is not based on our own merit but on Jesus Christ’s merit. We receive salvation the same way that we would receive a Christmas gift. We simply open up our hands, receive it, and then express gratitude. We must also be messengers and dispensers of grace to those who are believers. This means not only do we proclaim God’s grace in salvation, but we exemplify God’s grace in being gracious.

Paul’s parting words are found in 16:24, “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” The last sentence of the letter, written in Paul’s own hand, reaffirms his love for all the Corinthians—despite their failings, despite their arrogance. Although Paul knew some pretty ornery people in the Corinthian church, and some of them made his life difficult, he sends his love to all of them.

Paul wrote thirteen letters, yet this is the only one that he ends with an affirmation of his love for his readers. It’s amazing when you think of the church to which he expressed it. This was the church that resisted him the most, that was the most fractured in its love life. But he says, “I love you,” not just in himself but because of the relationship with Christ that has transformed his life. Out of that he can express his love for the church, because he knows that’s the only kind of love that lasts, the only kind of love that makes a difference, the only kind of love that’s tough enough to survive in the face of the personal rejection and insult he has experienced from this church.

Who do you need to express love to today? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to come alongside of? Who do you need to serve or to reach out to? Our church will advance when we show love for one another. As Jesus said, “All men will know that we are His disciples by the love that we have for one another” (John 13:34-35, paraphrase).

Getting what we paid for

My wife and I are very careful about how we spend our money. Some call us cheap, others call us frugal; I like to call us shrewd stewards of the Lord’s resources. Yet, over time I have noticed something rather discouraging. In my attempt to save money, I buy inexpensive items that quickly break down or fall apart. Whenever this happens, I tend to say, “You get what you pay for!”

However, this worn-out cliché does not always prove true. Occasionally, I buy brand-name goods that fall apart while the el cheapo merchandise lives on. It’s rather frustrating and unpredictable. Hence, I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you pay for. This is true in other areas of life as well. Hollywood can spend millions of dollars seeking to produce the latest and greatest movie, only to watch the movie bomb in the box office. At the same time, a small-time producer can spend peanuts producing a flick only to see it become the latest rage. In the world of sports, it is all too common to see an athlete sign a ridiculously lucrative contract only to be injured or have a sub-par season. Simultaneously, a rookie can sign the league minimum and have an explosive year. You can’t always judge a movie by its budget or an athlete by his salary. Furthermore, you can’t judge a servant of Christ by his pay or lack thereof.

Take the apostle Paul, for example. He chose not to receive payment from the church at Corinth. Instead, he established a church in this sin-hardened city at his own expense. He served them freely so that the gospel would have an open door to travel through. Paul’s personal sacrifices brought about great results for God’s kingdom. Likewise, we have been called to have a godly work ethic as ministers of the gospel. Some of us will be paid, others will serve as volunteers. Yet, we are all called to represent Christ and to offer Him our lives. We will learn that proclaiming Christ demands paying a price. In 1 Cor 9:1-23, Paul is going to share with us an autobiographical sketch of his ministry. In doing so, he will exhort us to follow his example. First, Paul will argue that…

  1. We must relinquish our individual rights(9:1-14). Paul builds a lengthy argument for ministers being paid. I know what you’re thinking: I picked the wrong day to come to church. Well, believe me when I say, this is as awkward for me as it is you…probably more so. Nevertheless, I will proclaim God’s Word as faithfully as I can. In 9:1, Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians of his apostolic identity. “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” Paul’s four rhetorical questions all expect a positive answer, and they become increasingly specific. Certainly he enjoyed the liberty that every other believer had. Moreover, he possessed the rights and privileges of an apostle. The proof of his apostleship was twofold. He had seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:21-22) on the Damascus road (Acts 22:14-15; 26:15-18), and he had founded the church in Corinth, which was apostolic work (cf. Rom 15:15-21).

In 9:2, Paul continues, “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” Although some may have doubted Paul’s apostleship, that should not be the case with the Corinthians. They themselves were the proof that he was an apostle. If the Corinthians deny Paul’s apostleship they deny their own existence. Paul, therefore, takes the opportunity to work that issue into his discussion at this point, hoping he can nip it in the bud. He explains that the Corinthians are the “seal” of his apostleship. A seal in the ancient world was a warm blob of wax into which a signet ring was pressed to seal a letter or package. It was an assurance that the contents had not been opened; it showed who owned the contents; and it showed the genuineness of the contents, that it was sent by the right person. Paul is saying that the Corinthians are his work in the Lord.

If you are a Christian, it is critical that you have your own “seal” of people you have impacted and influenced for eternity. Like Paul, our goal must be to see lost people trust in Jesus Christ and then grow to maturity in Him. In light of eternity, nothing else will matter.

In 9:3-14, Paul shares his apostolic rights to make his living from the gospel. His argument is based on a barrage of rhetorical questions. This seems to be Paul’s way of going for the jugular in a natural and persuasive way. By using this device, he presents rationale for his financial support. Yet, in the end, Paul will conclude that it is best for him to forgo these rights in Corinth (9:12b). But in the present discussion of receiving support for his ministry, how could accepting money from his converts hinder the progress of the gospel? There are several possible answers to this question: (1) Some people might not believe the gospel if they knew it would lead to financial obligations. (2) Others might see a contradiction between Christ’s grace being free but becoming a Christian not being free. (3) Paul perhaps did not want to become a “slave” to a patron donor who supported his ministry and who could then control the content of his preaching (“money is power”). (4) Paul wished to dissociate himself from other religious hucksters in the ancient world, some of whom made a good living from flowery rhetorical appeal.

 

Paul lives what he preached: proclaiming Christ demands paying a price. Unfortunately, the Corinthians assumed that “you get what you pay for.” Since Paul was serving for free, some questioned his credentials. In Corinth, orators, teachers, and philosophers were well paid. It was unthinkable that someone like Paul would not receive a paycheck. So Paul builds an air-tight case for remuneration and then insists that he will not make use of his rights. For Paul, proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

In 9:3-4, Paul writes, “My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink?” In the context, “the right to eat and drink” is a figurative reference to financial support. It means to “eat and drink” at the expense of others. Six different times the word “right” is used in this chapter. It’s a very central issue. Paul is saying that he had a legitimate right to receive financial support from the people to whom he ministered.

Paul continues his argument in 9:5-6 by raising two other issues: “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?” All of these questions expect a positive answer. Paul states that apostles have the right to be married and to cease to work.

Now, in 9:7-14, Paul is going to give five reasons why he has the right to be supported by the churches to whom he ministered, why he shouldn’t have to work at a trade to earn a living, so he can devote his energy to study, prayer, preaching, and teaching. He begins with an appeal to common sense in three illustrations from everyday experience in the workplace. “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” Paul is pointing out that soldiers don’t fight all day and then go to civilian jobs at night so that they can pay for their food, lodging, clothing, and armaments. No, the government provides all the necessary resources for them to function as a soldier. Paul makes the same point about farmers. You don’t plant a vineyard or cultivate crops for somebody for free, and then take a night job to subsidize the farming work. You expect that if you work hard in the vineyard or on the farm, you’ll be paid, perhaps in kind with some portion of the crops. He makes the same point about shepherds who care for flocks or sheep owned by other people. At least they have the right to have some of the milk. In the same way, a Christian worker has a right to expect benefits from his labor.

In 9:8-10, Paul uses the Scriptures to back up his point. Paul writes, “I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.’ God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.” Paul demonstrates a most unusual use of God’s Word. Quoting the Old Testament law regarding the treatment of oxen, he noted that Deut 25:4 commanded God’s people not to muzzle the ox while it was in the process of threshing. Instead, God commanded that the ox be allowed to eat the grain. If God cared so much about the animals who served His people, how much more must He care for the people who serve them?

If something is true on a lower scale, it is certainly true on a more important, higher scale. In other words, if mere animals are given the right to eat as they are working in the fields, certainly human beings made in the image of God have that same right. In fact, God is more concerned about getting across a principle for human beings in this text than He is about getting across a principle for animals.

Several times Paul asserts that the Old Testament was written as an example for New Testament believers (cf. 10:6, 11; Rom 4:23-24; 15:4). This is an important reminder that the Old Testament is of great benefit to each and every one of us. We should read it frequently and look for opportunities to study and preach from it. Perhaps the price that you need to pay in proclaiming Christ is to spend some time studying the Old Testament. After all, the Old Testament makes up ¾ of your Bible. In order to proclaim Christ, we must be familiar with His Bible and that of the apostle Paul.

In 9:11-12, Paul appeals to the inherent fairness of it. He argues, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” Spiritual things are intrinsically more important than physical things. The former will last forever whereas the latter are only temporary. Consequently, those who benefit from spiritual ministry should physically support those who minister to them (cf. Gal 6:6). In spite of this spiritual principle, Paul surrenders his rights because proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

Now, in 9:13, Paul makes a reference to Old Testament Jewish history and custom pertaining to the temple: “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?” This refers to Old Testament priests and Levites. The concept of paying God’s servants is not a New Testament notion; rather, it goes back to the Old Testament. Paul saw his gospel ministry as priestly service (cf. Rom 15:16).

Paul closes out his argument in powerful fashion by stating: “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (9:14). Paul explains that the Lord Jesus taught the same right for servants to be paid (Matt 10:10; Luke 10:7). Case closed: full-time vocational servants have the freedom to be paid.

Like Paul, our staff are not asking for a raise. But there is something to think of here: I want our staff to always be free from the distraction of money. I would also suggest that there are other ways we can honor those who serve. An encouraging email, letter, or phone call would mean the world to any of our leaders. There are other creative possibilities as well (e.g., child care, providing services, etc.).

[Having argued vigorously for his right to the Corinthians’ support, Paul now proceeds to argue just as strongly for his right to give up this right. This section gives the reader a window into the apostle’s soul.]

  1. We must fulfill our individual calling(9:15-23). In these nine verses, Paul explains that his passion for lost people and for preaching the gospel consumes him. Consequently, he will go to any and every length to share Christ. In 9:15, Paul writes, “But I have used none of these things [i.e., financial provisions]. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.” These are certainly strong words! Paul actually felt it was better to die than to receive any financial support from Corinth and lose out on freely boasting in the free offer of the gospel. This idea of boasting is used in Paul’s Bible—the Old Testament, of glorying in God. So when Paul uses the word “boast” in his writings, he isn’t talking about personal accomplishments. He is talking about what the Lord has done through him in spite of his weakness.

Why is Paul so adamant that he should not be paid for preaching the gospel? If he has the right, why not capitalize on it? He explains his reasoning in 9:16-17 (note the two uses of “for” that begin each verse): “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.”

Paul says that he cannot legitimately boast in his ministry of preaching, because God ordered him to do it. He states that he is “under compulsion” (9:16) and has been entrusted with a “stewardship” (9:17). There is an irresistible call of God on his life, and he can’t take any personal credit for doing it. He is a man on fire for God! Hence, Paul says “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (9:16). The word “woe” occurs frequently in the Old Testament prophets to denote coming disaster and even divine judgment. Paul felt the weight of severe consequences if he chose to forego preaching for another profession. Since God dramatically called Paul to preach, he had to proclaim the gospel. There was no reward in simply doing what God had called him to do (cf. Luke 17:10).

This leads Paul to raise a question in 9:18: “What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” Paul’s “reward” is demonstrating love to people by freely preaching the gospel. His highest pay was the privilege of preaching without pay. Of course, Paul also believes that his loving service will be recognized in the future by his Lord (cf. 3:12-14). However, Paul recognizes that we do not get rewarded for our calling in and of itself, only for the manner in which we fulfill it. Thus, Paul sacrificed much and served well so that he might one day be rewarded for his service.

Ultimately, what I want us to see is that Paul’s spirituality is evidenced by his willingness to sacrifice his rights for the sake of the gospel. One such right is that of having a full-time ministry. Let us be very careful not to assume that God’s servants can be more effective by ministering “full-time.” The great apostle Paul chose to serve in “part-time” ministry, for the sake of the gospel. I don’t think anyone would argue that Paul could have been more effective if he had been serving full-time. Likewise, there are many people in our church who could be in full-time ministry, but they are incredibly effective and fruitful in part-time unpaid ministry. Such people never ask to be paid and faithfully serve year in and year out. They have the reward of offering the gospel for free. Additionally, they will be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ for faithfully serving the Lord. Proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

[Paul now moves from the subject of giving up his right to financial support to giving up cultural rights.]

In 9:19-22, Paul is going to describe his passion to do whatever it takes to win lost people to Christ. Paul explains, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” Six times in this paragraph Paul states his desire to reach the lost. He reaches the lost by adapting his methods according to the group he tried to reach. Paul goes after anyone and everyone: (1) Jews; (2) “those who are under the law” probably includes Gentile God-fearers and proselytes to Judaism as well as ethnic Jews; (3) “those who are without law” refers to Gentiles apart from any Jewish influence; and (4) “the weak” most likely refer to Christians with weak consciences. Paul must therefore be using “win” in the broader sense of winning to a more mature form of Christian faith.

Paul’s missionary principle, of course, has practical applications. For missionaries it means learning the local language and customs to make the gospel understandable in the local environment. For those doing inner-city work it means ministering in a way that does not patronize the inner-city mentality. For those in campus ministries it means bringing to college students a message that challenges them in an academic environment and shows that Christianity is not anti-intellectual. The applications of “being all things to all people” are endless. I have known of people who share Christ in bars, homosexual clubs, and Mormon churches. If Christianity is to make a mark in the 21st century, fresh and radical methods will need to be pursued. As Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the US once said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Why does Paul go to such great lengths to win lost people? He tells us in 9:23: “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” The work of the gospel was the great axis around which everything in Paul’s life revolved. He made it such so he might share in its blessings.

Paul still has in mind what he said in 9:17-18. He is looking for reward. Paul lives in the way he does to become a “fellow partaker” of the gospel. The thought continues the ideas of 9:12-14. He does not “share” the financial blessings of the Corinthians. But he expects to get a “share” in the rewards of the gospel eventually. He might turn down rewards from particular congregations, but he expects that God will compensate him for that which he has lost. To become “a partaker of the gospel” means to receive its ultimate reward: to gain “the prize” that Jesus gives.

 

The designer of the famous yellow smiley face received a mere $45 for his work. Harvey Ball, a Massachusetts commercial artist, created the simple yellow face in 1963 as a morale-boosting campaign for two firms that had recently merged into the State Mutual Life Assurance Companies of America. Because Ball never copyrighted his design, he received no proceeds when the cheery icon appeared countless times worldwide. In 1971 alone, 50 million buttons were sold. After Ball’s death in April 2001, his son, Charles, said in an obituary that his father was never bitter about the small amount of money he earned from the smiley face and never regretted foregoing a copyright. He considered his greatest achievement not his famous logo but the bronze star he received for his heroism during the Battle of Okinawa.

As wonderful as that bronze star is, Jesus Christ promises us eternal reward for faithfully proclaiming Him. One day, we will stand before Him in a glorified body and He will evaluate our lives. My prayer is that when you see Him face-to-face, He looks you in the eyes and smiles a big smile and says, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Whenever you see a smiley face, please remember your life in light of the judgment seat of Christ. Proclaiming Christ demands paying a price.

 

 

Jesus keeps us

Have you ever heard a spouse say, “She’s a keeper” or “He’s a keeper?” Of course you have. This is a common expression. Parents will say the same thing about a child, “He’s a keeper” or “She’s a keeper.” The idea behind this expression is: I really enjoy my spouse or child. I think I’ll keep him or her around. Often this idiom is used by a person who has trouble communicating his or her feelings. So by stating, “She’s a keeper” or “He’s a keeper,” such a person is able to communicate love without having to articulate the phrase, “I love you.”

One of the ways that Jesus communicates His love to you is by keeping you. Jesus says, “You’re a keeper, not because of anything you’ve done but simply because I love you.” Jesus keeps you and me through His life, death, resurrection, and intercession. The old adage, “Finders keepers” is really true when it comes to Jesus. He finds us and He keeps us. This is why we can say that Jesus is “The Keeper.” In John 17:6-19, Jesus prays to the Father that He will keep the disciples safe in a hostile world and guard them from Satan. It is worth noting that Jesus prays for His disciples before He chose them (Luke 6:12), during His ministry (John 6:15), at the end of His ministry (Luke 22:32), and later in heaven (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). Prayer was and is incredibly important to Jesus and should be to us as well. In these verses, Jesus makes three requests for His followers. First, He prays for security (17:11). Second, He prays for protection (17:15). Finally, He prays for sanctification (17:17).

John records Jesus’ opening words in 17:6: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” Jesus manifested God’s name to His disciples. The word “manifest” (phaneroo) means “to make visible or clear.” In this particular context, the word means “to make known by word of mouth.” During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He manifested God’s name (i.e., His character) with His lips. The manifesting of the “name” of God is an Old Testament theme (Ps 113:3; Isa 59:19; 66:19). Malachi prophesied with the words of God Himself when He stated “My name shall be great among the Gentiles” (Mal 1:11). Have you sought to make God’s name great with your lips? While it’s important to manifest God with your life, it’s equally necessary to manifest God with your lips. Are you following in Jesus’ sandals? Do people in your neighborhood, work, and school know that you’re a Christian? Have you clearly communicated this so that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind? Jesus made sure that His disciples understood how to have a relationship with God. He also emphasized how they could come to understand God’s character. Are you all about manifesting and revealing the Lord?

Jesus viewed the disciples as those whom God had given to Him out of the world (cf. 6:37; 15:19), not as those who had chosen to follow Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him. This viewpoint accounts for Jesus’ confidence as He anticipates their future. They belong to God, and therefore, God will protect them. Similarly, God will protect you if you belong to Him. It’s all made possible through God’s gracious gift. This is confirmed in the final phrase of 17:6: “they have kept Your word.” In John’s gospel, when Jesus refers to His “words” (plural), He is talking about His commands, but when He refers to His “word” (singular) He is talking about His gospel. Thus, Jesus is indicating that the disciples have responded to the gospel. While the disciples were often marked with selfishness and short-sightedness, they believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. While Jesus is certainly concerned about your obedience in response to the gospel, He is first and foremost interested in whether or not you have trusted in Him as your Savior. Today, have you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? If you were to die today, do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you would spend eternity with Christ? If there is any doubt in your mind, place your faith in Jesus Christ alone today. Remember Jesus’ words, “Finders keepers.” If you are found in Him, you will be kept for all of eternity.

Jesus continues His prayer in 17:7-8: “Now they [the disciples] have come to know that everything You [the Father] have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.” There was much that the eleven disciples didn’t yet understand, but they did believe that Jesus had come from God and that His words were God’s words. Commendably, they accepted Jesus’ teachings even though they didn’t understand them fully, and what they understood they believed. Like the disciples, do you and I “receive” and “believe” God’s Word?

In 17:9-10, Jesus now explicitly begins His prayer for the disciples: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Jesus makes it clear that He is praying for His disciples, not for the world in general. On the last night of Jesus’ earthly life, He focuses on praying for those who are believers. Too often we pray for unbelievers until they accept Christ and then drop them from our prayer list. The point at which Christ and the disciples intensively begin prayer, we tend to stop. Have you stopped praying for a believer you used to pray for? Is the Lord prompting you to pray for this person once again? If so, please respond to His prompting. There’s likely a reason that the Lord is bringing this person to your mind. He may choose to use your prayers to take this person to the next level of spiritual maturity.

Jesus also indicates in 17:10 that He has been “glorified” by His disciples. He is referring specifically to the disciples’ initial faith in Him (cf. 2:11) and additional baby steps they have taken. Do you consciously consider Jesus’ desire to be glorified by your life? How can you seek to glorify Him more in your life? As a church, how can we prioritize the glory of Jesus Christ above all else?

In 17:11 Jesus declares, “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” In light of Jesus’ imminent departure, He prays for His disciples. The title “Holy Father” appears only here in the Bible and is a reminder that God is both pure and paternal. Jesus prays that His disciples will be kept in God’s name. In ancient times a “name” represented one’s character or reputation. This has some carry-over into modern culture. Perhaps your father or mother used to admonish you to do nothing that would bring dishonor to the family name. Your parent’s concern was that your activities not detract from the family reputation. Likewise, God has entrusted His reputation to Christ, who revealed it to the disciples. Now Jesus prays that the disciples may be kept true to that revelation. The purpose of this prayer is that the disciples might share a unity of spirit modeled after the unity shared by the Father and the Son in the Trinity. How is God’s reputation and character doing at your school or work? Are you an answer to Jesus’ prayer? Do you represent God well or does your life send mixed messages?

Regardless, Jesus is committed to you. In 17:12 He prays, “While I was with them [the disciples], I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” Jesus makes it clear that He kept and guarded His disciples’ salvation while He was on earth. The only exception was Judas, “the son of perdition,” who was an unbeliever. In 6:64 Jesus said, “‘but there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” This is made clear in 6:70 where Jesus declares, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Later in 13:10, Christ said that Judas was not among those who were clean. Again, in 18:9 He reiterates, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” Although Judas was certainly one of Jesus’ disciples, he never believed in Him as his Savior. Therefore, to read into this account a loss of salvation is fallacious. It also contradicts Jesus’ own words that He did not lose any whom the Father had given Him.

Salvation for those who believe is secure because it’s a free gift. The Lord didn’t make the down payment for salvation and then expect you to keep up with the installments. If you cannot be saved as a result of your good works, you cannot lose your salvation as a result of your bad works. Salvation is of God. He desires to save those whom He has given to Christ as a gift. It is inconceivable that any one of them will be lost. Today, if you have wrestled with the assurance of your salvation, put your fears to rest once and for all. Trust in the promises of God’s Word. Jesus declares, “Finders keepers.”

In 17:13, Jesus gives the reason that He prays these great truths: “But now I come to You[Father]; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” Jesus wants His disciples to experience full joy once He leaves. Just knowing that Jesus had kept them and will continue to keep them ought to facilitate joy. Does the promise of eternal life cause joy to well up within you? Despite the challenges in your life, are you filled with Jesus’ joy?

Jesus continues His prayer in 17:14-16 where He says, “I have given them [the disciples] Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus gives the disciples God’s Word, and the world hates them. The world hates Christians because we do not support their agenda. Instead, we follow Christ and His kingdom agenda. This quickly creates enemies! Yet, it is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t pray that disciples be exempted from evil. That prayer will not be answered until we receive glorified bodies and are in heaven. It’s significant that Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all prayed to be taken out of the world, but in no case was the request granted. The goal is not isolation, but insulation. Jesus prays that His disciples may be kept from the influence of the evil one.

In 17:17, Jesus utters a classic verse on the authority of the Scriptures:  “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” In this context, “to sanctify” (hagiazo) means: “to set apart for God’s service.” The Word is the sphere by and in which believers are sanctified. With the mind we learn God’s truth through the Word. With the heart, we love God’s truth, His Son (14:6). With the will we yield to the Spirit (of truth, cf. 14:17; 16:13) and live God’s truth day by day. It takes all three for a balanced experience of sanctification. The Bible is the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth! You cannot grow without a regular diet of Scripture. If the only biblical “meal,” you get is on Sunday, you’re not growing. Newborn babies don’t take six-day breaks between meals. In fact most newborns don’t even take three-hour breaks between meals. There are a lot of Christians who start off with a real growth spurt because they are so hungry for the Word. They can’t get enough of it fast enough. But then as time goes on, their biblical “feeding schedule” gets off because the Word becomes a convenient extra in their lives. They begin to get spiritually weak because they aren’t getting enough nourishment for their souls.

So what do you do if you’ve lost your appetite for the Scripture? If you’ve lost your taste for the Word you need to force-feed yourself for a while. That’s what the hospital does when, for whatever reason, you can’t eat on your own. The doctors put a tube into you directly. In a sense, they force you to eat, because they know you won’t get better without nutrition. God knows you won’t grow or get better without the Word. Spiritually, many of us are losing weight that we can’t afford to lose. We are spiritually emaciated, because we have not been feeding on the Word regularly.

We must never underestimate the value of simply reading our Bibles. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I can find ten men who will die for the Bible for everyone who will read it!” Because the Bible is spiritual nutrition, we can be fed just by reading it, whether we think we’re getting anything or not. The Word is like taking vitamins. You may not feel an immediate benefit when you take a handful of vitamins; yet, when you take them consistently, the invisible work they do inside your body is staggering.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fill up on physical and spiritual “junk food.” I’m a cold cereal aficionado. I like cold cereal because it is quick, easy, and tasty. I typically crave sugar sweetened cereals (e.g., Frosted Flakes primarily), but one bowl rarely satisfies me. I could go after a second bowl, and sometimes even a third bowl. The reason is simple: There’s little lasting nutrition in the cereals I eat. Spiritually speaking, it’s all too easy to fill up on sports, television, music, social networking, hobbies, work, or maybe even pornography. Yet, God will not allow you to be satisfied with any of these substitutes. He has designed you to only be satisfied with His Word.

Today, will you become a student of the Word? I encourage you to read the Bible daily. Begin at the beginning of a book and read it all the way through. Start with the gospel of John or the book of Romans. Pray that the Lord reveals Himself to you in a powerful way. Read with a pencil and underline the things God will teach you. Then after you have underlined, be sure to obey. It’s really that simple. Don’t put off this discipline another day. Ask the Lord to change your life from the inside out today.

The mission aspect of Jesus’ words is clearly seen in 17:18-19: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” The key phrase in these verses is: “into the world.” Sanctification in John’s gospel is always for a mission. Sanctification’s mission is to bring truth, light, and salvation to the world. In 3:17, the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus now sends the disciples into the world to continue His mission after His departure. They are, in a sense, being commissioned. When Jesus speaks of sanctifying Himself on behalf of the disciples (17:19) the meaning is closer to the consecration of a sacrificial animal (Deut 15:19). Jesus is “setting Himself apart” to do the Father’s will, that is, to go to the cross on the disciples’ behalf. Jesus is the perfect example of a sanctified person. He devoted Himself completely and consistently to God’s will for Him. Throughout His entire life, in every attitude, culminating in His death, Jesus lived for God. Similarly, the disciples should see their purposes for living as not their own, but shaped by God’s mission for them.

The great evangelist D.L. Moody stopped a stranger one day on the street and asked him, “Are you a Christian?” The man was put off by the question, so he said, “Mind your own business!” Moody said, “This is my business!” The man looked to him and said, “Then you must be Moody.” Wouldn’t it be great to be known as “the person whose business is witnessing?” This is your business.

Are you accomplishing God’s mission for your life? Are you looking forward or looking back in your life? Are you focusing on your potential or your past failure? Perhaps you’re drowning in your past failures. Your divorce continues to haunt you. The lack of time you spent with your kids when they were growing up grieves you. Maybe you deeply regret your rebellious years away from the Lord. I encourage you to put a sign on your mirror that says: “God looks at where He wants to take you, not where you have already been.” Let go of the past and look ahead! Jesus says, “Finders keepers.” He has found you and will keep you.


 

Overcoming the impossible

WHEN THINGS SEEM IMPOSSIBLE
Mobberly Sunday School, December 21, 2014
Exodus 14:1-31

This week we’re going to fast-forward past a number of events in Moses’ life and take a close look at the most celebrated story in Moses’ life: the crossing of the Red Sea.

Here’s the story. Pharaoh had finally given Moses permission to lead the people out of Egypt, but once they started on their journey, Pharaoh changed his mind. He realized he had just lost the services of tens of thousands of slaves. Without that pool of free labor, his own people would have to go to work. So, Pharaoh assembled his army and set out after the Israelites.

The Israelites had come to the bank of the Red Sea, and had set up camp at a place called Pi Hahiroth. All of a sudden they noticed the army approaching–more than 600 hundred chariots in full pursuit. They began to realize they were facing an impossible situation, with no possible means of escape. In front of them was the Red Sea; behind them was the Egyptian army. They had nowhere to turn. It appeared their only options were to be killed in battle or drown trying to swim across the sea. Seemingly they had painted themselves into a corner and things looked absolutely hopeless.

And guess what. They were right where God wanted them to be.

Today we’re going to look at how you can deal with situations that seem to be impossible. Some of you here today are facing a Red Sea in your life: things look hopeless and you don’t know what to do – could be health-related, job-related, child-related, or other situations in your life. There are five spiritual truths in this story that you can hang on to, and I guarantee these five principles will get you to the other side of the Red Sea.

When faced with an impossible situation, the first thing you need to do is…

1. Recognize God’s Purpose for your problem.

The events in your life do not happen by accident; God is in control of everything. He had a purpose for bringing the Israelites to the Red Sea; he has a purpose for the Red Sea you face, too. He wants to accomplish two things: he wants to make known his glory to others (v. 4) and he wants to teach you to trust him more (v. 31). The Bible says…

(v. 4) But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.

You know how this story ends. I don’t think I’m giving away any surprises when I tell you that eventually the waters of the Red Sea part and the Israelites walk through to safety. That was God’s plan all along, because as a result of this experience, the Bible says…

(v. 31) And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

This Red Sea you’re facing serves a purpose. God can use it to glorify himself and to strengthen the bond between you and him. You can come through this ordeal with faith stronger than you’ve ever had before. This is God’s purpose in your life.

(Example of God using circumstances) I recognize God’s purpose in the situation.

As you face the Red Sea, remember that God has a purpose for you: to glorify Himself and to teach you to trust him more. Secondly, as you face the Red Sea we must…

2. Regain God’s Perspective on the situation.

When the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptian army approaching in the distance, do you know what their immediate response was? They panicked. The Bible says…

(v. 11) They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that your brought us to the desert to die?”

It is amazing that this would be their attitude, considering how they had witnessed the power of God in Egypt. But they had already forgotten about that and now they were convinced that this was the end. They went to say…

(v 12) “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

I suppose they’re right. It would be better to be a slave in Egypt than to die in the desert, but God didn’t intend for them to do either. He had plans for them–plans greater than they could imagine. Of course, they weren’t going to die in the desert. The Egyptians didn’t intend to kill them; they intended to take them back to Egypt and make them work. And you get the impression from reading this story that if Moses held a vote, the majority would have chosen to go back to Egypt right then.

This shows how we have a tendency to lose God’s perspective on a situation. Too often, when we’re confronted with an impossible situation, rather than meet it head on, we take the easy way out. We say, “We don’t want to face the Red Sea, and we don’t want to face Pharaoh’s army, so let’s just go back to Egypt and resume our lives as slaves.”

God doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want you to settle for second best. He doesn’t want to run from the crisis, he wants you to meet it head on–with courage and the conviction that he will see you through.

Homer Hickham was a young kid growing up in a West Virginia coal mining town in 1957. In those days, in that town, young men didn’t have many options. If they didn’t get to a college on a football scholarship, they ended up working in the coal mines for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, Homer was hopelessly non-athletic, but he loved science. Homer had a passion for building rockets. He and some friends began conducting experiments, trying to develop rockets that would fly. As the experiments became successful, the boys began to believe in the possibility of winning the state science fair–which could lead to college scholarships and a ticket out of a life of coal-mining. Homer’s dream fell apart when his father was injured in a serious mining accident. Homer had no choice but to quit school and go to work. It’s what his father expected him to do, it’s what the principal of the school expected him to do, it’s what most people in his life expected him to do: forget the dream, take the easy way out, go to work in the mines.

Homer’s dad was a miner and loved being a miner, but Homer had different interests. He wanted to design rockets, but this dream seemed to be hopelessly out of reach. He found himself facing a decision: he could either remain a “slave” in a dying coal-mining community, or he could look at life from a different perspective–that he was destined for greatness. Homer made his choice. As soon as his father recovered from his injury, he quit the mines and went back to school.

He entered and won the state science fair, then took his exhibit to the world’s fair in Indianapolis and won again. He was offered a full college scholarship. Today, Homer is a NASA engineer. There was a time when things seemed hopeless, and he was tempted to “go back to Egypt,” but he learned to look at life from another perspective.

The Red Sea you are facing is not the impasse that you think it is. It may be tempting to take the easy way out–to settle for second best–but God has a better idea. He wants you to look at the big picture; he wants you to look at life from His perspective. He will get you through any impossible situation.

Thirdly, as you face the Red Sea, you must….

3. Rely on God’s Promise.

I once heard a motivational speaker ask an audience, “If your success was guaranteed, wouldn’t you be willing to endure just about anything? If you had an iron-clad contract stating that if you dig ditches in the rain every day for 6 months you will have complete financial freedom–wouldn’t you be willing to dig ditches?” The answer was obvious. Of course you would.

We can endure just about anything if we know the outcome. However, one of the most difficult aspects of facing a Red Sea is dealing with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. When you’re facing an impossible situation, it looks like everything is falling apart, like there is no chance things will work out the way they should.

When you’re facing a Red Sea you’ve got to rely on God’s promise. What is his promise? Moses spoke to the people…

(v. 13-14) “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

God promises us two things.

• He promises the problem will be completely eradicated. “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.” We have a tendency to put a band-aid on our problems, to sweep them under the rug, to get them out of the way for a few days. God promises to remove it once and for all. Also…

• He promises to fight for you. Without his help the Israelites didn’t have a chance, and neither do we. We need him in the battle. He has promised to be there for us, to fight on our side.

To get to other side of the Red Sea you have to learn to rely on his promise. What does it mean to rely? Once again, let’s look at verses 13 and 14. Relying on God’s promises involves three things.

1) Fear not. The words “Fear Not” appear in the Bible more than 50 times. This means that you can choose to not be afraid. Of course, no one ever chooses to be afraid. Fear just pounces on you. But when it pounces, you can choose to reject it. Moses also said…

2) Stand firm. Don’t compromise your integrity. Don’t give up. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Stand and face the situation.

3) Be still. Of course, “be still” doesn’t mean “do nothing.” Moses is not talking about your body; he’s talking about your heart. Being still involves blocking out all distractions and placing your focus on the promises of God–or even better, focusing on God himself. Remember this: the peace of God can’t hit a moving target. If you want your heart to be filled with God’s peace, your heart will have to become still long enough to receive it.

As you face the Red Sea in your life, with the enemy closing in from behind, rely on God’s promise to see you through. Also, you need to…

4. Rest In God’s Protection.

When the Israelites first began their journey they were led by a cloud by day and a fire by night. When they arrived at the bank of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army began closing in, the cloud moved behind the Israelite camp, between the Israelites and the Egyptians. The Bible says…

(v 20) Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

God had not yet performed the miracle that would deliver the Hebrew people; that would come later. Until then, they could rest in God’s protection.

There is an interesting verse here. It says…

(v. 19) Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.

The angel withdrew. How do you think the Israelites reacted when they saw the cloud begin to float away? Undoubtedly, like you and I are prone to do, they thought, “There it goes. We’re sunk. God is leaving us now and we’re on our own.” It may have appeared that way at first, but the cloud moved behind them and protected them during the night.

As you face any impossible situation in your life there is something you need to keep in mind. No matter how bad things seem, things are not as bad as they could be, and the reason they’re not as bad as they could be is because God is preventing things from getting that bad. The phrase, “Things could be worse” is usually the set-up for a joke. But I’m not joking when I say that if you look at your situation with the eyes of faith you will see how God has kept his hand on you, in spite of the difficulties. He’s protecting you now until the day that he parts your Red Sea.

In 1960 a Cuban Christian named Armondo Valladares was arrested for “offenses against state authorities.” Specifically, he was caught praying in a church. Immediately, Valladares was sent to prison and for the next 22 years was subjected to the cruelty and torture that is common in Castro’s prison system. He was expected to die there. The government didn’t plan to release him and the Christians in Cuba had no hope of seeing him again. Things looked hopeless. But God protected this man. He survived. Christians and human rights organizations throughout the world lobbied for his release, and finally, in 1982 Valladares was set free. Until the day that the Red Sea parted, God protected Valladares from his enemies; he kept him alive. He emerged from prison with a bold faith and a powerful testimony.

God is protecting you, too. Rest in his protection. And as you face the Red Sea, you also need to…

5. Reach for God’s Power.

This is what God said to Moses…

(v. 16) Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

God wants to deliver you from the impossible situation you face. He wants to part the Red Sea for you. For it to happen, you have to stretch…you have to reach for God’s power.

This staff that Moses carried symbolized God’s power in his life. When God first called Moses, he told Moses to throw down the staff and the staff became a snake. He told Moses to pick it up and it became a rod again. Moses and Aaron each used their staff to bring plagues upon Egypt. The staff was waved over the Nile and Nile turned to blood. The staff was stretched over the streams and the plague of frogs was sent. The staff was struck on the ground and a plague of gnats swarmed the land. The staff was stretched to the sky and hail was rained upon Egypt. And on and on. The staff wasn’t magic, but it symbolized the power of God.

God was saying to Moses, “You hold my power in your hand. If you’re willing to reach, you will again witness a miracle.”

God’s power is available to you, too. If you’re willing to stretch, you will experience a miracle. Getting to the other side of the Red Sea requires you to reach–to move in faith like you never have before, to trust God more than you ever have before, to take a bolder step than you’ve ever taken before. I don’t know what seemingly impossible situation you face today, but I know this: if you reach for God’s power, he will supply it. He will get you through to the other side of sea.

CONCLUSION

Are you facing the Red Sea? Are there situations in your life that seem impossible? Remember: it only seems impossible to you. God has a plan. It may be something different than you ever could have imagined, but he has a plan. He will get you to the other side. And when he does you can be sure that others will see his glory in your life and your relationship with him will be stronger than ever before. You’re not on your own. You don’t have to fight the army and you don’t have to conquer the sea in your own strength. You only have to reach for God’s power.

The United Way – part 1

The United Way (Philippians 2:1-4) Small group, MBC, 8/31/14
How do we create unity among Christians?
I’m sure you have noticed that there is a great deal of disunity in the world today. Since 9/11, we have been so polarized from different groups that we are now experiencing both global and domestic isolation. Presently, there is tremendous polarity between democrats and republicans. We face a group of Islamic radicals that want us economically crippled so they can move in for the kill. The United Nations community that was founded upon the principle of global unity has split into either supporters of the USA or haters of the USA. The idea of unity seems like a farfetched fantasy. There has never been a time in our country when company loyalty and unity has been so poor. Corporations blatantly lie about their earnings to keep business afloat; employees sue their employers because they are suffering fatigue for working eight hours a day. The bookstore shelves are littered with “how to” tips for managers to unify their departments.
Worse yet, the home and the church are no better than the world. Our homes have all but lost their once impenetrable defenses. Forty percent of children will go to sleep tonight without a father around. The divorce rate for couples is up to 56% with almost no difference in the church or out of the church. The idea of unity in the home is almost a joke. We are also facing massive division within the churches of America. There are over 6,000 factions and branches of denominational separation in the “Christian Church.” Where we once stood as an example of unity, we now are ridiculed and mocked because we can’t even agree on the most basic assumptions the Bible makes. Do you have to believe in God to be a Christian? Does it have to be the God of the Bible? Can you be a Christian without believing in Christ? Does the only book that teaches us about God have to be believed or can I just come up with whatever I want?

Along with denominational differences, local churches are facing increased polarization from those that attend their church. Pastors are openly mocked and ridiculed. Gossip reigns supreme. Men and women who call themselves Christians don’t see the need to be unified with other believers because they feel they have their own “personal” relationship with Jesus and that’s good enough. Infighting, bickering, impatience, immorality, and a total disregard for the lost is common and unity, kindness, patience, and a zeal for those outside of the family of God is uncommon.
But instead of bemoaning these tragic realities, we must welcome the challenge of uniting as brothers and sisters in Christ. This seems like an impossible and overwhelming endeavor…and it is! But that is where the supernatural strength of the Lord enters in. In Philippians 2:1–4, Paul uses an “if-then” logical argument. He says: “If certain things are true, then we are obligated to do certain things.” So in these few short verses you will come to understand why you should be unified with other Christians and how to fulfill this great goal.

1. Express what God has created in you (READ Philippians 2:1–2). In these two verses, Paul reveals that true unity can occur when the body of Christ recognizes and appropriates her identity in Christ. Paul begins this section with the word “therefore” (oun). This marks a shift from the subject of the church’s struggle with its external enemies (1:27–30) to the equally threatening problem of internal division. In other words, Paul’s focus has moved from without to within. He understands that it is of little value to be unified against opposition from without and then fail to be unified within. Unity is critical to the mission of the church. Unity also expresses the theme of Philippians to live as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27).

In 2:1, Paul shares why you and I should be unified with the body of Christ. His approach is not to tell you what you should do, but rather what has already been done to you by God. Paul writes, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion…” Each of these phrases begins with the word “if” (ei), but this is not an expression of doubt. Instead, Paul is assuming the certainty of each of these descriptions. He is saying, “If this is true—and I know it is…” If I address the high school graduates in our church by saying: “If you have been encouraged by the preaching here, if you have appreciated the worship, if you have grown in the Lord through youth group, then when you go off to college this fall, don’t forget to find a home church. I am optimistic enough to assume that the young people of our church have been blessed by God’s work. Since this is true, I expect that they will continue to worship and serve the Lord.
Paul begins his discussion on unity by appealing to the Philippians’ relationship “in Christ.” He does not focus on their relationships toward one another. Biblical unity is not dependent upon natural oneness but upon supernatural bonding. Paul identifies four blessings that stem from being in Christ. Each of these blessings stem from the immediately preceding paragraph (1:27–30) on suffering.
1. Encouragement. Our union with Christ gives us encouragement. In the midst of suffering, we need encouragement. The word translated “encouragement” (paraklesis) refers to one who comes along side us, directs us, and encourages us to press on. This is the same word that Jesus used when He spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter (John 14:16). Have you ever wanted give up spiritually? Of course! I have too! The reason you haven’t given up and given in is because God refuses to give up on you. He gives you “staying power” and preserves you through His encouragement. When you don’t think you can carry on, you need to recognize the Lord is your encouragement.
2. Comfort. Our union with Christ gives us comfort or “consolation of love.” Since we have received the work of the Holy Spirit who comforts us, then unity should follow. Since we all share God’s love, that love should produce unity. No one has earned a share in the kingdom. We are all recipients of God’s redeeming love. When you are hurting and discouraged, God will bring you comfort. The Trinity understands suffering. God the Father gave up His Son to die on the cross for the sins of humankind. Jesus’ own family didn’t believe in Him until after His resurrection. He was betrayed by His disciples. The Jewish people that He came to save rejected Him and called to have Him crucified. The Holy Spirit experiences continual suffering from believers who grieve and quench Him through sin. The Godhead can empathize with you in the midst of your suffering like no one can READ 2 Cor 1:3–7.
3. Fellowship. READ Acts 2:42. Our union with Christ gives us fellowship. This phrase should be understood in the sense of unity and oneness (see 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:3–4), which results from the Spirit indwelling all believers, individually (1 Cor 6:19) and corporately (1 Cor 3:16). When you feel alone, God wants you to know that He is present with you at all times. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5b). He continues to cultivate His very life in you. He grants you not only eternal fellowship, but offers you temporal fellowship in your Christian experience.
4. Affection and compassion. Our union with Christ gives us affection and compassion. God is the one who has modeled for us perfect affection and compassion. He never disappoints. He always meets our deepest needs. He knows just how to express His great love for us. I will fail you, I will disappoint you. There will be times where I am not even aware of the suffering and persecution that you are going through. Fortunately, God is that friend that sticks closer than a bother (Prov 18:24.) God knows everything that you have endured and will endure. He is there to show you the affection and compassion that you need.

On the basis of Paul’s appeal in 2:1, he makes four more statements that relate to our unity as members of the body of Christ. Paul is essentially saying, ‘If you love me, make me happy by showing the inner beauty which God has created in you since you were converted. Live together in harmony.’ In 2:2, Paul issues the lone command in this section: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” The command translated “make complete” (pleroo) means literally “to make full or to fill.” In 1:3–4, Paul states that he already has joy because of the Philippians, but now he asks that this joy be filled to the brim. Paul doesn’t get excited about money, possessions, acclaim, or ministry success; he receives joy from the unity of God’s people! I have to ask if this is true for me as well. What bring me joy and a sense of ultimate fulfillment? Have you ever ordered a soft drink at an amusement park and when the drink came it was filled with three-quarters ice? That is maddening, especially since it cost $4.00! The cup gave the impression of being filled to the brim, but it was filled with a cheap substitute—ice. Similarly, you may seek joy in things that don’t really matter in this life or in the next. Yet, God urges you to seek your fulfillment and chief joy in that which matters in time and in eternity—the unity of the body of Christ. Paul follows up his command with four responses to our identity in Christ.

o Be of the same mind. The phrase “be of the same mind” doesn’t mean we should have the same opinions or agree about everything. Paul’s desire is for unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is gained by pressure from without. The English word uniformity has within it the word uniform. We dress alike, look alike, sound alike, think alike, act alike. But that is neither healthy nor biblical. Unity comes from deep within. It is the inner desire to conduct oneself in a cooperative manner…to be on the same team, to go for the same objectives, for the benefit of one another.
o Maintain the same love. Let’s be honest. There may be some Christians that you don’t like. Christians are like porcupines. They have many good points, but they are hard to get close to. The main reason is their prickly personalities keep needling each other. That’s okay. The Bible doesn’t command you to “like” believers; the Bible commands you to “love” believers. As you learn to maintain love (agape) for other believers, in time, you may find feelings of fondness follow. Regardless, true biblical love deals with incompatibility. This is the test of biblical love. After all, it is fairly easy to follow these expectations when the body is functioning well, but what about when the body is behaving badly? This is where agape loves takes over and wins.
o Unite in spirit. This is a most unusual phrase that Paul has chosen here for it really conveys the idea of having “joint souls” (sumpsuchos). We are to be soul brothers and sisters, in harmony with all of God’s people. E. Stanley Jones (1884–1973), missionary to India, once said, “Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about Who you believe in and you have unity.” Christians will always disagree on doctrine; however, we should unite around Jesus. There are two primary dangers in the Christian church: majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. We need to ensure that we are majoring on the major doctrines that center around the Lord Jesus (e.g., the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, salvation by faith alone, and the personal return of Christ). These things are non-negotiable because they have joined true Christians across the centuries.

Delight in the midst of the disaster

Delight in the Midst of Disaster (Philippians 1:12-18a) Small Group, MBC, August 2, 2014
(Favorite song to encourage you?) When Handel wrote the “Hallelujah Chorus,” his health and his fortunes had reached an all-time low. His right side had become paralyzed, and all his money was gone. He was heavily in debt and threatened with imprisonment. He was tempted to give up the fight. The odds seemed entirely too great. And it was then he composed his greatest work—Messiah.
Today you may be going through one of the lowest seasons in your life. Perhaps you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer and you’re wondering what the future holds for you and your loved ones. Maybe you just lost your job and you don’t see how God can provide for you and your family during this time of economic uncertainty. Perhaps your parents are getting a divorce and you’re scared and angry. Maybe a family member or friend just passed away and you don’t know how you can carry on. Whatever you’re going through today, I want you to know there is hope. God wants to work in and through you in the midst of your pain. But as you know, the Christian life can be bittersweet. It’s bitter when you experience suffering and loss. Let’s face it, trials and tragedies are awful! No one loves suffering and hardship. Nevertheless, the Christian life is also sweet in the sense that our suffering is never wasted on God. He works His purposes even in the midst of your pain. In fact, God will do some of His best work in and through you when you are in the midst of personal crisis.
Paul shares from personal experience that your perspective in times of pain makes all the difference. You’ll see that the question Paul asks himself is not, “Is what’s happening to me fair?” Rather, he poses this question: “Is what’s happening to me accomplishing something for God? Is it furthering His purposes in the world?” If you reflect on this question, you will discover that you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances. In passages today, Paul shares two encouraging realities about adversity. These realities will give you even greater confidence in the power of the gospel.
1. Adversity advances God’s kingdom (READ Philippians 1:12–14). Paul is going to challenge you to view your adversity in light of its kingdom contribution. In doing so, he insists that adversity does not stymie the gospel; rather, it advances the gospel. Paul puts it like this: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else” (1:12–13). Paul opens with the important phrase: “Now I want you to know.” This phrase introduces something important. Here, it functions as a topic sentence for all that follows through 1:26. (Paul begins the body of his letter in 1:12 and it runs through 4:9.) In 1:12, Paul explains that his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” What are Paul’s specific circumstances? He is serving a prison sentence in Rome and is most likely in the custody of the “praetorian guard.” These are elite troops housed in the emperor’s palace. They are a specialized, handpicked, military group. They were Caesar’s own personal bodyguards—strong, courageous, brilliant, sophisticated, young men—kind of a mixture of West Point and the Secret Service. They served in the palace guard for twelve years, protecting Caesar and guarding the prisoners, who, like Paul, had appealed to him. After twelve years they transitioned into other influential careers. Some went on to be the commanding generals of large forces. Others went into public office and became senators or ambassadors to other countries. Still others advanced into the top echelons of business and industry. As a group, they were the movers and shakers of the future, the opinion leaders, and kingmakers of the next generation. They were a powerful and strategic group of young men. If you wanted to influence the Roman Empire, you couldn’t pick a better group to start with. Every day Paul grinned to himself because, for two years, one of them wore the other end of his chain, and for six hours, had to stay within four feet of him. He wasn’t chained to them; they were chained to him! Literally, Paul had a captive audience with whom he shared Christ, which led to a chain reaction of conversions throughout the whole Roman palace.
Paul’s imprisonment led to “the greater progress of the gospel” (1:12). The noun “progress” (prokope) means “cut before” and speaks of the cutting of a path by pioneers to open the way for an army to advance into new territory. Even though Paul’s imprisonment may have seemed like a setback, it actually served to advance the gospel among those in Rome. In God’s sovereignty, the Lord ordained Paul’s imprisonment in Rome so many people would hear the gospel who would not otherwise have heard it. Furthermore, many of these people are significant and influential people, who in the future, have a great impact for God. Although God closes a prison door behind Paul, He opens a new door for the gospel. Always remember, Jesus is Lord even in prison! He has His people behind bars so they can spread the gospel! This is why Paul cares more about the progress of the gospel than his own problems. He is confident that God is always at work. And he believes that you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.
Similarly, God uses your painful circumstances to advance His gospel. You may not like your job, your school, your neighborhood, or your marriage, but God has you “chained up” to some people who need Christ. Have you realized that God gave you a particular job in order for you to share Christ with your boss and coworkers? Are you cognizant of the fact that God directed you to buy a house in a particular neighborhood with neighbors who need to hear about His Son? There are no mistakes or coincidences. God has a plan and He is advancing His kingdom through YOU.
Adversity will come to you sooner or later. Unfortunately, you’re not given a choice about most of the things that happen to you. I hate to break this to you, but you’re in one of three situations: (1) Either you’re in a trial right now, or you’re (2) just coming out of a trial, or you’re (3) about to enter a trial and just don’t know it yet. Such is life this side of heaven. But opportunity knocks whenever you experience a tragedy or trial. Thus, you must train yourself to see every tragedy as a divine opportunity to advance the gospel. You may one day lose a child, yet God can use that tragedy to open doors for the good news of Christ. Your spouse may leave you one day for someone else, and God may use your loss for His gain. Yet, God may open new doors to reach more students with His gospel. The question is not, “Is what’s happening to me fair?” but instead, “Is what’s happening to me accomplishing something for God?
Is what’s happening to me being useful to God in some way?
Is it furthering His purposes in the world?

Paul concludes this section in 1:14 by explaining another way that God is using his imprisonment: “and that most of the brethren, trusting [having gained confidence23] in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Paul’s prison sentence brought about greater boldness among the Roman Christians. Rather than laying low and hiding out, these believers felt inspired by Paul’s courage. Consequently, they are standing up boldly for Christ and proclaiming Him in unprecedented fashion. Apparently, they figure, “If Paul can share Christ in prison, why can’t I do it as a free person?” Likewise, when I hear about my brothers and sisters in places like Sudan, North Korea, China, and India courageously sharing their faith amidst severe persecution, I get motivated to boldly share Christ.
Do you realize that your commitment to boldly share Christ in the difficult circumstances of your life will embolden others to do the same? As a public school teacher, if you find ways to creatively share Christ, when other Christian teachers find out about what you are doing, they are going to want to do the same. As a state employee, if you host a Bible study and other Christian state employees find out about this, they may attempt to do the very same thing. You can have a powerful witness because God emboldens us to proclaim Christ by observing the witness of other believers. It will not be easy, but you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.
[Adversity advances God’s kingdom because the world is all eyes and ears when Christians suffer. They want to know how you will respond. When you trust Christ in the midst of your adversity the gospel advances in and through you. A second reality of adversity is…]
2. Adversity reveals our priorities (READ Philippians 1:15–18a). In the midst of trials and suffering, you find out what is really important to you. Adversity serves as a true gut check. In these verses you will see how Paul’s true passion and priorities reveal themselves. In 1:15–17 he writes: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” If you read through these verses carefully, you ought to be exclaiming, “Can you believe this? What in the world is going on here? It’s not bad enough that Paul is in prison, now he has some preachers who are hoping to rub salt in his wounds! Who are these devils? First of all, we must recognize that these are not false teachers; they are selfish teachers. Paul is clear in 1:15 and 17: these preachers “preach Christ,” but they do so from “envy and strife” and out of “selfish ambition.” The word translated “selfish ambition” (eritheia) was used to describe a selfish worker interested only in his own pay or a politician in the self-seeking pursuit of office regardless of means. In the same vein, with Paul in prison, there is now a perceived vacancy, and these preachers are all seeking to be the top dog. They are petty, territorial, calculating, and focused on self-promotion. They aren’t anti-Christ, they are anti-Paul.
What bothered these preachers was that Paul was getting too much attention. As far as they were concerned, he was just a little bit too famous—the big shot apostle who came to town as an imperial prisoner, guarded by Caesar’s personal bodyguards. All the Christians in Rome were talking about him and singing his praises. As a result, some of the local pastors got a bit envious of all the attention Paul was getting. Who was he to come into their city and get all the praise after they’d been there for years? So, some of them took advantage of the situation so that they, too, would become more prominent. It was kind of a rivalry with them. Perhaps they said things like this:
“You know how much we love and respect our dear brother Paul. No one loves him more than we do. However, it seems as if Paul causes trouble wherever he goes. Someone stones him, or they arrest him, or he has to sneak out of town in the middle of the night. We don’t like to mention it, but there are bad rumors about him back in Jerusalem. I personally don’t believe them, but we can’t reject them out of hand. It’s possible he’s guilty of the charges against him. He’s a wonderful preacher, but he seems to stir up trouble in every city. Frankly, I think it’s extremely embarrassing to have an esteemed apostle in jail…and in Rome of all places. Perhaps it would be better if Paul had never come to our city. In any case, he can hardly be our spiritual leader while he’s in jail. Let’s agree to pray for him and ask God to release him and send him somewhere else—preferably a long way from here.”
Fortunately, Paul could always fall back on those preachers who proclaimed the gospel from goodwill and out of love for him (1:16). These pastors recognized that God had placed Paul exactly where He wanted him. The word translated “appointed” (keimai) was a military term indicating a military assignment or orders. In other words, the good pastors knew that God had assigned Paul to his chains and to a courtroom appearance before Caesar; God had ordered him there to defend the gospel at the highest level in the Roman Empire. They wanted to do their part where they could.
So how does Paul respond to these two types of preachers? In 1:18a, he closes with some astonishing words: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” The phrase “What then?” means, “What do I say about that?” or even, “So what?” This question refers back to 1:15–17. Paul is essentially saying, “All that I know is the gospel is being proclaimed…it is advancing! And that thrills my heart! I rejoice!” His sentiments are that it is better for people with impure motives to preach Christ than they not preach Him at all. After all, “He who is not against you is for you” (READ Luke 9:50). Suppressing Paul is like trying to sink a cork in a bath!
Paul can exude this attitude because he is consumed with the gospel. Ultimately, he is not concerned with his own reputation, ministry, or happiness. Rather, Paul wants the success of the gospel—he longs for it to advance. What an example! All kinds of issues cry for our attention: abortion, pornography, media bias, economic injustice, racial discrimination, classism, sexism, to name a few. These are important issues, but the great danger is that we become so passionate or concerned about these issues that the gospel is marginalized. This has been happening in the Protestant church for years! But when the gospel is preached by gospel-focused people, God transforms the culture. The key is “to keep the main thing the main thing.” Life does not revolve around being happily married, raising the perfect family, making a lot of money, or being successful in your job. Life revolves around preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. For Paul, the “main thing” is the gospel. And in the gospel, Paul will rejoice!
Undoubtedly, though, the slander of these preachers hurt Paul deeply. It must have broken his heart to know that some of his brothers were using his prison time against him. Nevertheless, Paul has a big heart and broad shoulders, and he knows people often do the right things for the wrong reasons. This is why in READ 1 Cor 4:1–5, Paul himself says, “I don’t judge others or myself; I leave that to the Lord Jesus Christ (paraphrase).
It is critical to follow Paul’s example and not get caught up criticizing the methods and motives of other ministries. This is counterproductive for several reasons: (1) Criticism is addictive, because it can turn you away from your own faults and breeds a spirit of self-righteousness and intolerance. I don’t know about you, but I have enough sins and weaknesses to worry about in my own life and ministry. (2) Criticism diverts an extraordinary amount of time and energy away from the positive proclamation of Christ. There are too many Christian witch hunters who are known for who and what they are against. We ought to be for Christ and His gospel, (3) Criticism stirs up divisiveness and disunity before the world. This leads unbelievers to say, “I’d rather be at the bar or the country club where people love me. The church shoots its own wounded and is full of backbiting.” We must be sensitive to this objection and change the world’s perspective. Let us begin by contending for the faith and not with the faithful.
As you contend for the faith and proclaim Christ, you can experience joy.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS? It’s been said, “If we see Jesus in our circumstances, then we will see our circumstances in Jesus.” Paul lived this!
Remember, Paul is writing this letter from a Roman prison. Furthermore, five of Paul’s thirteen letters were written from prison. Paul would not let himself give way to self-pity. He knows that in order to exude joy in the midst of adversity he must see adversity from an eternal perspective. The key to his joy was between his ears. Over thirty times in Philippians Paul refers to the mind or to remembering. When joy has leaked out of your life, the leak is between your ears. You must change your thinking so that you can experience joy once again. May you do so today. You can have your best witness in the worst of times. THEME
Don’t think for a minute that God can’t or doesn’t use your difficulties for a purpose larger than yourself. He does.” God can use your adversity in the same way. Whatever you’re going through today, pray: “Lord, help me to submit to You and trust You in the midst of my pain. May I only care about how my trial advances your gospel.”