Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Colossians. Day 1, The True Gospel

We begin our study of Paul's letter to the believers of Colossae today. He is writing this letter to them to counteract heresy that has crept into the church at Colossae, a heresy that was taking away from the deity and supremacy of Christ. Paul's letter to the Colossians is considered the most beautiful and all-encompassing description of Christ found in any of his writings. In this letter he lifts up Christ as high as his human reasoning and skill of language is capable of lifting Him.

Paul is writing this letter while awaiting trial in Rome, and it is believed that he never actually visited Colossae in person because he will say later in the letter that he has not seen the people of Colossae or the people of Laodicea in the flesh. Colossae lay about ten miles from Laodicea bur was at least one hundred miles from Ephesus, a city we know Paul visited, so it appears he was never in the Lycus Valley where cities such as Colossae, Laodicea, and Hieraopolis were located. These three cities were comprised an important trade route, with people of many backgrounds and religions residing there and passing through, so it's easy to see how the gospel of Christ may have begun to be polluted in an attempt to blend it with pagan beliefs.

News of false doctrine in Colossae has come to Paul through a man called Epaphras. Some scholars think he may be the same man who is called Epaphroditus in Paul's letter to the Philippians. But other scholars think he is a completely different person, since Epaphroditus was presented to us as a citizen of Philippi, and Philippi was only a short distance from Ephesus which means it was a fairly far distance from Colossae. This doesn't mean Epaphroditus wasn't visiting Colossae during the same years he was visiting Paul at Rome, for we can clearly see this man's willingness to undertake long and dangerous journeys, but we simply don't have enough evidence to conclude whether or not Epaphroditus and Epaphras are the same person.

Paul begins, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God's holy people in Colossae the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father." (Ephesians 1:1-2) Timothy is likely acting as Paul's scribe, writing down Paul's words as he dictates them to him.

These men have heard that there is a growing body of believers at Colossae. They are very thankful to God for this. We all ought to be thankful anytime we hear that someone has come to faith in Christ, even if it's someone we have never met and will never meet in this lifetime. Every soul that is saved is a cause for rejoicing. "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God's people---the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world---just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God's grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit." (Colossians 1:3-8)

The Colossians were saved by their faith in the "true gospel". No other message has the power to save, for no other name than Christ's has the power to save. (Acts 4:12) This message was brought to them by Epaphras, whom Paul refers to as a "minister" in this letter. (This, by the way, is more evidence that Ephaphras and Epaphroditus may not have been the same person, as Epaphroditus is referred to in the letter to the Philippians as the messenger whom the Philippians sent to take care of Paul's needs. Epaphroditus is not presented to us as a minister, although he may have been one; we can't rule it out.)

The people of Colossae were not transformed by a distorted gospel, but by the true gospel which presents Jesus Christ as the Son of God, thereby making Him equal with God. Paul says he and Timothy are thanking God, "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ", for the faith the Colossians have in Christ and for the love which was placed in their hearts by Christ. He also makes reference to the Holy Trinity in verses 3-8, for we see him naming God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in these verses. In verses 3-8 we see the Godhead in its three persons and in its three offices: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a fundamental fact of the gospel. God the Father sent God the Son to save us from our sins, and now that we are saved through our sins by faith in God the Son, God the Holy Spirit has come to indwell us to teach us about Christ and to prove to us that we belong to Him. "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God." (Romans 8:16) So here we have the gospel message at its most basic core. This is the gospel message the people of Colossae heard and believed. This is the gospel message that saved their souls and transformed their lives.

The cosmopolitan city of Colossae contained those who wanted to believe each person could find his own path to God, and these false beliefs were placing a stumbling block in the paths of those who had not yet come to Christ. Many in our world today believe there is more than one way to be right with God, but they have either been deceived by false doctrine or have deceived themselves. There are not "many ways to God". There are no rituals capable of making us right with a holy God and there are not enough good works we could do to cleanse ourselves of our sins. There is only one sacrifice acceptable to God, and that is the sacrifice He Himself provided when He sent His son to give Himself for us, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved than by the name of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus clearly told us there is only one way to God, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 13, God Will Supply Our Needs

We conclude the letter of Paul to the believers of Philippi today. Again he reminds them to follow the example he has set for godly living. He thanks them for the support they've been sending him and he assures them that God is going to supply all their needs.

"Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me---put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:9) I don't think he's being prideful or conceited when he tells the church to follow his example. Every minute of Paul's life is focused on Christ and on what he can do for Christ's kingdom. As we learned yesterday, Paul has discovered how to have joy, peace, and contentment in the Lord no matter how dreadful his circumstances. A person who has learned a lesson like that is a person whose example is worth following.

You will recall that earlier in this letter Paul spoke of the gift the Philippians sent to him by Epaphroditus. He makes mention of this gift again and thanks them for it. "I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it." (Philippians 4:10) For a time it appears they were unable to send him any help, but now they have a way to get supplies to him again. We spoke of this several days ago, but we'll bring it up again: in Paul's day the government didn't provide very much for prisoners. The prison officials didn't cook three square meals a day for prisoners or supply them with two or three sets of clothing or offer reading materials or other forms of entertainment. A prisoner had to depend on family members and friends to bring him extra food, clothing, bed covers, and anything else that might make his life more comfortable.

Paul is grateful for the generosity of the church, but he also states that he's learned to do without when he has to. "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13) Paul's contentment doesn't spring from his own strength, but from Christ's strength. He couldn't have achieved this contentment on his own.

This isn't the first time the Philippians have been generous to Paul. "Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need." (Philippians 4:14-16) The church at Philippi has not only been following Paul's example, but they've been setting an example for the other churches. They were the first to start sending aid to Paul during his missionary journeys.

"Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God." (Philippians 4:17-18) Paul is more concerned with the Philippians being rewarded by God than with having them send him things he needs. It has cost them something to take up a collection for him. It's not a case of them saying, "We're so wealthy that we aren't going to miss this money and these supplies." Many of them have likely done without something they wanted or needed in order to give aid to Paul. This is why he refers to their gift as a sacrifice and why he expects God to reward them for it.

It's a human tendency to hold onto what we already have in case we need it, but this isn't how things work in God's economy. The Lord has a lot to say about generous giving in His holy word because in His economy those who give abundantly are blessed abundantly by Him. Paul assures the church members of Philippi that they need not worry about God replacing the money and supplies they've sent him. God is going to reward them for their unselfish giving. "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19) It's impossible to outgive God because the supplies in His storehouse can never be exhausted. Paul thanks Him for this. "To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Philippians 4:20)

"Greet all God's people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. All God's people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." (Philippians 4:21-23) Paul is still leading souls to Christ even while he's a prisoner awaiting trial. If he had not gone to Rome as a prisoner, it's likely that "those who belong to Caesar's household" would not have been saved. These are Roman citizens, people who were brought up in a pagan culture. Yet they are now so in love with Christ that they love people of Christ whom they have never met, for Paul says the believers of Caesar's household are especially eager to send their greetings to the church members of Philippi.

I think Paul's "secret of being content in any and every situation" (verse 12) is that he did whatever he could for Christ no matter where he was and no matter what was happening to him. In every situation he asked himself, "How can I use these circumstances for Christ? How can I lead those I meet during this time to Christ?" He didn't sit in the corner and cry and say, "Why is this happening to me? It's so unfair!" Instead he looked at every hardship as an opportunity to lead souls to Christ. If we looked at every situation in our own lives in this way, I think we would experience a lot more contentment and a lot less self-pity.

So, as Paul would say, "Rejoice in the Lord always!" Rejoice in the good times. Rejoice in the bad times. For our joy isn't rooted in our circumstances. Our joy is founded on our unmovable, unbreakable, unchangeable Savior.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 12, Paul's Recipe For Peace

How did the Apostle Paul endure all his troubles with joy in his heart? He learned how to be at peace no matter what the circumstances, and today he shares his recipe of peace with us.

He begins by urging believers to stand firm in the Lord. "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you who I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!" (Philippians 4:1) When he says "this way" he is referring to the instructions he gave in Chapter 3. In Chapter 3 he told us to have confidence in the Lord's strength and not in our own strength. He said to put Christ first in our lives. He encouraged us to keep pressing forward, not dwelling on the mistakes of the past. And he told us to seek out those who are setting good examples for us in the faith. So he begins this morning by saying, "Keep on doing these things. Stand firm. Don't let anything discourage you."

If we are going to be at peace in our hearts, and at peace with our Lord, we need to be at peace with each other. It appears that two ladies of the church at Philippi were at odds with each other. Paul tells them to work out their differences. "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4:2-3) Paul does not address his "true companion" by name, but I assume it may be the person he has entrusted with getting the message of this letter to all the believers at Philippi. I think it's likely he's speaking to the main pastor of the church or to one of the elders or deacons of the church.

We don't know what these women have disagreed about. Paul isn't concerned with that; he's concerned only with reminding them that they are both daughters of the Most High God and therefore are of the same family. They need to love each other and not allow differences of opinion to come between them. This is how we are to behave in our churches today. There may be minor points of doctrine on which we disagree with one another, but as long as we are all holding to the truth of the gospel message, many of these points are simply a matter of personal preference. We are not always going to find a specific command for or against particular things in the word of God. In those cases, the law of love is to be followed, and we need to put aside differences of opinion and maintain unity in the body of Christ.

If we want peace in our hearts, we need to bring our needs and concerns to God. They're too big for us to handle, but nothing is too hard for Him. (Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:17, Jeremiah 32:27, Luke 18:27) Paul begins this section by reminding us to rejoice because our God is near. Our God loves us and is concerned with anything that concerns us, so let's go to Him and tell Him about all our troubles. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

It feels good to pour out our hearts to God. Of course He already knows about our problems, but there's a sense of relief in telling Him about them anyway. We have a natural human need to talk about the things that bother us. God isn't going to become weary with us no matter how many times we share a particular concern or problem with Him. Our fellow man might get fed up with it at times, but our loving Father never will. Right now I find myself telling God over and over what I'm going through. I'm grieving the loss of my little dog that I treated like a child. I'm worried about family members and friends who are having health problems. I'm asking God to send my husband a job because he's been laid off work since August. None of these problems have yet been resolved, but sharing my feelings with God comforts me. He understands my feelings like no one else does. He is the only Person who can get inside our hearts and minds and feel the same things we're feeling. We can describe our feelings to others, but they can't enter into our heartbreaks with us. God can, though. This is why Paul says the peace we find in sharing our feelings with God brings the peace that "transcends all understanding".

It's difficult not to dwell constantly on the things that concern us, but Paul tells us to try and turn our thoughts in a different direction. He knows that in this world it's easy to fall into depression and despair, but there is a recipe for peace, and that recipe includes thinking about things that are good. "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent or praiseworthy---think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

We are first to fix our thoughts on the things that are true. Sometimes our imaginations run away with us and we picture the worst possible endings for our situations. Sometimes we believe lies of the devil who says, "God isn't listening to you. He's sick of you and your problems." Or we tell lies to ourselves such as, "Things are never going to change," or, "God isn't going to answer my prayers." In order to fix our minds on the things that are true, we have to study the word of God. Then we won't fall for the lies of Satan or the lies our weary and troubled minds sometimes tell us. The word of God is the unshakable, unbreakable truth. We need to know it and be able to stand firm on it when lies come at us or when troubles enter our lives. Then, once we get the truth fixed in our hearts, we are in a better position to think on all the other good things Paul tells us to think on. We can concentrate on our blessings.

If we think only on the negative things in life, we are going to start believing everyone is out for himself and that no one is a godly person and that no one cares about us. But that's not true. God cares about us and He's put people in our lives who care about us. Yes, we may be going through hard times, but there are still things in our lives to be thankful for. So even though we may be in a valley right now, and even though we may feel tempted to just wallow in despair, let's think on the things that are true and good. This is how Paul was able to rejoice even during his darkest times.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 11, We Will Be Like Christ

Paul urges us to follow his example and the example of others who feel that knowing Christ is more important than anything else. He reminds us that someday we will be with Christ and we will be like Christ. If that idea doesn't excite us, we need to take stock of our spiritual condition.

"All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things." (Philippians 3:15a) What view is he talking about? The view he expressed in yesterday's passage when he stated that nothing matters to him as much as Christ does, and that he is letting go of the things that are behind him and is constantly working toward the things of the Lord that are in front of him. So he's saying, "You who are mature in the faith will feel the same way."

"And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." (Philippians 3:15b) He trusts that the Lord will reveal to his readers anything that needs changing about their attitudes. And he's right, for if we're living in close fellowship with the Lord as we should be, He will point out to us the areas in our lives that need work.

"Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:16) He instructs, "Hang onto what you already know. Keep on doing what you already know to do." Sometimes we aren't sure what the next step is in our lives, so until the Lord reveals this to us, we are to keep on doing what we have already been instructed to do. We know right from wrong because we have the word of God to tell us right from wrong. We know what our responsibilities are. So until the Lord lights the path we are to take, we are to keep on doing what we already know we're supposed to be doing. Do you feel like it's time to move in a different direction with your education or career? Until the Lord shows you what direction to take, be faithful with what He's already given you to do. Wait until He shows you the next step. Believe me, if you get ahead of Him you won't get the results you hoped for. I've learned that lesson the hard way---several times over.

"Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do." (Philippians 3:17) We all need positive role models in our lives. Paul is striving to live his life so he can be used as a role model. So are the other apostles. So are some of the people in the Philippian's own church. He's not saying that he or any of the other believers are perfect, but he's saying that they are working every day to be more and more like Christ, which should motivate those around them to do the same. When you mess up and say or do something that's unseemly for a Christian to say or do, is there anyone you'd be particularly embarrassed to have know about it? Then that person is likely setting a good example for Christian living, and Paul is saying that knowing people like this ought to motivate us to be better examples ourselves.

It's important not only to find good examples to follow, but to recognize impostors as well. The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16) Though we live among the wolves, we are not to be like them. But the Lord cautions us that wolves often masquerade as sheep. So Paul says it's important to know the difference. "For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things." (Philippians 3:18-19) Like Jacob's brother Esau who was concerned only with the here and now, these wolves live only for today. If it suits their purposes they will pretend to be part of the body of Christ. They may even manage to deceive themselves that they are right with the Lord, being the type of people Paul says will appear in the last days, "having a form of godliness but denying its power". (See 2 Timothy 3:1-9)

If these enemies of the cross don't repent, they are bound for destruction. Their reservation has already been made. But we who love the Lord are citizens of another place...a better place. "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (Philippians 3:20-21)

Does the idea of spending eternity with Christ comfort you and give you peace? Are you looking forward to the day when you can shed your frail mortal body that is so prone to sin and failure? If we are not "eagerly awaiting" that day, as Paul says, we need to examine our hearts and find out why not. If we truly love the Lord, the deepest and most important desire of our hearts should be to spend eternity with Him.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 10, Knowing Christ Is Worth More Than Anything

Paul is going to tell us today that everything he lost for the sake of Christ is like garbage to him. He once was an influential man among the Pharisees and he held a high rank in the Sanhedrin council. He was wealthy and respected. He was achieving his ambitions. But after he met Christ none of those things mattered to him anymore. He will speak out against those who rely on the works of the flesh, for he too once relied on the works of the flesh and was bitter and miserable. On the outside he was a success; on the inside he was a spiritual failure.

Now he's a prisoner in Rome because of his faith, dependent on the help of his friends for even the basic necessities, but he's never been happier. "Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by His Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh---though I myself have reasons for such confidence." (Philippians 3:1-4a) We previously learned in other letters that there were those who troubled the Gentile believers by telling them they weren't really saved unless they became circumcised and followed the law of Moses. Circumcision and the law, however, mean nothing if the heart isn't right with the Lord, so Paul's words echo those of Moses who said, "Circumcise your hearts." (Deuteronomy 10:16a)

If circumcision and trying to follow the law made a person perfect in the eyes of God, then Paul could have bragged he needed no help from God. "If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless." (Philippians 3:4b-6) He says, "I was trusting in my heritage, in my affiliation with the Pharisees, in my observance of the law, in my bringing of the proper sacrifices and offerings, and in what I thought was my service to God in persecuting the church. If righteousness could be imputed by hard work, then I would have had it."

But when Paul met Christ on the dusty road to Damascus, he realized how feeble his works were. He saw how meaningless his former way of life was. He had to admit to himself that it was impossible to obtain righteousness by works, so he acknowledged his need for grace and mercy. "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ---yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11) Righteousness was always by faith and not by works. The law taught man he couldn't perfectly keep it, and in that way the law taught man he had to depend on the mercy and grace of God to make up for his lack of perfection.

But suppose we could have perfectly kept the law. We would have missed out on knowing Christ! We would have had no need for a Savior, and our relationship with the Lord would have been superficial at best. We would not have had fellowship with Him. We wouldn't have had to lean on Him for strength and comfort. We could never have experienced the relationship that is more satisfying than all others, or the power that is greater than any the human mind can fathom. Paul asks, "What is my former way of life compared to this? It's nothing! I gladly threw overboard everything I once held dear. It was weighing me down. It was hindering my knowledge of the Lord. Now, free of all that useless baggage, I'm unencumbered as I move forward."

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14) Paul says, "I'm not perfect yet because I'm not home with Christ yet. But I'm letting Him make me more and more like Him every day. I'm not allowing anything to hold me back, not even the mistakes of my past. Christ has redeemed my past. He's redeeming my today. He's going to keep redeeming me in the future. I'm not letting anything weigh me down because I'm keeping my eyes on the prize, doing all I can for Christ, knowing He's waiting for me at the finish line."

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 9, Paul's Friend Epaphroditus Sets An Example For Us

Today we take a look at Paul's friend Epaphroditus. We know very little about him since the only times he is mentioned in the Bible is in Paul's letter to the Philippians, but we can tell he was dearly loved by the believers of Philippi. We can also tell that he worked as a messenger between Paul and the church at Philippi, because in Chapter 4 Paul will mention the fact that Epaphroditus recently brought a gift back to him from the church. This gift appears to have been either money or basic supplies that Paul needed while under house arrest, for in those days the government did not provide very much for prisoners. A person who was incarcerated had to depend on his or her family members and friends to provide either necessities or the money to purchase necessities.

Yesterday we learned that Paul was planning to send Timothy to visit Philippi soon, and today we learn that he feels it's even more important to send Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus has been seriously ill and the believers of Philippi have been praying earnestly for his recovery. Now that he has recovered, Paul knows they will be overjoyed to see him well again, and it makes his heart glad to think about how happy they are going to be when reunited with this godly man.

"But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs." (Philippians 2:25) We learn from verse 25 that Epaphroditus is not a friend or convert Paul made in Rome, but that he is from the city of Philippi. He is a member of the church there who was selected by the church to act as a messenger and delivery person between the church and the Apostle Paul. This means he is someone the church considers responsible and trustworthy. This means he is a man whose heart reflects the way the congregation feels about the Apostle Paul. When deciding who to send back and forth to Rome, the church said, "Epaphroditus is the best man for the job!"

We also learn several other things from verse 25. Paul refers to Epaphroditus as a co-worker, meaning he considers him an equal. This man works hard for the gospel of Christ. Paul calls him his brother, not because they are biological brothers, but because he loves him like a family member. While it's true that they are brothers in Christ, we get the sense that they also have a genuine liking for each other and that they have a close bond. Lastly, Paul describes him as a fellow soldier, which means Epaphroditus is a man strong in the faith, a man who isn't afraid to stand firm for what he believes in, even if his beliefs might lead to his death.

Epaphroditus wants to see the people of Philippi as much as they want to see him. "For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died." (Philippians 2:26-27a) We don't know the nature of his illness, but it was serious enough to be life-threatening. His hard work for the gospel is what led to his illness, as we will learn later in verses 29 and 30. Paul doesn't explain to us how the gospel work caused Epaphroditus to fall ill. It could be he contracted a virus during his travels as a messenger. Or it's possible that his immune system became weak due to long hours of work and little sleep. It may be that he sometimes did without proper meals because he was so busy caring for others that he didn't take enough time to care for himself. Paul doesn't go into detail about this man's illness, but even while ill Epaphroditus was more concerned for others than for himself. It distressed him that the people of Philippi were worried about him.

Paul now gives credit to God for healing his friend. Paul was with Epaphroditus while he was ill and he knows how serious it was. He feared his friend was going to die and is now very thankful that the Lord restored him to health. "But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow." (Philippians 2:27b) Paul is loaded down with cares, not only for all the churches but for his own situation as well. He says, "When God had mercy on Epaphroditus He had mercy on me also. I don't know how I would have been able to bear losing my friend on top of all my other troubles."

"Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety." (Philippians 2:28) Paul is going to feel better knowing that the Philippians feel better.

"So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me." (Philippians 2:29-30) The church of Philippi can't be present with Paul in Rome. They want to help Paul, so Epaphroditus has been delivering gifts to Paul from the church. In doing so, he risked his life. There were many natural dangers in those days when traveling long distances, plus there were many dangers in proclaiming the name of Christ. Epaphroditus knew he was risking his life to help the church at Philippi serve the Apostle Paul. He was willing to take the risk.

There are only a few short verses in the Bible regarding Epaphroditus, but we can learn a lot from his example. We can strive to be like him. He was considered trustworthy and responsible. He loved and served others. He unselfishly cared more about the needs of others than about his own needs. He loved Christ more than he loved his own life. Because of all this, Epaphroditus deserves the honor of having his name mentioned in the holy word of God. He also deserves the honor of having us try to be more like him.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 8, Paul's Friend Timothy Sets An Example For Us

In today's passage and in tomorrow's passage Paul speaks of sending two of his close friends to see the believers at Philippi. He's going to say beautiful words of commendation about these godly men, and we can learn a lot from the examples they set for us. In today's passage Paul announces his intention to send Timothy to visit the church of Philippi.

"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you." (Philippians 2:19) We are already somewhat familiar with this young man named Timothy. Luke had a great deal to say about him in the book of Acts, and Paul has mentioned him a number of times in his letters. Timothy is from the city of Lystra, the city where Paul was pelted with stones, dragged outside the gates, and left for dead. (He might actually have been dead for a few minutes; Paul himself says in 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 that he doesn't know whether he was unconscious or dead.) Upon Paul's revival we would have expected him to run from Lystra as fast as he could, yet he went back inside the city and even revisited it on several occasions to preach the gospel. Luke says that in Lystra "they won a large number of disciples". (Acts 14:21) Timothy is one of these disciples. We don't know Timothy's conversion story, but perhaps he was impressed with Paul's strength of faith when he came walking back through the gates. Maybe he was stunned by Paul's miraculous revival. We don't know precisely what opened Timothy's heart to the gospel, but we know that he gave his heart so completely to Christ that he devoted the rest of his life to sharing the gospel and ministering to the church.

In our day it's hard to imagine having to wait weeks or months for news, but in Paul's day the only way he could find out how the people of Philippi were faring was to send someone to visit them or to wait for letters from them. Since Paul is a prisoner and can't visit them himself, he feels the next best thing is to send Timothy because Timothy has as much love in his heart for the people of Philippi as Paul has. "I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 2:20-21)

If you have even one friend who is genuinely concerned for you, thank God for that person! If you have more than one friend like this, praise the name of the Lord! Our culture teaches everyone that they need to "look out for number one", but the law of love teaches us that the needs of others are as important as our own needs. So if the Lord has sent you a good godly friend, treasure that friend. If you don't have anyone like this in your life, pray for the Lord to send you someone. Get involved with church or with a charity or volunteer group where you can come in contact with people who share similar values and interests. I believe the Lord will honor your prayer for a good godly friend, and while you pray for Him to send you this friend, pray also that He will help you to be a good godly friend to that person. The Lord created us with a need for human companionship and He wants us to have people in our lives who will encourage us in the faith. Even the Lord Jesus needed the companionship and support of His friends while He lived in this troubling world, and He knows you and I need friends too.

"But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel." (Philippians 2:22) Timothy doesn't just verbally pledge his support. He takes action. He labors in the gospel along with men like Paul and he ministers to the believers. His actions prove his heart is in the right place. It's one thing for us to tell a friend, "I'm praying for you." (And we ought to be praying for our friend.) But it's another thing to back up our words with actions. In addition to praying for our friends, we ought to be helping them in any way we can. We ought to be physically present with them if possible and we should minister to their needs if it's within our power.

"I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon." (Philippians 2:23-24) As far as we know, Paul never left Rome. Luke ends the book of Acts with Paul still under house arrest awaiting trial. It's possible that Nero set him free after hearing his defense, but that wouldn't explain why Paul was still in Rome when Nero's persecution of Christians broke out. We would expect Paul to resume his missionary journeys if he were set free, yet early church tradition tells us that he was beheaded in Rome during Nero's reign. So I think that in verses 23 and 24 Paul is expressing the hope he will be set free, but I don't believe he has been assured by the Holy Spirit that he will be set free. Like anyone, he naturally hopes for the best. But at the same time I think he's prepared for the worst.

In preparing for the worst, Paul is training Timothy to take his place. He knows the character of this young man so well that he feels confident that the churches he founded will be safe in Timothy's hands. This is why he says, "I have no one else like him." Let's take Timothy's example to heart and be the type of people about whom our friends can say, "I have no one else like him," or, "I have no one else like her."

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 7, A Warped And Crooked Generation

Paul tells his readers how to live in wicked world. He calls the state of the world in his time "a warped and crooked generation". The same thing was said way back in Deuteronomy 32:5. The same can be said of our world today, as reading only a few headlines of the news just reminded me. There has been a warped and crooked generation in every era, and we who are God's people need to know how to conduct ourselves while we are on the earth. There is a difference between what is called "the world" and God's people. Christ said of those who belong to God, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." (John 17:16) As Paul will later say in Philippians 3:20, our citizenship is of heaven, and we are strangers and foreigners here. We need to know how to live in this foreign fallen land, and the Bible is our instruction book for godly living in a world gone mad.

"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed---not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence---continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose." (Philippians 2:12-13) Paul concluded yesterday's passage by telling us to have the same obedient and humble spirit as Christ. He's now commending the Philippians believers for their obedience. They haven't only been obedient when Paul was with them, but they've continued to be faithful in obeying the Lord in his absence. They haven't slacked off in any way but instead have become more and more obedient.

Paul is not saying anyone is saved by works. All his writings clearly show us that he doesn't hold that doctrine. He's saying, "Allow your salvation to bear fruit, to be evident in everything you do and in everything you say. Allow God to have His way with your life. You aren't saved only to escape hell; you are saved to live an abundant life. Your salvation doesn't benefit only yourself, but it's meant to also benefit those around you and lead them to Christ."

Because we are not of the world, we must not look or behave like the world. If we cannot be distinguished from unbelievers, our testimony will have no effect on anyone. "Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation'. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life." (Philippians 2:14-16a) The word that has been translated in the NIV as "grumbling" is the Greek "goggusmos", which means a discontented or threatening whispered murmuring. This is the same type of murmuring for which God found fault in Israel when they were in the wilderness. They murmured against Moses and, because Moses was the mediator between them and God, it was actually God they were really murmuring against. Paul is saying, "Don't have a rebellious attitude. Be obedient to the Lord and don't take vengeance for yourselves. Don't threaten under your breath that you're going to pay anyone back or that you're not going to do as you're told by those in authority. If you have the attitude that you don't have to obey the laws of the land---assuming, of course, that they don't contradict God's laws---you won't be successful in maintaining an obedient attitude toward anyone, including God."

Paul uses the Greek word "dialogismos" for the word that has been translated into English as "arguing". It doesn't mean a respectful and cool-headed discussion or debate, as we would think of a "dialog" as being, but it means to "dispute, question, disagree, or doubt". Paul will refer to this type of arguing in two other letters, "Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless," (Titus 3:9), and, "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:23-26) Are we going to lead anyone to Christ by losing our temper and yelling at them when they try to argue against the word of God? Are we going to convince them Christ loves them if they don't feel like we love them? If we sound just like the world and behave just like the world, why would anyone believe there is transforming power in Christ?

Because he has been a father to them in the faith, Paul wants the Philippians to behave in a way that makes him proud. "And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain." (Philippians 2:16b) On the day when they stand before Christ, Paul wants to hear Him say to the Philippians, "Well done, good and faithful servants!" On that day Paul wants to be able to smile from ear to ear knowing that the hard work he did in Philippi accomplished something of eternal significance. Their success is his success.

To bring it down to a personal level, how will we feel if someday in the presence of Christ we are presented with someone (or hopefully several people) who are entering heaven because we witnessed to them about the Lord? Imagine if the Lord says to us, "This one has eternal life in Me because of the testimony of your life." Won't we be overwhelmed with joy? Imagine the Lord says, "You helped your family and friends live godly lives. You encouraged them when they felt like giving up. You helped them to remain faithful and obedient to me." Won't we smile from ear to ear? The spiritual success of those we help is our success too. It's the only kind of success that really matters.

Paul isn't complaining about the hard work he's doing to bring others to Christ and to help believers live godly lives. "But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me." (Philippians 2:17-18) A drink offering would be poured out to accompany another offering. Paul's service to the church is like a drink offering which will accompany the sacrifice of his life. He may not yet know that he will give his life for the gospel, but he is already giving all his time and energy to the gospel, and in that sense he is already giving his life. He lost his old life with all its wealth and status in order to become an apostle of the Lord. For the sake of the gospel he has been insulted and opposed, whipped, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and pelted with stones. He has gone hungry and thirsty. He has labored on little sleep and has endured cold nights without enough covers and garments to stay warm. So in essence he has already sacrificed his life, for he has given up his own ambitions for himself and has often gone without basic comforts while he ministers to the church.

He says, "I'm glad to give of myself. Don't feel sorry for me. I rejoice in your success. Your success is my success, so instead of feeling bad for me, rejoice with me!" This is the same attitude the Lord Jesus had when giving Himself for us. Paul will say in his letter to the Hebrews that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy it would bring Him by granting us salvation through His sacrifice. (Hebrews 12:2) The prophet Isaiah foresaw the crucifixion and said that after Christ had offered Himself as a sacrifice He would "see the light of life and be satisfied" because pouring out His life unto death would justify many. (Isaiah 53:10-12) Paul won't be the only one smiling from ear to ear when those he labored for enter into the joys of heaven. He won't be the only one who feels that their success is his success. Christ Himself is overjoyed when each one who has been redeemed by His blood enters heaven to be with Him forever. He, like Paul, did not run or labor in vain. The work of Christ was a success, and it will keep on being a success, and we are to do our part in adding to His success by living in such a way in this world that we lead others out of darkness into light.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 6, Have The Nature Of A Servant

Paul stresses the importance of unity among believers. Unity can't be achieved if we have self-seeking attitudes, so he urges us to be like Christ who had the nature of a servant. Christ had the right to come to earth and be served by man, but instead He came with a love and a humility of spirit that compelled Him to serve man.

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind." (Philippians 2:1-2) He says, "Have you found encouragement in your relationship with Christ? Encourage others. Are you comforted by the love of Christ? Love others. Are you indwelt by the same Spirit as your brothers and sisters in Christ? Of course you are, so treat them as members of your family. Have you experienced tenderness and compassion from Christ? Show tenderness and compassion to those around you. Don't allow anything to divide you. Don't argue over minor points of doctrine. You are saved by the same gospel. You are the children of God. Put your differences aside and be a loving family."

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit." (Philippians 2:3a) There is a difference between normal ambition and selfish ambition. It's not a sin to further our education or to perform honest hard work in order to provide a better living for ourselves and our families. Paul is talking about the kind of ambition that makes us jealous and covetous. It's the type of ambition that causes us to think, "I'm better-looking and funnier than Mary Jo. I deserve to be more popular than she is. I'm going to try to make everyone at church like me more than they like her." It's the type of ambition that makes us enviously say to ourselves, "I'm smarter than Rick. Why should he have a nicer house and newer car than I do? I'm going to do everything I can to get more than he has, even if I have to backstab him at work." Is this how we would treat one of our biological siblings that we love? I have a biological brother and sister, and I'm happy when things go well for them. I'm not jealous of them. I love them and want the best for them. Paul is saying we should feel the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When our fellow Christian gets a promotion at work, we should rejoice with him, not compare our income with his. When our fellow Christian is considered the most popular Sunday school teacher at church, we ought to thank God for giving us such a gifted teacher, not be envious. If some of our fellow Christians have happier marriages or better behaved children than we do, we shouldn't feel resentful and jealous, but we should rejoice that they aren't enduring struggles at home.

"Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3b-4) Self-centered people aren't happy people. Sometimes we wrongly assume that "looking out for number one" is the only way to get what we want and be satisfied with life. But just the opposite is true. Loving others and caring about their welfare will make us more satisfied with life. God created us with a need for relationships with our fellow man, and we can't have happy relationships with others if we are interested only in ourselves. We won't be healthy mentally or emotionally if we don't maintain good relationships with other people. I would venture to say we will even be healthier physically if we engage with others in godly and loving ways.

Was Christ happy? I think He was. I think when He was serving others and interacting with them in loving ways He was very happy. He loved us enough to die for us so we could be in His presence forever. He wouldn't have given all He had to make this possible if it didn't please Him to interact with us. So Paul urges us to be like Him. "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:5-7) If Christ didn't consider Himself too good to serve human beings, then certainly we can't consider ourselves too good to serve our fellow man.

"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death---even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8) Because Christ came to earth as a man, as a man He submitted Himself to the will of God. He agreed to do His part in God's plan of salvation. He was willing to give anything it took to save us. If Christ was willing to give Himself in this way, can we not give our love and our time and our encouragement to those around us?

"Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11) God the Father rewarded the willing sacrifice of God the Son. When the clock winds down on this old fallen world, and each person who has ever lived has to stand before God, even those who have rejected Christ will have to bow their knees to Him and admit that He is Lord.

God will also reward our sacrifices. "God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them." (Hebrews 6:10) We show our love for God by loving our fellow man. If we say we love someone, but are unwilling to sacrifice anything for them, we are deceiving ourselves. Love that isn't sacrificial isn't love at all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 5, Conduct Yourselves In A Worthy Manner

I don't know whether Paul had any inkling of Nero's growing hatred for Christians or of the intense persecution that was going to come against Christians in the Roman Empire, but he has already experienced persecution from his own people. He knows that wherever the gospel goes, opposition to the gospel will arise. He tells the believers of Philippi to stand firm no matter what comes, and to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you." (Philippians 1:27-28a) The word we find translated as "conduct" is the Greek "politeuomai", which means "to behave as a citizen". Paul is saying, "No matter what circumstances you find yourselves in, behave like citizens of Christ's kingdom."

In telling his readers not to be frightened, he's not speaking of the natural concern anyone would feel when faced with persecution. He uses the Greek word "pturo", a word that can mean "to be terrified, to cower, to stampede in fright". Remember how the disciples fled the Garden of Gethsemane in terror when Jesus was arrested? This is type of fear Paul is telling his readers they won't give in to if they stand firm in the power of the Holy Spirit and if they maintain unity with one another. Remember how Peter was so frightened on the night of Jesus' trial that he denied he knew Him? This is type of fear Paul is saying they need not experience. The terror of the disciples was a terror they experienced before the death and resurrection of Christ, and before Christ ascended to heaven, and before the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers. We don't have to face our fears alone. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and we are to rely on Him for the power to stand firm.

Next Paul says that standing firm in the faith, no matter how fierce the opposition, is a sign to the enemies of the gospel. "This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved---and that by God." (Philippians 1:28b) Enemies of the gospel are like terrorists. Terrorists may manage to kill or maim people, but they can't kill or maim all of the people that they hate, and so their primary motive is to provoke fear in as many people as possible. After all, they aren't called "terrorists" for nothing. The Lord Jesus tells us that there is only One for whom we should feel fear---a holy and reverential fear---and that is God, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) The inability of the enemies of the gospel to strike abject terror in the hearts of the Christians is a sign to them that they have no real power over the people of God. It's a sign to them (though they may not acknowledge or accept it) that they are headed for eternal damnation, for they do not possess the power that God's people possess. The enemies of the gospel do not know or fear the one true God, and therefore they are in danger of facing judgment from the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

Suffering is unavoidable in this fallen world. If we belong to Christ, suffering for the gospel is also unavoidable, for, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) Not everyone will face the type of persecution Paul faced, but I guarantee you that there will be people who don't like us simply because we are Christians. Some of the persecution we face will be passive, such as being left out of things. Some will be more obvious, such as being made fun of or passed over for promotions. In our nation we are already seeing the tide turning against the Christian faith and I fear it's only going to get worse. We don't know how fierce the opposition against the gospel is going to become, but anyone who follows Christ is going to be confronted with some type of persecution. "For it has been granted you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have." (Philippians 1:29-30)

Paul was willing to suffer for Christ because Christ had suffered for him. That same attitude should be in us because the same Spirit is in us that was in Paul. Though I'm sure Paul would rather have avoided the beatings and imprisonments he suffered, he understood that suffering for Christ brought him closer to Christ. This doesn't mean we are to seek out suffering, but that if our faith brings suffering upon us we are to endure it staunchly through the power of the Holy Spirit, ever growing closer to the One who suffered for us. Suffering for our faith shows us who we really are; if persecution doesn't draw us closer to Christ then our hearts aren't where they need to be. But if, as Paul says, in our persecution we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, we know we are living in close fellowship with our Lord.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 4, To Live Is Christ; To Die Is Gain

The letter to the Philippians is considered Paul's most joyful letter. He concluded yesterday by saying that he rejoices that the name of Christ is being preached. He picks up again today by speaking of his joy, for he is determined that whether he lives or dies, Christ is all that matters.

"Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance." (Philippians 1:18b-19) At first glance it would appear that Paul expects to be set free, but I don't believe that's what he's saying. He hopes to be set free, naturally. But in the context of the remainder of our passage today, it doesn't seem that Paul had any idea whether or not he would be set free or whether or not he would die for the faith. In my opinion, what Paul feared most wasn't death. What he feared most was failing to do everything he possibly could for Christ. The deliverance he sought was not release from prison although he would have made the most of his freedom by continuing to travel to regions where the gospel had never been taught. The deliverance he desired was not from death, although he would have used all the years of a long life to lead others to the Lord. His fear is that he may fail to fully carry out his calling for the Lord, and that to him is a fate worse than death.

"I eagerly hope and expect that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." (Philippians 1:20) It's easy to see why Paul may have spent sleepless nights worrying he might give in to fear. Fear was a tactic he used against the church before his conversion. He persuaded some to renounce the name of Christ by threatening them with beatings, imprisonment, and death. (Those who refused to give in to fear and renounce Christ experienced---with Paul's approval---beatings, imprisonment, and death.) I think it's only natural he would be concerned about being so overwhelmed by fear that he might stop speaking in the name of Christ in order to save his own life. We know he's already endured a great deal for Christ and it has not stopped him from preaching the gospel. We know he will never disown Christ, but he understands the weakness of the flesh and the human instinct for self-preservation. Fear of death, especially a torturous death, is capable of making anyone go silent. He knows that due to fear the Apostle Peter denied three times that he knew Christ. He knows that he himself caused Christians to claim they didn't know Christ. This is why I think that the prayer Paul most wants the Philippians to pray for him is the prayer he asked the Ephesians to pray for him, "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." (Ephesians 6:19-20)

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) This is something everyone who is in Christ can say. Our lives should be centered on Christ; therefore to live is Christ. To die is gain because we will leave this world to be with Him forever. When we think of it like this, we realize that everything is Christ. This life is Christ. Death is Christ. Eternity is Christ. Nothing ever has or ever will matter more than Christ.

"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:22-24) Although his words make it sound as if the choice is up to him, Paul is not expressing any suicidal thoughts. He's not saying he'd like to take his life so he can leave this world to be with Christ. I think he's saying that if it were up to him, he'd be happy to have the Lord call him home right now.

We've all had days when we wished the Lord would just call us on out, haven't we? We can understand why Paul says that to be with Christ is "better by far" than remaining in this fallen world. But Paul is going to live on for a time because he still has things the Lord wants him to do on the earth. You and I are still alive and kicking this morning because the Lord still has things for us to do on earth. Of course we'd be happier in the presence of our Lord, but for the benefit of our fellow man we must remain here for a time to be a light to them. Paul understands this is why he is still living, so he says, "But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:24) The churches Paul founded are still young. They still need his wisdom and encouragement.

"Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." (Philippians 1:25-26) History is not very clear on the details of Paul's death. We can see that when he wrote this letter he still hoped to be set free to resume his missionary travels, but early church tradition tells us that he was beheaded on orders of Emperor Nero, probably somewhere between 64 AD and the end of Nero's reign in 68 AD. Nero's persecution of Christians really began to break out following the great fire of 64 AD, a fire which he is believed to have instigated and blamed on the Christians, much in the same way that the Nazis are believed to have burned the Reichstag and blamed it on the Communists. If Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians in around 62 AD, as many scholars believe, then he has somewhere between two to six years left to live.

In verse 26 above Paul concludes our section today by saying that the Philippians will boast in Christ Jesus on account of him. They will praise the Lord for the courage and strength He's given Paul during all his adversities. They're going to thank the Lord for sending Paul to them in the first place to preach the gospel, and for helping Paul to stay in touch with them so their own strength and courage could grow. If Paul is set free they are going to rejoice. If Paul gives his life for the faith they're still going to rejoice that he stood strong til the end.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 3, Rejoicing About The Ministries Of Others

Yesterday Paul assured the believers of Philippi that what seems like bad luck for him has actually helped the gospel message to spread in Rome. Since he is not a dangerous prisoner, he's merely under house arrest, which means there is always at least one guard posted but it also means he is allowed to received visitors. Luke told us in the book of Acts that Paul preached the gospel in the house for two years to everyone who was willing to come hear it. I wouldn't doubt that hundreds of people came to believe on Christ after hearing about Him in Paul's house.

Today Paul tells his readers that because he boldly speaks in the name of Christ while a prisoner, other believers have been emboldened to preach the name of Christ. "And because of my chains, most of my brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear." (Philippians 1:14) They are encouraged by Paul's behavior, for most of them are still walking around freely, and I suppose they think to themselves, "If Paul can conduct a great ministry for the Lord even though he's a prisoner, surely I have no excuse as a free person not to be working for the Lord."

Not everyone preaching the gospel in Rome is doing it out of pure motives, as Paul has observed. The same is true in our day. Not everyone who is affiliated with the church is there because they love Christ. There are other types of needs (other than spiritual) that people are seeking to meet by connecting themselves with the church or with any other religious or social organization. Paul doesn't let it bother him. Instead he chooses to look at the bright side. "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18a)

There were some who saw Paul's imprisonment as an opportunity to become more popular than he was. He wasn't concerned with his own popularity but with Christ's. There were some who were such eloquent speakers that they could charge admission to hear their sermons. Paul always preached the gospel free of charge, believing rightly that every human being deserves the opportunity to hear about Christ. Although he's observed unscrupulous men using the gospel message to serve their own interests, he isn't angry about it. Instead he rejoices, because the message they are preaching is the same message he's preaching, and their motives don't matter because the power of the message doesn't come from their motives but from the Holy Spirit.

I daresay that many a person has been saved under the preaching of a man whose heart wasn't right with God. The person providing the message may have had wrong motives, but the people who heard the message believed it and accepted Christ as their Savior. Many years ago I was greatly comforted by a message taught by a well-known television evangelist who has since had some unsavory details of his personal life come out and who has given up the ministry. The verse this man preached on was exactly the verse I needed for what was happening in my life. The Holy Spirit took that verse and promised me that my situation was going to turn around in ways I couldn't even imagine. The verse was, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten." (Joel 2:25a) The Lord kept that promise! I went through three of the toughest years I'd ever been through but the Lord has given me nine happier years since. He's repaid me three times over for the years the locusts had eaten! I don't know if the preacher's heart was right with God when he preached that message or not. But I know the Lord spoke to me through the Scripture that was quoted in the message. The same thing was happening in Rome, so Paul says he rejoices. No matter what the motive, other men were preaching about Christ, and people were being saved and helped.

As long as people aren't perverting the gospel of Christ, we don't have to concern ourselves with their motives. God knows whether they're preaching for the wrong reasons and He'll deal with that in the right time and in the right way. We also don't need to compare our work for the Lord with the work others are doing for the Lord. This isn't a popularity contest. We each have a calling of the Lord on our lives and we owe it to Him and to our fellow man to carry out our calling to the best of our abilities. Comparing ourselves with others isn't going to improve on our ministries; it's only going to make us selfish and envious. Do you recall when the Lord warned Peter that he would give his life for the gospel and Peter wanted to know what was going to happen to John? The Lord said to him, "What is that to you? As for you, follow Me." (John 21:22b) Our job is to follow Christ. Our job is not to search out the false teachers and preachers. Our job is not to try to be better servants of the gospel than our neighbors. It's not our business how the Lord is going to use our brothers and sisters in Christ to advance the gospel, so He says to us, "What is that to you? Follow Me."

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 2, In Chains For Christ

We learned earlier in the writings of Paul that instead of deploring his circumstances, he had learned to rejoice in them. He said that because God's grace was sufficient for him, he would take delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, and in difficulties. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) So today we find him showing gratitude for the privilege of being in chains for preaching the gospel of Christ.

In our study yesterday he told the believers of Philippi that he prayed joyfully for them every time he thought of them. He picks up there by saying, "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:7-8) He says, "I wish I could be with you. But whether I am with you, or whether I am a prisoner in Rome, you are always in my heart and always in my prayers. God is a witness to this."

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ---to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11) This is a beautiful prayer we can pray for anyone. It's an especially good prayer to pray for your children.

"Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel." (Philippians 1:12) The believers of Philippi feel badly for Paul. They'd give anything if he hadn't been arrested and if he weren't a prisoner in Rome. But he wants to put their minds at ease. What to them seems like a bad turn of events is actually part of God's plan for helping the gospel message to reach people in Rome.

"As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ." (Philippians 1:13) Everyone who knew of Paul knew why he was in Rome. They knew he was awaiting trial before Emperor Nero where he would put on his defense---a defense which would actually be a sermon that declares Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. Naturally those who interacted with him while he was a prisoner were curious ahead of the trial about what the gospel was, how it led to his current situation, and why it was said that the men who were preaching the gospel were turning the world upside down. (Acts 17:6)

I believe we can safely assume that at least some of those who guarded Paul converted to Christ. The family members of these guards likely converted to Christ. People in the community came to hear Paul preach the gospel and I am certain some of them converted to Christ. Paul was not considered a dangerous prisoner and he was allowed far more privileges than those with criminal records and a propensity for violence, so it would appear that visitation was not restricted in any way. He didn't even have to live in a prison but in a private house, as Luke told us in Acts 28:30-31,"For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ---with all boldness and without hindrance!"

I wonder if we wouldn't feel a lot better about our circumstances if we followed Paul's example. What if, when we're going through hard times, we asked ourselves, "How can these circumstances be used to advance the gospel of Christ?"

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 1, God Will Complete His Good Work In Us

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers of Philippi in about 62 AD while he was a prisoner in Rome awaiting trial. He has already waited two years for his trial, having arrived in Rome in 60 AD. When he writes to the Philippians he doesn't yet know that he will never be a free man again, for he will speak of waiting to see how things are going to go for him. He doesn't know that he will lose his life during the reign of Emperor Nero to whom he appealed (which was his right as a Roman citizen) when he was arrested in Jerusalem. He expected a fair trial in Nero's court, but while he awaits his day in court a rabid hatred for Christians is beginning to simmer in Nero's heart. This mad emperor will soon become the Adolf Hitler of his day, being as much of an enemy to the Christians as Hitler was to the Jews.

Although Paul's circumstances are troubling, his letter to the Philippians is filled with joy. It's my favorite of all of Paul's letters. If I were in his shoes, I'd probably be concerned only with my own circumstances. I'd be feeling pretty down and out and I'd be looking for encouragement. But instead Paul spends his time encouraging and praying for his fellow believers. Maybe that's why he was able to endure his circumstances with such courage: he spent more time thinking about others than he did thinking about himself.

As we've already learned, Paul normally dictated his letters instead of putting pen to paper himself, and I think his friend Timothy was probably the one he dictated this letter to, for he mentions him in his salutation. "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:1-2) Have you ever thought of yourself as one of God's holy people? That's exactly who you are! You have been clothed with the holiness of Christ and if Paul were writing a letter to you today he'd say, "Greetings to you, God's holy person in Christ Jesus." You will never struggle with feelings of worthlessness if you keep in mind who God says you are in Christ. You are holy, chosen, precious, and loved.

Paul is going to tell his readers that he's praying for them. We love knowing people are praying for us, don't we? It comforts us to know others are lifting our names up to the Lord. There are times when we're so worried or grief-stricken that we can't pray for ourselves, and it's a relief to know that others are doing for us what we can't do for ourselves. Paul assures the church members of Philippi that they are constantly in his prayers. "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:3-6)

God's good work in us began on the day we accepted Christ Jesus as Lord. He continues to work on us every day, conforming us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) God doesn't start projects and not finish them. He's never going to walk off and leave us half-done. He's not going to grow bored or tired or impatient. Until the day Christ comes, and we see Him as He is and we become like Him (1 John 3:2), God is busy doing a work of continual improvement in us. This work will be complete when our bodies, like our souls, have been transformed and we receive a body like Christ's.

The children's choir at my church often sings a little song called "He's Still Working On Me". For some reason that song was stuck in my head all day yesterday and I kept singing it over and over while I did my housework. The chorus goes: "He's still working on me, to make me what I need to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars, the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient He must be, 'cause He's still working on me."

We are far more important to the Lord than anything else He made. He's not going to stop working on us until we are complete and perfect. He's not going to say, "I've had enough! This one isn't ever going to come out right." Like a potter, He's going to work and rework us like clay. A day is coming when He will stand back and views us with satisfaction in the same way a craftsman views with satisfaction a job well done.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Letter Of James, Brother Of Jesus. Day 21, Praying In Faith

We conclude the book of James today with some comforting words about the prayer of faith.

"Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray." (James 5:13a) Trouble is probably what sends us to our knees the most, and this fallen world is full of trouble. The Lord Jesus never promised us easy lives, but instead He said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33b) Jesus gives it to us straight. As long as we live on this earth we're going to experience troubled times. But we have a refuge in Him. We have a hiding place. We can go to the Lord and say the same thing David said, "Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed." (Psalm 57:1b)

"Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise." (James 16:13b) I admit to you that some days I'll ask the Lord's help for something, and after He works my situation out I'll realize many hours later that I forgot to give Him thanks. One of the most beautiful ways we can give thanks and honor to the name of our Lord is to sing songs of praise to Him. You don't have to be a gifted singer. I'm certainly not, but I love singing along with praise music on the radio. The Lord honors what's in our hearts and He doesn't care whether we have a great voice or not. In fact, I think every song of praise sung from the heart is equally beautiful to Him. I don't know whether David had a beautiful voice, but he loved to sing the praises of the Lord, and he composed many songs for Him in both good times and bad times. So I'd like to add this to what James has said: "Is anyone sad? Let them sing songs of praise." There are going to be days when we don't feel like singing, but we should sing anyway, because it has a way of lifting our spirits. It reminds us of who our God is and what our God has done and what our God is going to do.

"Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:14-16) We practice anointing in my church. My sister was recently anointed at church after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis. The pastor takes olive oil (which represents the Holy Spirit) and with his finger makes the shape of the cross on the sick person's forehead. Then all the ministers, deacons, elders, family members of the sick, friends, and anyone else in the church who wants to participate gathers in a circle around the sick person to intercede for them with the Lord.

Some Bible scholars like to say that James's advice was good only for the apostolic age when signs and wonders abounded in the early church. But I disagree, as do many others who have far more education and experience in the Scriptures than I have. James doesn't say that the gift of healing comes from an apostle who possesses the gift of healing; he very clearly credits the Lord with the healing. Is he guaranteeing us that everyone we pray for in faith will be healed? That's a loaded question, because he links healing with being forgiven and being "raised up", so in some cases he may mean that person's eventual and eternal healing, or he may be referring to salvation, or he may be thinking of the resurrection when we will have immortal bodies like the Lord's. Nevertheless, I've seen people healed by the Lord after obeying the words of James in verses 14-16. Quite a few of them were people whose doctors had given them no hope. Others have been healed of what should have been lifelong chronic illnesses. I can't explain these healings except to give all the credit to the Lord, as James does.

One thing we can be sure of is that if we want to see our prayers answered, we have to pray in the faith that God is able to answer our prayers. James has already discussed that subject earlier in his letter by telling us not to doubt when we pray. (James 1:6-8) For proof that James is correct, we can take a look at what happened when Jesus tried to minister to the people of His hometown. Almost everyone there rejected the idea that He was the Messiah. They had no faith in Him, even though He'd been performing astonishing miracles in other towns. Because of their unbelief, the Bible tells us, "And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." (Matthew 13:58) It's not that Jesus didn't want to do miracles there, but their lack of faith prevented them from receiving blessings from Him. I don't exactly understand how faith opens up a pathway for blessings, and I'm unclear on how a lack of faith blocks the flow of blessings, but maybe this is why: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) God rewards faith, not unbelief. Faith takes effort, and it takes courage, and it takes patience. It doesn't take any effort, courage, or patience to be faithless. We can see why God would be moved to reward us for maintaining faith in a world that tries our faith every day.

Lest we compare ourselves to the saints and prophets of old and say, "Well of course people like that received rewards for their faith! Somebody like me can't expect to receive answers to big prayers," James tells us, "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops." (James 5:17-18) Elijah was an ordinary man who believed in an extraordinary God. He wasn't perfect anymore than you or I are perfect. God didn't answer Elijah because Elijah was perfect. God answered Elijah because Elijah had faith.

We tend to think God doesn't perform amazing miracles anymore like He did in the Bible days. But if we aren't seeing huge miracles in our own day, maybe that's because we don't have the faith to believe in them. The disciples once asked Jesus why they had failed at performing a miracle in His name. "He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20-21) Are there some mountains in your life that need moving? Pray to the Lord in faith. And if you find yourself believing and doubting at the same time, say to the Lord what a desperate father once said to Him: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24b) Will the Lord honor the prayer of the one who asks for more faith in Him? You can count on it!

James is going to conclude his letter in an abrupt fashion. He's not going to use closing remarks like the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. It's possible that the lines where he says goodbye to his readers somehow became separated from the rest of this letter, but I have my doubts about that. I think he ends his letter the way he does on purpose, and in a few minutes I'm going to tell you why. "My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)

He wrote his letter to the believers in order to do the very thing he tells us to do in verses 19-20: to bring back those who have wandered from the truth. He wrote his letter to correct erroneous behavior and to counteract wrong doctrine. I think he concludes without any closing remarks because our work for the Lord and for our fellow man is to be ongoing. We are to continually be examining our hearts and lives to see whether we are honoring the Lord, and we are to always be looking for ways to minister to our fellow man, and we are to be growing in faith and in our relationship with the Lord every day. So James doesn't say goodbye and, by not saying goodbye, I think he's saying something like this, "Now go and get on with it. Stay on track. Help others stay on track. Keep the faith."

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Letter Of James, Brother Of Jesus. Day 20, Patience In Suffering

The Christians of James's day were facing persecution and discrimination. There are Christians today in various parts of the world who proclaim the name of Christ even though it may mean their martyrdom. We are all going to suffer for Christ in one way or another. This suffering may be caused by active hatred against us or it may be caused by someone's passive-aggressive attitude toward us, but we can be certain that following Christ will cost us something.

James, who himself would lose his life for the faith, tells us to have patience in the face of opposition. A better translation of the word he uses would be "patient endurance". He's not warning us against the type of impatience that we're most familiar with, the type of impatience we experience when we're inconvenienced or aggravated. Instead he's saying, "Hang in there. Hold fast. Stand firm."

"Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains." (James 5:7) This agricultural example paints a wonderful picture for us of how we are to behave. A farmer doesn't go out and sow seed and then come back to the field the next morning expecting to see crops growing. He doesn't stomp angrily around his garden fussing about how nothing has sprung up yet. He knows it takes time to reap a harvest. We live in a far more fast-paced world than James lived in, and we often expect instant gratification, and we are used to having many of our needs met by just the touch of a button or by a trip through the drive-through. The farmer doesn't get instant gratification. He sows the seed and waits months to see the results. If we'd adopt the farmer's attitude we'd feel a lot less frustrated.

"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:8-9) I think many of the Christians of James's day believed Christ might return in their lifetime. Some critics of the Bible have used this belief to claim that the apostles believed and preached an error. This is not so, for Christ Himself said no one but the Father knew when the Son would come for His bride. (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32) Naturally the apostles and the Christians of the early church hoped Christ would return in their lifetime. Every generation since has hoped the same thing. I too hope that Christ returns in my lifetime. What James is saying is that we need to live as if it could be any moment. That will strengthen our patience. That will keep us from impatiently turning on each other in frustration.

"Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." (James 5:10-11) The prophets spoke of many things they didn't live to see, and even though making predictions in the name of God brought death to many of them, they spoke in His name anyway. Job, in his intense grief, refused to turn from the Lord but instead drew closer to Him even though He didn't understand what God was doing. We've lost the meaning of what patience is. We think we're being patient if we don't lose our cool when McDonald's tells us to pull ahead and wait three minutes for fresh fries to be brought out to us. We pat ourselves on the back if we make it through rush hour traffic without blowing the horn or saying a bad word. True patience is the patience the farmer has, or the patience the prophets had, or the patience Job had. True patience is faithfully enduring whatever we're going through, in the knowledge that our God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) and in the hope that we will reap a harvest if we don't give up (Galatians 6:9)

James concludes by warning us not to be dishonest with each other while we wait for the Lord's coming. "Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear---not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple 'Yes' or 'No'. Otherwise you will be condemned." (James 5:12) In James's day an oath that was not sworn by the name of God was not considered binding. A person could say to his brother in Christ, "I swear by the skies above that I'll pay you back next week." Such an oath was meaningless. Someone might say to their intended spouse, "I swear by the whole world that I'll be faithful and true to you for the rest of my life." If she broke this oath later, she could consider herself unaccountable. If we have to swear by anything to back up our word, then that's usually a sign our word can't be trusted. If we are known for our integrity, our listeners are going to accept our "yes" or "no" without question. An oath made in the name of God was considered binding, but Jesus warned His listeners not to swear by the name of God either in Matthew 5:33-37 and He said the same thing that James says to us, "All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

If someone starts a conversation with me like this, "I swear I'm not lying," I immediately suspect they are lying. Why else would they feel compelled to make a big deal of their trustworthiness? If we make a promise to someone and feel we have to use dramatic declarations to back up the honorableness of our intentions, we ought to examine our motives to see whether we really do intend to keep our word. It's funny how often our speech reveals what's really in our hearts, even when we're trying our best not to reveal anything.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Letter Of James, Brother Of Jesus. Day 19, God Will Judge Unfair Employers

Thank you for your patience yesterday when I wasn't able to write the blog due to the death of my little dog. I'm grieving terribly this morning but at the same time I'm very thankful that I had her in my life. The Lord has always used my pets to teach me more about Him. It seems like my little dogs have done a better job of following and obeying me than I've done of following and obeying my Lord, so they've set a beautiful example for me to follow.

There is good news about my sister. She was finally released from the hospital yesterday evening. She still has treatments ahead of her and I would appreciate your continuing prayers on her behalf.

In our study this morning James speaks to wealthy employers who treat their workers unfairly. When we first begin reading these verses it's going to appear as if James is speaking harshly against all who are rich, but as we get into our passage we will see that it's the rich oppressors whose behavior he is reproaching. As we've said before in our study of the book of James, it's not a sin to be rich. If you've become wealthy by honest means and are using your wealth in godly ways, praise the Lord! Be thankful for how He's blessed you. Use your blessings to bless others. But James is talking about those who are stingy and selfish. He's talking about those who have it within their power to be a blessing to others but refuse to do so.

To those who want to heap up riches for themselves and who mistreat those to whom they could have been a blessing, James says, "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you." (James 5:1) Like an Old Testament prophet, James proclaims, "Woe to you, for judgment is coming! You've lived in ease while your workers have trouble putting food on the table. You've worn fine robes while your subordinates scarcely have clothes on their backs. Did you think God wouldn't see this? Did you think He wouldn't defend those you've wronged?"

What good is wealth that's gained from the misery of others? While the rich oppressor counts his money, he's caught up the delusion that his coins are fresh and shiny, when in truth they are dirty and stained. "Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days." (James 5:2-3) When these unrighteous employers stand before God their Judge, the wealth they made off the suffering of others will be evidence used against them in court. No matter how often they polish their coins, God will see the blood, sweat, and tears on them.

Sin can't be hidden from the Lord. In our world the wealthy are often able to hide their sins from their fellow man. Their money sometimes allows them to get things swept under the rug. But God is a Judge who has every single piece of evidence before Him. He can't be bribed or persuaded to look the other way. His is going to defend those who have been wronged. James now gives a dire warning about the Lord's ability to see all sin, no matter how well-hidden it is. "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." (James 5:4) When Cain tried to hide his sin from the Lord, the Lord said, "Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground." (Genesis 4:10) Abel loved the Lord and was faithful to Him. He was a child of God, and God saw the wrong that was done to him. God sees every wrong that's done to His children. Anyone who thinks he can mistreat a child of God and get away with it is deceiving himself.

James concludes his words to the rich oppressors like this, "You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you." (James 5:5-6) He tells them, "You have indulged your every desire, growing fat on the misery of others. But you're like a farm animal that's being fattened and does not know slaughter is in its future. Every day of that animal's life has included enough food to gorge itself on. It thinks every day of the future will be the same. You rich oppressors think you're living in the lap of luxury and that every day is going to be like today, but judgment is coming."

Today's passage speaks to a particular situation in my life right now. I won't go into detail about my work situation or the things that have gone on there, but the Lord knows every detail and at the right time He will take action. I'm at a point where I need to make decisions and plans for my professional future. I'm counting on the Lord to show me what to do. I'm trusting Him to be fair to me where others haven't been. Maybe some of you are dealing with unfair employment practices, or maybe you've experienced things like that in the past. Trust me (and the Apostle James) when I promise you that God has seen every wrong done to you. God will call to account those who have mistreated you. Just keep trusting Him and conducting yourselves as the children of God, and He will bless you abundantly for every unfair thing that's been done to you.