Category Archives: Bible Study

Philippians 1:1

(August 19, 2017) 8:28 AM Here’s yet another takeaway from Phil. 1:1. (Yes, Dave’s beating a dead horse.)

Paul greets the church and then its leaders.

Please don’t overlook this, friends. Let’s be real. You and I would have greeted the pastor and then the people. Not so Paul.

Often doctrine elevates the “pastorate” as the highest calling in life. This isn’t true, because it omits Christian engineers and school teachers and housewives and janitors and every other “calling” in life you can think of. If non-pastors are second-class citizens in the kingdom, then you’ve just excluded millions from Gospel work. You know, the Gospel is proclaimed as clearly through a mother changing her baby’s diaper as through the labor of preparing and delivering a sermon. But, you say, there’s “the call.” Yes there is. And this call, in the New Testament, is not what you might think it is. In the New Testament, one’s calling encompasses far more than one’s vocation (or avocation for that matter). Just read Eph. 4:1 or 2 Thess. 1:11. We can all lived called lives, Gospel lives, in every imaginable context. This includes, of course, the calling to serve your church as a loving, caring, overseer/elder/pastor/shepherd — faithfully leading, teaching, admonishing, and loving the flock. (See John 10 for what a loving shepherd looks like.) That may involve a career/profession or it may not. We need you, pastors! But you may also serve the Lord as a teacher (as I try to do). Maybe this morning you punched a time clock. It really doesn’t matter that much. The manner in which I treat my students, the way in which I prepare and deliver my lectures, the dignity with which I regard my pupils, the courtesy I extend to them by answering their emails in a timely manner, the effort I put into developing them as teachers in their own right, the example I set before them as a Christ-minded man, the way I treat my faculty colleagues — this is the called life I am asked to pursue as a professional Greek teacher. This might not seem like much, but it is. Friend, live out your calling today. If you’re one of my dear students, please remember that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to begin serving King Jesus. To become a fulltime missionary you don’t have to wait until you deputize and deploy. A missional life most often shows up quietly in our work places and neighborhoods (even during 5K races). My dream for you is to be exactly who you were created to be by God. My dream is to see all of us in fulltime Christian ministry. My dream is for all God’s people (the “saints” of Phil. 1:1) to be smitten with Jesus, so much so that there’s nothing they’d rather do than serve Him like a selfless slave, as Paul and Timothy did. But at no point should you ever think of yourself as somehow less than “called” because you are not employed by a local church. We are all God’s servants, sheep and shepherds alike. Yours might seem like small work. In fact, you might not think it’s Christian service at all. Let God surprise you.

May God make us all worthy of our high calling today.

Philippians – The Whole Book

(August 19, 2017) 12:02 PM I’ve just read through Philippians in its entirety — again. I thought of marriage as I did so. Ah, marriage. Two flawed people trying to make a go of it. Till death do us part. And when it does separate us, the grief that ensues. Ever tried to counsel someone who’s lost a spouse? That’s where Phil. 2:1 comes into play. In fact, it comes into play in a way I never noticed before. Here Paul makes four assumptions about Christians. (I call them assumptions because the first class condition is used in Greek.) Here they are:

1) Because of our union with Christ, we have great encouragement.

2) His love comforts us.

3) Because of His Spirit, we are brought into fellowship with other believers. (Or, conversely, we have fellowship with the Spirit — a less likely meaning in this context.)

4) We experience kindness and compassion from one another.

As everyone knows who’s ever experienced loss, it’s not the loss that becomes the defining moment in our lives. It’s how we respond to that loss. Our response will, to a great extent, determine how we live the rest of our lives. Of course, we will never resume the life we lived before our loss. But we can be enlarged by that loss, even enriched by it as we reflect on what that loss has meant to us and how we have changed in its aftermath. Nothing can undo the pain of separation. You cannot avoid the grief or escape it. Loss changes your life — forever. At the moment of loss, you begin the test of a lifetime. How will I respond?

I don’t want my life to be defined by Becky’s loss. I want to focus more on God than on the tragedy itself. It’s also important to me, however, to be real with myself. I believe that we who have suffered the loss of a loved one have a story to tell — a story of pain and suffering to be sure, but also a story of redemption. Here’s my story today:

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for speaking to me through Paul’s words in Phil. 2:1. Thank You, yes thank You, for the way You daily encourage me to carry on in the wake of that event. Thank you, oh thank You, for the comfort You give me to bear up under the sorrow. Thank You so much for the people in my life who truly care about me. Their kindness and compassion have meant everything to me.

Grief counselor, here’s a verse you can use. It can be summed up in a single phrase: In Christ we have everything we need to cope with loss. And to my fellow grief-sufferers: If you are comfortable doing so, why not share on your blog or Facebook page what has been especially meaningful to you during your journey? What are the things that have kept you from embracing your suffering? What are some of the choices sufferers need to make in order to receive the comfort of Christ? Do you ever find that suffering isolates you from the believing community?

This morning, this verse from Philippians was a pure gift to me. It reminded me of the privilege and opportunity I have to be a father and grandfather who shows his family that we don’t have to become emotionally distant and inaccessible just because of our loss. We overcome evil by doing good. I have had wonderful encounters with many people over the past three and a half years. With some of you I have forged deep friendships because of the losses we both have experienced. It’s very moving to me to be able to hear your story — and to share my own. This is the kind of koinoniathat, I think, God has called all of us to.

Philippians 1:3-11 – The Body Opening

(August 24, 2017) 11:25 AM Next week in Greek 3 we’re in Phil. 1:3-11.

Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν, πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δεήσει μου ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος, ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν, πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο, ὅτι ὁ ἐναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρι ἡμέρας Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ· Καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

Καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

What amazing words. This section of the letter comprises the body opening. To listen to these verses being read aloud, gohere and scroll down to “Philippians Audio.” Perhaps I could summarize the linguistic macrostructure of these verses as follows:

I joyfully thank God because of the way you have helped me in the work of the Gospel from the first day until now, and I pray that God will enable you to know how to love one another appropriately and be able to choose what is best in life.

For Paul, there was no greater joy in the world than helping someone to come, as he puts it elsewhere, “from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God.” We have much to learn in this passage about courage and taking initiative in evangelism. When I was in seminary, evangelism was often reduced to methods. Today there is (thankfully) much less emphasis on technique and a lot more emphasis on relationship-building. Evangelism is now recognized as being far too important to leave to the professionals. The Gospel is truly the world’s greatest love story. It’s a story that’s not only written and told about, but seen. This week I’ll be re-immersing myself in these verses. I’m hoping it will be a time to listen to the text, to get my bearings, and to again draw near to God. Folks, the opportunities for us to do this are pretty common. They’re before us every day. Being alone with God forces us to confront ourselves. Is the Gospel really my life’s priority? Am I really able to discern what’s of greatest importance as a Christian? Am I truly a loving partner with others in the kingdom work Jesus is doing all over this planet? This is the message of Phil. 1:3-11, and it’s one well worth remembering.

Hawthorne on Philippians 1:9

(August 25, 2017) 8:18 AM In his outstanding commentary on Philippians, Gerald Hawthorne calls our attention to the textual variants in the Greek text of Phil. 1:9.

πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

Most manuscripts read “to the glory and praise of God.” Some, however, have “to the glory and praise of me,” while one papyrus manuscript (p46) reads “to the glory of God and to the praise of me.” When I first saw these variants years ago, I felt a twinge of sadness in my heart. Self-praise is uniquely unbecoming to the Christian. Yet that’s the same question we face every day in a myriad of ways. It’s so easy for us to “esteem ourselves as better than others” (to paraphrase Paul’s words in Phil. 2:3). But when we drag our pride kicking and screaming into the glorious light of the Gospel, we can see it for what it is. It is possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own agendas and accomplishments. That’s why in Pauline theology, in New Testament theology, and I dare say in biblical theology in general, there’s little or no place for human pride, human accomplishment, or human achievement, apart from the sheer grace of God. Even when we work “harder than the rest,” we are still what we are “by the grace of God” (1 Cor. 15:10). I suspect we very much underestimate the sin of pride in our evangelical circles. But without humility of mind, says Paul, there can be no unity (Phil. 2:3). I worry sometimes that we consider “success” to be the product of our own diligence more than God’s working in our lives. “Humility” is a slippery concept. It is so tempting to go along with the crowd, to bend, to make believe our accomplishments are really ours. The truth is, “We have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

To the scribe of p46: You are so funny, dude. And to my Greek students who think that the art and science of New Testament textual criticism is, well, overkill: Sorry about that. We Greek profs try not to put unreasonable “shoulds” and “should nots” on you guys. But when it comes to textual variants, we have no choice. (You can sort this out with your therapist one day.) Let me pause to acknowledge the fear button I may have just pushed. The last thing I want to do is to terrify my beloved students. But we can’t decide between variants if we don’t know what we’re dealing with. I know this is hard stuff, but it’s not impossible stuff. Just as loving parents tell their kids, “Get out of bed and do your chores,” so loving Greek profs are preparing their docents to accurately handle the word of truth. Better to read a primer on New Testament textual criticism than to be entirely apathetic and blatantly hypocritical.

Philippians 1:3-11 – Notes

(August 25, 2017) Phil. 1:3-11 raises a host of vitally important (and interesting!) questions of interpretation, including:

  • The use of the middle voice with certain verbs
  • The use of eis for en
  • Ambiguity (for example, is touto in v. 3 anaphoric or cataphoric?)
  • The post-positioning of adjectives
  • The debate over the grammatical subject of echein in 1:7
  • The first use in the letter of sun– as a prepositional prefix morpheme (13 total occurrences)
  • Why does the Majority Text supply estin after mou in 1:8?
  • Why is a perfect participle used in 1:11?

I had to smile when I read Paul’s words in 1:10: ” … so that you may choose what is best.” I was on a “Christian Agrarianism” website the other day where the author actually stated that Christian Agrarianism is the “only answer to America’s problems.” Hmm …. I’m a Christian. And I’m an agrarian. But I’ll leave “Christian Agrarianism” solutions to others. This morning I was also perusing websites whose authors enjoy commenting on the virtues and ills of everything from Donald Trump to the alt right to Black Lives Matter to Confederate statues. They, too, seem to think that involvement in politics will provide the solution to what ails us as a nation. The problem is that the movement Jesus came to establish — the kingdom of God — can’t be identified with Christianity as a religion. In fact, any religion, Christian or otherwise, that doesn’t look like Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and even die for them, contrasts with the kingdom of heaven. As the Anabaptists have shown us, politics and religion simply don’t mix. How important is this? Read Paul’s words in Phil. 1:10 again. We have to “chose what is best” in life — and this “best,” Paul says, is nothing other than living as citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel (please read 1:27). This includes the Matthews (conservatives) and the Simon the Zealots (liberals) in our midst. The problem is, once you invite politics into the kingdom realm, you introduce polarizing claims, and one thing we don’t need any more of today in our fellowships is division. Maybe if we stopped blaming government for our ills and began looking to the Gospel as the only solution to our problems, we’d see some genuine change. I don’t mind if you express your political beliefs on your blog. Have at it. Each of us is trying to make sense of the current political condition of our nation the best we can. But as followers of King Jesus, and as disciples in His upside-down kingdom, I don’t believe that’s where our time and energy is to be spent. That’s aiming at the wrong bull’s-eye. “I believe it’s time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism,” I wrote in the Welcome page to my website. “Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.” If we as Christians would start doing what we’re called to do, then maybe we would stop telling Caesar what he ought to do and just begin doing it ourselves.

Philippians 1 – There Are No Holy Places

(September 1, 2017) 8:18 AM Yo folks!

So September is almost upon us. Huzzah! The kiddos are finally back in school. The weather is turning cooler. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Those of us who teach are back into teaching mode. This week’s classes were phenomenal. I asked, “So what must we do to follow our Father’s footsteps into the kingdom?” For starters ….

  • Reject manmade status symbols (like titles).
  • Embrace the flat kingdom.
  • Affirm, remember, and proclaim: THERE ARE NO HOLY PLACES.

Oooh, that last one.

Religions have their shrines, temples, mosques, and churches. Not so Christianity. We worship “in Spirit” — that is, worship is spiritual, not material — and “in truth” — that is, according to what the Bible teaches and not our human traditions. Moreover, the church is a missional church. Missions is an active word. We pursue the path of the kingdom precisely because the Way of Jesus is a path of shalom for all people. Christianity is an insurgency. We throw off all those things we once considered so important and now consider them to be no more than skubala. We put our minds and energies into the service of the daily, grinding, upstream-swimming, frustrating, impossible work of overturning injustice. Why, we’re even willing to put aside our legitimate rights (as Jesus did) if the time to exercise them isn’t right. We do not grow weary in well doing. We show up when others need us. We set apart our days for the work of proclaiming with our hands and feet the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter if we live in India or Indiana. Together, we’ll keep up the holy work, keep laying down our lives, keep worshiping, loving, making space for others. We refuse to let the lies of churchianity hold us back.

There’s something exhilarating about living this way. There’s something wondrous, fantastical even, about flinging open the door of simple church and exclaiming, “Bring it on, Jesus!” This was my view this morning on my front porch as I meditated on the word.

My text was Phil. 1:12-14.

Since my Bible is so messy, the text reads as follows:

Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ’ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν, ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

As I thought about how Paul made the cause of the Gospel his number one priority, I wondered aloud: “How can I do that this day?” It’s a lovely thing to watch men and women living kingdom lives. Their whole beings are an act of worship (not just what they do during “worship” on Sunday — oh, how I wish we could rid ourselves of that concept!). As Paul shows us, there’s no single way to be a Christian. Sometimes even in our prisons we can do life together and make our circumstances count for the Gospel. Isn’t that it? We are the smell and touch of Jesus, wherever we are. God in the flesh, Word made man — surely it matters. “One can scarcely miss the focus of Paul’s concern, here and always: Christ and the gospel,” writes Gordon Fee on Phil. 1:12-26 (p. 56). Paul “…intends much of this to serve as paradigm” (p. 57). As always, Paul turns the attention away from himself and his circumstances to the Gospel. I like that. I like to think that everything from my recent bouts with bronchitis to my teaching Greek to my giving to disaster relief in Houston — all of it is a sacrament of community. Sometimes the best way for me to properly celebrate the kingdom is to answer my students’ emails in a timely fashion. We can embody the kingdom by going to the nations (as we ought), but we can also embody the kingdom by an unhurried family meal or a visit to a homebound relative. I want to live out my faith, not just talk about it. I want to live it out as an embodiment of the Gospel in real places, in real contexts, and with real people.

Paul’s point in Phil. 1:12-14 is a simple one: The Gospel is not bound (pardon the silly pun). It’s advancing both inside and outside prison. It survives despite jerks who preach it with false motives (1:15-18). And it will survive even if God takes Paul home to heaven (1:19-26). I live in a Christian subculture that elevates the Bible to the fourth member of the Godhead. We celebrate the cult of the speaker. (Apparently you can type that sentence and not be struck by lightening.) But the real question is: Have our lives been molded by this Spirit-inspired word? The purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us and then send us out into the world. And guess what? Everyone gets to play. Seminary students do. Mothers folding diapers do. We all do. Despite our “issues.” Paul’s teaching us in Phil. 1:12-14 to focus simply on the Gospel. Don’t let your daily problems drive you to panic. Let them drive you joyfully to leverage your circumstances for Jesus. Don’t give up or give in. Patience in the midst of trials is the trademark of God’s Holy Spirit in your life. And that’s a good word in this aspirin age of ours.

Blessings,

Dave

Philippians 1 – Two Entries

(September 1, 2017) 9:40 AM As everyone knows, William Varner of the Masters University in California is going through the entire book of Philippians verse by verse. I just checked out his latest vlog on Phil. 1:16. It’s excellent. I especially enjoyed how he calls our attention to a rhetorical device called chiasmus that Paul seems to use in Phil. 1:15-16. Now that’s the kind of exegesis I enjoy. To those who know Paul, they know how much he enjoyed using rhetorical devices, not for their own sake, of course, but to draw his audience into the text. That’s why, when I was in seminary, I began to reorient my life around not only the denotative meaning of Scripture but around its connotative meaning as well. As Will notes, poetry is not prose. I know that some students get discouraged when they see just how demanding exegesis can be. But I sort of like how deep the New Testament is. It gives me chills when I read such exquisite poetry as the Christ hymn in Phil. 2 or the ode to love in 1 Cor. 13. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how much poetic language permeates the New Testament writings. Nowadays, when I read my Greek New Testament, I try to slow down. I watch. I listen. My hunger for the overtones of the text increases. I’ve witnessed rhetoric at work in Paul in so many places it’s mind-blowing. I am a man of detail. It sounds boldfaced to say that, but there it is. I pray for eyes to see what the Holy Spirit put into the text. I feel like a small child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. But I still want to go out into the deep, like I used to do at Sunset Beach even when I knew the waves were breaking surfboards in half. My prayer for my students (and all of us) is that the Holy Spirit would sweep into our lives with holy disruption. That He would show us things in the text that would upend our assumptions. I’d like to see a great awakening, for sure, but I’ll settle for a few more of us to simply become more careful readers of Scripture.

8:58 AM Through Scripture, God speaks to us. Through it, Jesus speaks life to millions of believers every day. That’s probably the reason I just can’t get past Phil. 1:3-11 in my study of God’s word. Because what if there are truths He’s still trying to impress on me? Such as …

1) Gratitude is not gratitude unless it’s expressed. Paul didn’t just think thoughts of gratitude. He expressed gratitude. Is there someone I need to say “Thank you” to today?

2) Interestingly (Paul is always interesting!), Paul expresses his gratitude for the Philippians, not to them, but to God: “I thank my God for you….” It’s easy for us to thank others and then forget to thank God. I know I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve been so preoccupied with my horizontal relationships that I’ve disengaged my mind from the God I really need to express my thanks to more than anyone else.

3) Prayer focuses on specific needs. The word Paul uses here (Greek deesis) can imply “that which is asked with urgency based on personal need” (Louw-Nida). The needs of others should drive us to prayer. One of Becky’s sisters lives in Houston. God spoke to me instantly to be praying for her. We need to balance thanksgiving with petition. Jesus demonstrated this balance in His famous Disciples’ Prayer. It wasn’t a one-sided prayer that focused on needs. Nor did it ignore those needs. I love that.

4) Paul prayed habitually. So did our Lord. His life was a living prayer — unhindered communication with the Father. Both Jesus and Paul set an example for us.

5) Paul excluded no one from his prayers. Note the repetition of “all of you” in this passage. It’s like a constant drum beat. Paul’s love was not selective, and neither should ours be.

6) But where did Paul get his love for the Philippians? It wasn’t self-derived. Not at all. Paul makes it very clear that he loved them “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Do our prayers exhibit the Lord’s compassion? They can and they must.

7) Above all, Paul prays for the Philippians’ love to abound. That seemed to be their greatest need at the moment. The term Paul uses for love (agape) does not necessarily refer to divine love. After all, when Demas deserted Paul, it was because he had agapoed the world (2 Tim. 4:10). There are good reasons to look to Paul himself for his definition of love, and a place to start might be Phil. 2:2-4. Here Paul contrasts love with selfish ambition. To love is to serve others humbly. It’s to esteem others as more important than ourselves. It’s being plain, everyday kind to one another. It’s when daily courtesies become a habit. It’s being “big-hearted” (Phil. 4:5). Love means going the second mile, opening your home to strangers, “doing good to each other and to all people” (1 Thess. 5:15), being willing to give your best effort even when it’s inconvenient. Men, it’s opening the door for ladies. It’s refusing to repeat lewd jokes. It means drawing her bath. Go back to your first love in your marriage. Gentleness is not something to be ashamed about.

Friends, sometimes I wonder why we go so fast through the Bible. I still struggle with Paul’s teaching in Phil. 1:1-11. I’m not ready for any more truth! I hope we all wrestle with the truth we know. I hope we look deep into our hearts and sift through our ecclesiology and our missiology and our praxis and all of it. I hope we can learn to change. I hope we can all become a bit more inclined to slow down and listen to what Jesus is saying to His church. He can speak to us anywhere — in cathedrals and living rooms and offices and, yes, even in church buildings. But we’ve got to be willing to play second fiddle and embrace His plan. Remember: Anyone can pray for anyone else. So go ahead and pray for me. Go ahead. Pray that God would allow me to be a disciple of the Way and to remember whose I am and why I live this life. And I’ll pray the same for all of you.

Grace and peace,

Dave

Philippians 1:12-26

(September 4 , 2017) 8:12 PM One of my takeaways from studying Phil. 1:12-26 this weekend was Paul’s assumption that the Christian is at home in no nation. Christians are led by a Savior who was always on the move. Christians set their hearts on the kingdom of heaven before all else. This means, ultimately, a desire to depart and be with Christ, for on this earth we have no lasting kingdom. Paul was in turmoil. He yearned for death, to depart and be with Christ. Yet he was such a Gospel man that he also yearned to remain to serve others. And so he needs God to make the choice for him. As Hawthorne writes, “Need dictates direction.” When Christians in Tertullian’s day constructed idols and excused themselves by saying, “Everyone has to make a living,” Tertullian asked them, “Must you live?” Today we make all sorts of excuses for serving our own gods. I know I do. For years I bowed to the shrine of Caesar. For years I made gilding idols out of my work and my reputation. What’s wrong with that? “Must you live?” answers the great theologian of the early church. Once we bow to the spirit of this age we cannot worship in Spirit and in truth. I still have a lot of goals and dreams and ambitions I’d like to accomplish while I’m alive. At the same time, I hope Jesus returns soon. I know that any day He will come, or else He will call me home. In the meantime, like Paul, I must be willing to leave family and friends behind, must be willing to live out of a suitcase, must be willing to go anywhere and serve anyone. I’ve done this countless times, and “goodbyes” to family are never easy. Yet life is too short to spend it only on yourself. “The thought of eternity consoles for the shortness of life,” said Luc de Clapiers. The only colors Paul knew were black and white. “Either I’ll depart and be with Christ, or I’ll remain here.” But if he’s going to remain, he’s sure as shootin’ gonna be useful for the kingdom.

As I read Philippians 1, I can hear some of Paul’s former friends bemusing themselves at his expense. “Too bad about old Saul. He’s gone off the deep end. He was once a brilliant scholar, a student of Gamaliel no less. But ever since he suffered sunstroke on the Damascus Road he’s been out of his mind. Gets into trouble all the time. Even stays in jail a whole lot. What a loser!” Everything depends on your perspective, however. Today we read Paul and not his contemporaries. Many of my students are eager to pursue their PhDs. I say more power to you. But PhD may mean Phenomenal Dud. Paul was brilliant, but he had an ability to leverage his intellectual prowess for the Gospel. I admire people like that. There seem to be far too few in the church today. (Michael Green comes to mind.) Which brings us back to Philippians 1. Never has evangelical Christianity needed Paul’s perspective on suffering as today. In the midst of prison, his only goal was to know Christ and make Him known. Aren’t we to live for Him all the time — for the One who grappled with the sordid problem of evil, defeated death, and left us with a Gospel and a new life, possible because He lives in us? Phil. 1:12-26, if it does nothing else, reminds us that only way we can redeem the hours of our lives is to spend them in God’s service.

Dear students: Chase fleeting fame and you are known but for a moment. Scholars who serve Jesus by serving others — these are the ones who outlive themselves.

Philippians 4:9 – Putting It into Practice

(September 7, 2017) 6:04 PM Anyone studying the book of Philippians needs to keep in mind what Paul writes in 4:9:

ἃ καὶ ἐμάθετε καὶ παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε καὶ εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοί, ταῦτα πράσσετε· καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἔσται μεθ’ ὑμῶν.

The teaching we’ve learned and received from him we need to be putting into practice constantly. Nothing like hitting us over the head with a two by four, Paul.

Philippians 4:4-7 – Imitating Paul

(September 8, 2017) 6:16 AM Morning friends! When I said yesterday that we are to imitate Paul’s life and teaching, a crazy thought occurred to me. Has Paul done this very thing in Philippians? A good place to start, I said to myself, might be Paul’s concluding exhortations in 4:4-7. Mind you: This is no “shotgun parenesis.” What Paul writes in 4:4-7 is tailored-made for the Philippians’ situation. At this point, it might be interesting to compare Paul’s injunctions here with what we’ve already studied in 1:1-18. Ready?

  • Rejoice! Yep. Paul’s joy is already evident in the body opening: Paul prays and gives thanks with joy.
  • Give thanks! Most certainly. What is Phil. 1:3-8 if not a thanksgiving?
  • Pray! The heart of Phil. 9:1-11 is just that — a prayer for the Philippians.
  • Let your big-heartedness be known to all! You mean, maybe like Paul was toward those who sought to add to his bonds in Rome (see 1:15-17)? Note: In class the other day I called these people jerks. So I repent today. Paul never called them that, so I shouldn’t either. Knuckleheads maybe, but not jerks.
  • The Lord is near. He is indeed near — both to those who pray to Him, and to those sufferers who await ultimate vindication upon His return.
  • The peace of God. In 1:2, Paul had prayed for this peace to flood the Philippians’ lives.

I wouldn’t dare call this an exhaustive treatment of parallels between the beginning of Philippians and its ending. I’m not sure it’s even that important to point out, except to note how self-consistent Paul seems to be. He seriously knew how to write a letter! If he calls upon the church to have Christlike humility, he’s going to make sure they know he’s not an ivory-tower imposter. Paul the apostle was maybe the most fully and completely unselfish, unpretentious man to ever live apart from Jesus, and I just want to be more like him.

By the way, here’s Eugene Petersen’s interpretation of Phil. 4:4-7. I don’t know why, but I like it.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Seriously? I’m expected to live like that? Which reminds me: I need to pray right now. I’m starting to worry again ….