Philippians 3 – Press On

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While it doesn’t seem that there was a specific threat to the unity of the church in Philippi, Paul knows from experience that there are those both in the faith and outside of it who will come lurking eventually.  We have seen this in his other letters as well to the church in Ephesus, the churches in Galatia, the church in Rome, and his multiple letters to the church in Corinth.

So Paul takes this opportunity to exhort the church in Philippi towards greater unity and the collective goal, that they may not be sidetracked by the “Judaizers” who preach circumcision or any other group that might try to push its way in.

Paul’s way of doing this, interestingly enough, is by citing himself as an example.  Indeed he was the Jew of all Jews, a leader in the community before he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  However, what Paul realized very quickly is that all of it was for nothing, and is not merely a distraction from the true goal of following Christ Jesus.

He talks about this in terms of a race, an apt metaphor if ever there was one.  This isn’t, however, a 100M sprint, it’s a marathon.  In other places, Paul talks about training his body for this long race, not getting distracted by those who would offer an “easy win.”  I imagine it would be pretty tempting, in the middle of a 25K run, if someone offered a ride to the finish line.  Essentially, that is what the Judaizers were doing, offering a physical act as the true way of Christian identity.

To this, Paul says no.  Don’t take the ride, don’t listen to the lies.  We press on toward the goal for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.



Philippians 2 – Be Like Jesus

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As Paul continues to encourage the community of faith in Philippi, he both encourages them in their walk of faith and warns them of some potential dangers that might crop up in the church.  The chief among them is disunity and division.

When we experience good times of prosperity and growth, our tendency is to want to hold on to them.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to selfish actions geared at personal gain, something that is antithetical to the message of the Gospel and the purpose of the Church.  Paul warns against this citing the benefits and encouragement from Union with Christ that are meant to be turned outward, not inward.

How we know this and see this is the example of Jesus Christ, His life, work, and especially His death.  Jesus, stepping out of heaven, humbled himself by taking on human flesh.  In this humility, not only did He put on the skin of a mortal being, He also submitted Himself to the will of the Father, fulfilling the Law by living the life that we could not and also dying the death that we deserved.  Paul writes that Jesus “took on the very nature of a servant.”

The cross was Jesus ultimate act of servanthood and humility. At the same time, it was also His greatest glorification.

The best way to avoid division and disunity is to take on these same traits, being like Jesus and turning all the benefits of being His child outward towards the world.  When we do this, we realize very quickly that it isn’t about us, it’s about God and showing His love and sharing His Good News.

As Paul continues in this chapter, he commends several people to the church in Philippi, all of whom are living out what Paul has encouraged the people there to do.  These are people who will encourage and strengthen the community when they arrive there, all because they are striving to be like Jesus.



John 3:1-17 "Reborn"



Philippians 1 – Advance of the Gospel

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Paul opens his letter to the church in Philippi on a decidedly happy note, not because of what is going on with him, but because of what he hears ash been going on in the church there.  He calls them “partners” in the Gospel and is overjoyed by the growth that has been taking place there, which he has heard about even in Rome.

It is not just the church in Philippi that is giving Paul a reason to celebrate, though.  Yes, they have been moving forward in the right direction, following God’s lead and seeing the Gospel advance whereas other churches that Paul wrote to were not.  But Paul himself is seeing the advance of the Gospel even in his own context where it was much less expected.

At the time of his writing, Paul was imprisoned in Rome under house arrest.  It would be understandable for us, as Paul talks about his chains, that he would be in a rather sour mood.  Yet he continues to rejoice because even in that context, the Gospel is moving forward!

Though Paul was in prison, the Gospel continued to advance.

Throughout Scripture, there are a myriad of narratives about God using seemingly bad situations for the good of those involved in them.  Once again, God is using Paul’s imprisonment for the advance of the Gospel.  This, Paul says, is also true when it comes to those preaching the Gospel.  Some do it for selfish reasons while others preach out of love.

“What does it matter?”  Paul says.  “The important thing is that in every way… Christ is preached.”

Sometimes we get caught up in denominationalism, questioning the motives of certain preachers, or criticizing the actions of other faith communities.  Paul, however, is not concerned with the minutia of what is going on in different churches as long as the Gospel is being faithfully preached.  Now, this isn’t a license to preach and teach whatever we want.  Yet, whatever the human motives are, when the Word of God goes out, it will not return empty.



Introduction to Philippians

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is uniquely positive in character, thanking the church for the gift it sent him while he was imprisoned in Rome.  Throughout the letter, though, Paul takes the opportunity to encourage the church in the midst of persecution and to exhort them to humility and unity within the faith community there.

The city of Philippi had a very unique and sorted history, being named after a Greek king, Philip the second, who conquered the city and named it after himself.  In the time of the Roman Empire, Philippi was a prosperous city which was located on the main highway that connected the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire with Rome itself.  This road, known as the Egnatian Way, was both the lifeline of the city and also the reason for its prosperity.  Philippi was also unique in that very few Jews lived within the city.  This may account for the fact that Paul’s letter to the church here contains no direct quotations of the Old Testament.

Philippi was located in Macedonia, in what is now northern Greece. Photo Credit: www.holylandphotos.org

Philippi was located in Macedonia, in what is now northern Greece.
Photo Credit: www.holylandphotos.org

Acts 16 records Paul’s first visit to the city of Philippi in roughly A.D. 50-51, on his second missionary journey.  Following a vision that God gave him, Paul and his traveling companions made the journey to Macedonia and preached the Gospel to those he met there.  Out of that came the conversion of Lydia, a particularly prominent woman in the early church whose hospitality and leadership are noted by Paul in Scripture.

The book of Philippians expresses a very practical and yet rigorous type of Christian living, commending its readers to follow the very example of Christ as it is expressed in chapter 2.  This is widely considered to be one of the most profound Christological passages in the New Testament.



Ephesians 6 – God's Armor

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God’s armor helps us defend against the constant attacks of the enemy.

Paul does two things here that are necessary for us as Christians to understand the reality of the battle that we are facing.  First, he helps us determine where the battle is being fought and second, helps us to understand the resources at our disposal for this battle.

One of the greatest struggles in any conflict is determining who the true enemy is.  Often it is easy to over-generalize the enemy, especially in war.  We go to war with a country, but the true enemy is a rogue government or evil dictator, not the citizens trapped therein.  In North America, the Church finds itself at odds with culture, often over-generalizing the enemy that is being fought as an ideology, supreme court decision, or political party.

While there may be some truth to these particular segments, they are gross over-generalizations that vilify things and people whilst distracting us from the true battle that is going on.  Paul cuts through this and points to the true culprit behind not just western culture’s moral decline, but every temptation, sin, and evil that has ever been: the great deceiver, Satan, and the plane that this war is taking place on is much greater than any one single issue or act.

As such, the armor and weapons that are needed for this battle are also greater than any human creation or action.  These are things that can only come from God.  Lately, it seems, and far too often, the Church has relied less and less on God’s armor and more on political structures and lobbying groups to confront the enemy and all his scheming… and to no avail either.

We need to understand the nature of the war that we are in.  It isn’t one that we are going to win on our own.  In fact, it isn’t going to be one until Jesus Christ comes again and wins it for us once and for all.  The image of the Church in the world will not be crafted by how we get our way in governmental structures, whether or not abortion is legal, or any other such thing.  Rather, as Scripture tells us,

Rather, as Scripture tells us, we will face troubles in the world and should expect that.  God has given us weapons to defend against these attacks.  He has also shown us how, exactly, the world will know our identity as Christ followers, and that is through the love that we show all those around us in spite of governmental decisions, moral cultural decline, and the like.



Ephesians 5 – Mutual Submission

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Ahhh, that great chapter on marriage.  Much of what Paul has been talking about continues in the first section of this chapter, living the life that God has called us to live, showing love to each other as Christ has shown His love to us.

Paul then moves on to a more specific application looking at specific relationships; husband and wife, parent and child, slave and master (or perhaps a more contemporary translation, employee and employer).  Each one of these relationship examples is a practical application of living out the Christian life, or as Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

All of it finds its credence in the first section as Paul explains what he means using the example of the marriage relationship.  None of this “submission” is meant to create power gaps or abusive relationships, but rather it takes its cue from Jesus Christ who is the example of what true love and submission mean.

Contrary to what some believe, this is one of the most beautiful images of marriage in which both individuals are actively placing the other higher than themselves.  The language of submission is not popular in today’s world because it has been abused by so many and led to a great deal of hurt.  We also don’t like to be told to or involved in actively making ourselves vulnerable.  Certainly, it was never God’s intent or purpose to place people in abusive situations.

That said, when this idea of submitting to each other, to actively loving and valuing the other above our own interests is lived out, taking its cue from Christ, the result is a beautiful relationship and a tangible image of the love that God has for us.

The marriage relationship is one that uniquely images Christ’s love for us.

This, then, can be seen in the other relationships that Paul mentions in the beginning of the next chapter as well, all dictated by the language of mutual submission… or placing a higher value on the needs of others rather than our own.



Ephesians 4 – Mature Unity

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So, Paul writes, what are we going to do in light of this?  His writing often takes this turn into practical application, something theology should always do because the reality of Christ in us is not just something we acknowledge in our heads, it is in our hearts and lived out in our lives.

What does that mean here in the book of Ephesians?  It means we should be taking our cues from Christ, living a transformed life through the Holy Spirit.  God, who has drawn us near to Himself through the life and work of Jesus Christ calls us to draw near to each other, to be unified showing the same love that He has shown us.  This is, as Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians, the freedom we have in Christ to love one another, to put others before ourselves.

This idea of being unified can be a bit confusing for us.  Especially in today’s culture, unity is often misconstrued as thinking the same way ideologically, politically, and even religiously.  When we have differences, we tend to push others away.  That is not at all the way God showed His love for us.  In fact, in the midst of our differences and the barriers that were in place, God stepped toward us, drawing us in rather than pushing us away.

When people wrong us do we push them away or step toward them in love?

Using this as an example, Paul encourages the Church to rise above their differences of opinion and exhibit the same love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that Christ showed us.  We are of one body, we have one God, and we have one identity that binds us together.  As such, we can transcend our human differences for the and live together in peace.

Doing so may not always be perfect, comfortable, or even clean.  There are bound to be bumps in the road.  However, the encouragement here is not to let those things be a reason to push others away, but that in those times we would step into the gap and move closer to the other in that relationship and in so doing, show the love of God to all those around us, whether in the Church or not.



Ephesians 3 – Plan A

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What is truly amazing about the love of God and the grace that He shows us is that, as Paul says here, this has always been the point and purpose.  This is why we were created, out of love, and what God has always desired, relationship with us.  It has always been His will to draw us to Himself.

Even after the Fall, when sin entered the world, the point at which God could have said that He was unequivocally done with us because of our lack of obedience, He still stepped into the gap desiring to show us His love.

Furthermore, this plan was always meant to include all the people of the earth, both Jews and Gentiles alike.  While God chose to work through a certain people that He called His own, it wasn’t for the purpose of keeping others out, but rather for the purpose of bringing them in.  This is a fact that often gets missed in the Old Testament, especially by the people of Israel.  They, like the Church, are called to be a “light to the nations” in the same way that Jesus is the “light of the world.”

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” Isaiah 9:2

This full inclusion is made clearer through the life and work of Jesus as well as the revelation and power of the Holy Spirit and God removes the barriers that have long existed to being in a relationship with Him.

Paul accents this point in his prayer for the Ephesians, which is also a prayer for the whole of the church, that

…out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.



Ephesians 2 – No More Barriers

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Salvation isn’t quite as simple as we often think it to be.  We mainly talk about salvation in terms of having our “sins washed away,” sometimes even reducing it to a simple “get out of hell free” card.  Here, however, Paul breaks it down using stark terminology for what really happened for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul begins by laying out the reality of where we were before Christ, dead in our sins.  The use of the word “dead” is both intentional and telling.  Sometimes we brush sin off as being just a little thing, something that is relatively inconsequential in our lives.  Here, however, Paul reveals the truth of the reality of sin… and it’s literally killing us.  “Meaningless, meaningless,” writes the author of Ecclesiastes, “everything in life is meaningless” without God.  It’s utterly futile, a chasing after the wind; we live and then we die and all of our works come to nothing with no real significance unless God is in them.

Moreover, our sins also create a barrier between us and the only one who can both heal us and give our lives true meaning, God.  Isaiah writes, at the end of his book, that our works are like filthy rags without the Lord to redeem them.

Sin creates a barrier between us and God. Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier by dying for our sins.

In the midst of all this, though, Jesus enters the scene.  He doesn’t wait for us to figure it out, but rather lives and dies in our place that we may be reconciled to God, that the barriers would be removed.

“He himself is our peace,” Paul writes, “who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  In language equally as stark and descriptive as barriers and death, Paul talks about the results of Christ’s work, breaking down barriers, bringing life, and drawing those who were once foreigners and strangers, near to God as citizens, members of God’s house, and intimately near to Him.



Ephesians 1- Predestined

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Paul begins his letter to the church in Ephesus, a letter that was most likely meant to have a greater audience than just this one church, on a really high theological note.  In fact, he basically sums up salvation history in this one chapter, and it all begins and ends with God.

From all eternity, God has called us to be His own.

There is a tenant in the Christian faith known as the doctrine of predestination that is something that has been talked about and debated over the years.  Many different denominations of the Church see this differently.  Essentially, the picture that Paul is trying to paint here is a God that is far above any confines of human existence.  In fact, before the beginning began, God had worked out the plan of salvation and had even called people to Himself.  This calling, which happened before all time began, is what we know of as Predestination.

Now, this particular doctrine also raises a number of questions for us.  If God had the plan of salvation already worked out before He created the world, does that mean that God knew sin was going to happen?  How could He allow that?  Does that mean He created an imperfect world?

What about free will?  Humans were created with the freedom to choose God or not, yet God already knows who He has called and who will respond?  Doesn’t that conflict with free will?

These are good questions.  The responses would take more time and are more nuanced than this writing has time for or can address.  Some of it is beyond human understanding and comprehension.  However, it may suffice to say that what we know as salvation history, as recorded in the Bible, is far greater, more thought-out, and abundantly more complex than we may have initially thought.  Yet, even in that, God has taken care of every detail to the point that we cannot lose even a hair from our head without it being His will.  Truly, He is amazing!



Introduction to Ephesians

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus rather unique in that it does not address any specific theology error or doctrinal heresy that was present in the church at that time.  Rather, Paul’s writing here seems to be focused more on expanding the understanding of God’s love, grace, and eternal purpose and to link those to God’s goals for the Church as well.

Here Paul addresses a number different aspects of God that we have later formed into doctrines, key aspects of the Christian faith that are drawn out of Scripture.  As He explains God’s great purpose and forethought in the plan of salvation and the goals God has for the Church, Paul then moves on to show the steps toward their fulfillment.  As is almost universally true with Paul, this is the move from theological thought to practical application.

Ephesus itself was one of the most important cities in western Asia Minor, which we know today as the country of Turkey.  Located just inland, it had a harbor along the Cayster River that ran down to the Aegean Sea.  Because of this, the city became an intersection of several major land and sea trade routes.  Acts 19 records Paul’s visit to Ephesus, where he spent over 2 years evangelizing and setting up a church, which is also the time and place that he wrote the first letter to the church in Corinth.

The Apostle John also spent a majority of his later years in the city of Ephesus, from which he rebuilt the Christian community there.  He used the city as a home base for evangelism throughout Asia Minor.  John was exiled from Ephesus to the Island of Patmos, from which he wrote the book of Revelation.  He later returned to the city where he would spend his last days and be buried after his death near the end of the first century.

Paul visited Ephesus on his Third missionary journey. Photo Credit: www.thinglink.com

Paul visited Ephesus on his Third missionary journey.
Photo Credit: www.thinglink.com



Galatians 6 – New Creation

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Paul closes his letter to the churches in Galatia by reiterating what he has just said along with a few practical applications.  Freedom gives us extraordinary latitude in how we can live, and yet there are limits to that as well.  However, rather than condemning those who sin, we have the freedom to love them and help restore them.  This is why Paul encourages mutual accountability within the body of Christ.  Not only does it help to bring people back after a sin, but it helps us to keep our own ego in check.

The reality is that, with freedom, comes a transformed life.  When we receive Christ, we are a “new creation.”  Even though Scripture tells us “the old is gone and the new has come,” we still struggle with sin.  Our impulse is to revert back to the legalistic notion of having to pay for our sins.  To this, however, Paul says No.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, all that matters is the New Creation that you are becoming.

Beautiful, no matter how lowly the start may be.

Jesus Christ doesn’t look at who you were, He is much more concerned with who you are becoming.  Part of who we are becoming is seen in the fruit that our lives produce as we embrace our freedom in Christ.  Paul reminds his readers that freedom gives us the opportunity to move toward each other in restorative, supportive, and loving ways the build up the body of Christ.

It is important to remember, though, that we sometimes confuse these actions with legalistic things that we *have* to do as Christians.  They aren’t.  Instead, they are things that we now have the opportunity to do to show the love of Christ and as a response to the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.



Galatians 5 – Christian Freedom

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The Statue of Liberty has represented freedom for many years

Using the word “freedom” in a Christian context can often be confusing because so much if what we understand “freedom” to mean comes from the cultural context of the United States of America.  We are the “land of the free” and any of our national symbols have become synonymous with freedom and liberty.

There has also been a struggle within the church in the United States which has wrongly portrayed civic duty and patriotism as being part of our “Christian duty” along with the notion that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”

While it may be true that the U.S.A may have been founded using some Christian principles, mentioning God in historical documents and the like, but it doesn’t take a lot of looking around at culture to recognize that we are certainly not a Christian nation, at least not anymore.

When Paul talks about freedom in today’s passage, he is representing the freedom from the bondage of sin that is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ.  He is also continuing the themes of the last several chapters, helping us to understand that our salvation is not based on works of any sort, but by grace through faith.

In this freedom, we are no longer bound by sin in any form and not required to perform any ritual acts to absolve us from those sins.  Paul lists a number of them here, following it by a list of effects that freedom in Christ has on our lives.  No longer do we need to look out for ourselves, but we are free to love others as Christ loved us.

I love the freedoms that we celebrate and far too often take for granted in the U.S.  However, the freedom we have in Christ is so much deeper and greater than any human freedom could ever be.