Posts Tagged 'maturing in the faith'


The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15—29

The latter portion of Colossians 1 presents the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These verses form the foundation of Paul’s contention with the Gnostic element at Colosse. These false teachers claimed to have superior, secret, and mysterious knowledge of God and of spiritual things, but according to Paul, everything that can be known about God is revealed in Jesus Christ, therefore no secret or mystical knowledge is needed.

1. Our image of God, 1:15—18

Part of becoming a mature Christian is having a Biblical Christology. In other words, mature believers think correctly about Jesus Christ. There is a lot wrong information floating around about Jesus and what He did, both in Paul’s day and ours. To help the Colossians think correctly about Jesus, Paul makes three very profound statements concerning Christ.

A. In relation to His deity, verse 15

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There are two thoughts here. First, Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” How do you take a picture of something that cannot be seen? What does the invisible man look like? Nobody knows because he’s invisible! So what does Paul mean by that statement? In interpreting that statement, we must understand that Paul is not teaching that Christ is the image of God in the material or physical sense. Paul is also not teaching that Christ’s image of God is limited to His pre-incarnate state nor is it limited Christ’s glorified state after His Incarnation. Christ never became the image of God, He always has been the image of God.

The word for “image” is the Greek word eikon, which expresses two main ideas. One is “likeness.” So Christ is the exact likeness of God, like an image in a mirror is an exact likeness of the one looking into it. The other idea behind eikon is that of manifestation. That is, Christ is the image of God in the sense that the nature, character, and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. This thought is expressed in John 1:18—

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is a very deep concept, but it formed an integral part of Paul’s thinking about Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The second thought concerning Christ’s deity is that He is “the firstborn over all creation.” “Firstborn” is not the best way to translate prototokos because Paul is certainly not teaching that Christ was born or that He became. The main idea behind prototokos is “only begotten” and should be understood the way the Jewish mind understood it. Prototokos really means “uncreated.” He is out in front of all creation or we might say He is beyond all creation. Christ, in other words, does not belong to creation, but to eternity. This concept is seen in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1—3)

B. In relation to all creation, verses 16, 17

Paul goes on to establish the ground for Christ’s dominion over all things. Christ is the Source, the Agent, the End, and the Sustainer of all creation. Three prepositional phases are given to explain Christ the Creator: All things came to be—

→ in (or by) Him, verse 16a (creation occurred within the sphere of His person)
→ through (or by) Him, verse 16b (He was the force behind what was created)
→ for Him, verse 16c (all things exist for His good pleasure)

Furthermore, Christ “is before all things”, not “was before all things.” He is “before” in position, power, and time. Because He is the Creator, not part of creation, He holds it all together and all things exist because of His will.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

The scope of these verses is staggering. If nothing exists apart from the will of Christ, then all things, even evil powers, continue to persist only because He allows them to until the day comes when He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father:

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

C. In relation to the Church, verse 18

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Paul’s final affirmation concerning Christ’s supremacy relates to the Church. Christ, by right of His position in creation, has control and authority over the new creation, the body of Christ. To be “the head” of the Church is to be its Sovereign; its Leader and its Chief. It is HE who governs and guides it. In the Greek, “he” is emphatic, meaning that Christ alone, Christ and not other, is the head of the Church.

“Church,” ekklesia, means “assembly” or “congregation” and has in mind all redeemed people of God. Lost in Paul’s Christology is the use the “body” metaphor, which suggests three things:

→ the Church is a living organism, not an organization, composed of members joined vitally to one another;
→ the Church is the means by which Christ carries out His purposes and performs His work on earth;
→ the union that exists between Christ and His people is intimate and real. Redeemed saints in union with Christ and each other constitute a single living unit, incomplete without the other.

So, a mature Christian thinks rightly about Jesus Christ.

2. Our reconciliation, 1:20—23

Our maturity is also indicated by our understanding of precisely what Christ did for us. In Jesus Christ, Deity is pleased to dwell. In addition, God has made peace with all created things through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is God’s grand plan of salvation in two verses.

→ It is God who saves, verse 19
→ He saves creation through Jesus Christ, verse 20
→ He saves creation through the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, verse 20
→ God did this because it pleased Him, verse 19

To be “reconciled to God” means to be “at peace with God.” Somehow, through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, peace was and is made between God and human beings. But the power of Christ’s blood is not limited to the salvation of all who call upon Him to be saved, the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood extends to all He created!

…whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (verse 20)

Since the sin of the first Adam effectively destroyed the perfection of Christ’s creation, only an act of the Second Adam could undo what happened. In relation to human beings, there is no “universal salvation.” As great as the work of Christ was, it is of no effect on a human being until he accepts it by faith.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (verses 21, 22)

Prior to confessing Christ as Savior, the Colossians and all sinners had been “alienated from God” and His enemies. The word “alienated” (apellotriomenous) means “transferred to another owner”—in other words, an unregenerate sinner is estranged from God and hostile toward Him. Only by sacrificing His physical body could Christ end the estrangement and hostility between man and God. Paul stressed Christ’s “physical body” probably in defiance of the warped Gnostic teaching about how evil the body was. The value of Christ’s body is evidenced by what its sacrifice gained: the salvation of humanity!

The result of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of the Colossians (and all believers) to God, absolutely holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Is all of this in the future tense? Or is some of Christ’s reconciling work realized in the present? Scholars are divided, but F.F. Bruce presents a balanced view of verse 22:

The sentence of justification passed upon the believer here and now anticipates the pronouncement of the judgment day; the holiness which is progressively wrought in his life by the Spirit of God here and now is to issue in perfection of glory on the day of Christ’s [Second Coming].

3. Our hope of glory, 1:24—29

No believer can be considered mature if they have a wrong view of their sufferings. Paul, for his part, demonstrated his maturity by rejoicing, not because of the suffering he had endured, but IN the suffering because of the good that was being produced on account of it. One time, not so long ago, Paul, then known as Saul, had inflicted horrible suffering on others, but now he welcomes it in order to win the lost to Christ. What a remarkable change!

A. Understanding suffering, verse 24

Verse 24 is admittedly controversial.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The first part of that verse we have already explained. What does Paul mean by the second part? In Scripture, there are two types of suffering: ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering—what He endured in the flesh in order to secure our salvation—was mediatorial suffering; that is, He suffered in our place. He was punished for our sins. No human being can do that for another; only Christ could have suffered on our behalf. Christ also experienced ministerial suffering. For example, He was mocked and ridiculed for His teachings. He told His followers that they would experience the same kind of suffering He did; they would suffer on account of Him. This is what Paul had in his mind as he wrote to the Colossians from prison. In fact, Paul had been given a special promise of suffering:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul’s suffering could in no way result in anybody’s salvation, but his suffering was part of his ministry to the lost and to the Body of Christ. Paul identified himself with Christ so much so that he viewed his sufferings as part of His service to Christ. That is a mature view of suffering.

B. Understanding the mystery, verses 25—27

Paul had been called and charged with a mission to perform. He was made a minister of the Gospel (verse 23) and that ministry to the Church involved a revelation of a mystery.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (verses 25, 26)

Paul was the Church’s servant and his job was to preach the Word to the believers. That Word, Paul says, was a “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.” A lot of people stop reading there and wrongfully conclude the Word of God is a mystery—that it hides secrets and mysterious codes. However, reading on, we discover that for the Lord’s people there is NO mystery surrounding the Word of God! All has been revealed to the Christian.

There is no question about it; a mature believer has an understanding of God’s Word. This, of course, does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they, at the same time, become a Bible scholar! Christians are obligated to study the Scriptures and be faithful in listening good Bible teaching.  But at the same time, we understand this:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13a)

The Spirit of truth has come! He resides in all believers, therefore all believers may be guided into a understanding of the the truth. Mature believer come to depend on the Holy Spirit leading them into an appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even more than that, the Holy Spirit can give you a greater desire for the truth of God’s Word.

C. Growing God’s purposes, verses 28, 29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

God wants us to be complete in Him, and He has given the Church the Holy Spirit and preachers, like Paul, to make that happen. This reminds us of what Paul taught the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13)

So then, believers grow into maturity through the ministry of the Word of God to them. This involves preaching and teaching, but also “admonishing.” Sometimes believers need to be corrected in their ideas. Paul was so convinced of the importance of his ministry in this regard, that he “strenuously contended” to perform it. He “agonized” and “fought” for the souls of those in his charge. But he did so, not in his own power, but the power of Christ in Him.

The mature believer, then, is one who has a correct understanding of the Person and work of Christ, an understanding of suffering and a desire to know and understand the Word of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


Imitating Christ

Philippians 1:29—2:18

Thomas A Kempis in his book, The Imitation of Christ, said this:

Whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.

If A Kempis is correct, that could explain why there is so much ignorance of God’s Word in the church today; too many Christians are busy running here, there, and everywhere—like chickens with their heads cut off—cultivating their own lives based on their own desires rather than cultivating the life of Christ in them. This is the idea put forth by Paul in Philippians 1:27—

Only one thing concerns me: Be sure that you live in a way that brings honor to the Good News of Christ. Then whether I come and visit you or am away from you, I will hear that you are standing strong with one purpose, that you work together as one for the faith of the Good News… (New Century Version)

This was a major concern of the apostle’s: that his Philippians friends should honor God in how they conduct the day-to-day affairs of their private, public, and communal lives.

But how would the Philippians—or Christians today—know how to live like that? With the hundreds of choices Christians face every day, how do we know which ones honor the Lord? In this section of Paul’s letter, he gives his advice on this part of maturing in the faith. A mature Christian imitates Christ.

1. Unity with Christ, 1:19—2:4

As we have learned, the Philippians were not lukewarm believers; no, this congregation was already deeply spiritual. This congregation was living in holiness, miles away from worldliness and carnality. In spite of this, Paul teaches them how to go even deeper into Christ’s fathomless grace.

a. Suffer like Christ, 1:29—30

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on 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.

Suffering for Christ is not exactly something that excites most Christians! It is natural to avoid suffering of any kind at all costs, but when we avoid suffering for Christ, we miss out on something profound. The word “granted,” echaristhe, is formed on the stem of the noun charis, which means “grace” or “favor.” So Paul is conveying a deep, spiritual truth here. Even as faith in Christ is a gift of God, so also is suffering for the sake of Christ. We should stress, Paul is discussing suffering for Christ, not other kinds of suffering.

Suffering for Christ is one of several means God employs in achieving His gracious purposes for both His own Son and in all believers.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. (Hebrews 2:10)

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6—7)

But what does “suffering for Christ” look like? In Paul’s case (and his primary example here), it looks a lot like his imprisonment! He was in prison, not because he broke any laws, but because he had been obedient to a Higher Law: he preached the Gospel. Because some people didn’t like the Gospel, the messenger was thrown into jail.

b. Pursue unity, 2:1—4

Without a doubt, the church at Philippi was populated by an already excellent congregation, full of excellent Christ-like qualities. However, no church is ever “ideal” all the time. While the witness of the Philippian church to the community outside was good, there appears to have been trouble simmering inside the church. Was there some kind of jealousy among the members? Were some members taking advantage of other members? Was there grumbling and backbiting? We don’t know because Paul doesn’t give us details, but there was a problem and his remedy was simple and direct.

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (2:3b, 4)

The meaning of verses 1 and 2 needs to be understood because it’s another profound idea from Paul. God gives strength to those who serve Him, God’s love for Christians serves as an incentive, Christians are full of the Holy Spirit, and Christians have love and compassion for each other. These four points serve as a basis for what he says in verses 3 and 4. Because Christians have all these things operating in their lives (or they should!), then it should be easy to live humbly and to put the needs of others ahead of their own.

This is a mark of Christian maturity; this is what unity looks like. Unity does not look like a bunch of people in total agreement about everything all the time. Unity is avoiding things like rivalry and pettiness, and embracing things like cooperation. It’s not that Paul thinks members of a congregation should think less of themselves, it’s that they should think more of others.

2. Dethrone self, 2:5—11

This is arguably the most majestic and profound Christological passages in the Bible. These verses could only have been written by a person carried along by the Holy Spirit, so deep are they. They are difficult to study because as we do so, we feel more like praising and worshiping Jesus that analyzing words!

Paul’s essential message here is identical with what he wrote to the Corinthians:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

In spite of how theologically profound these verses are, if we remember why Paul wrote them, we will find them easier to grasp. Something was threatening the unity of the Philippian church. Over against the attitudes of some who were, perhaps acting selfishly, Paul sets the attitude of Christ as the ultimate example of humble obedience.

a. The mind of Christ, verses 5—8

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had… (verse 5)

This represents Paul’s exhortation. The Greek could be translated literally: “Keep thinking this among you, which (attitude) was also in Christ Jesus.” While Christians can in no way duplicate the exact ministry Jesus had on Earth, we can certainly have the same attitude.

This “attitude” is the “mind of Christ.” Moffat translates this brief exhortation: “Treat one another with the same spirit as you experience in Christ Jesus.” Implicit in this exhortation is the notion that it is impossible to love God without at the same time loving other members of the Body of Christ.

Remember why Paul gave the example of Christ to the Philippians: he wanted them to imitate Christ’s attitude. What was Christ’s attitude? Simply this: even though Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the revelation of God Himself, that is, God and Jesus Christ are of one substance, He did not “claim His rights” or “insist on maintaining His right” to be “equal with God.” What that means is that from all eternity, the Son has been equal with the Father. That equality is not based on nature but rather on relationship. And whether in Heaven or on Earth, the Son, even though equal with the Father in every way, never sought to aggressively usurp His will at the expense of the Father’s. He never sought to take the Father’s place.

There is a good example of this in John 5:17—18, where Jesus’ enemies accused Him of vocally proclaiming equality with God. This is something Jesus refused to do.

In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus did not “make Himself equal with God” because He already was.  He never sought self-enrichment and He never displayed His equality with God in order to boost His stature among men. What a contrast between the first Adam and the Second Adam! The first Adam selfishly desired to be like God, but Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, unselfishly “looked to the interests of others.”

Mature Christians have seen that attitude in Christ and work at developing that same attitude in their own lives.

b. Exalt Christ, verses 9—11

Because Jesus lived in humble obedience to the Father, and because He put the needs of sinners ahead any need or want He may have had, He was and is exalted. And rightfully so.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place … (verse 9)

The word “therefore” (dio) is important. It means “in consequence.” So because Jesus was obedient, God exalted Him. This was something Jesus taught, and it was something He practiced:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)

In other words, believers don’t need to “puff themselves up” or draw attention to their good works or their talents or whatever. If we simply and humbly live and work for the Lord, not drawing attention to ourselves or our efforts, in due course, God will reward us.

The loftiness of these incredible verses may be distilled into one sentence: It is the servant who has become the Lord. For the Philippians, the practical application was obvious, and it was something that Jesus Himself taught during His earthly ministry—

…and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others … (Matthew 20:27, GNT)

Imagine if every church member took Paul’s teaching here to heart, how many problems and schisms could be avoided. This is how mature believers act.

3. Partner with God, 2:12—18

These verses are Paul’s practical application of the deep spiritual truths he just wrote about. The word “therefore” in verse 12 links this passage to the preceding one like this:

  • Since Jesus Christ, by means of His complete, voluntary, unrestricted obedience left an example to follow;

  • Since the reward He received shows that there are amazing things in store for those who follow His example;

  • Since now, today, Jesus Christ is our mediator, imparting strength to all who trust Him and endeavor to live as He lived….therefore…..

….there are two things left to do:

  • Work out your own salvation. Salvation has many aspects, including a present one. Regeneration, the act by which a sinner is initiated into salvation, also comes with present obligations. God the Father accomplishes this regeneration for us, but then we are obliged to do something(s) for Him: work out our own salvation. We do NOT work FOR our salvation, we work IN our salvation. That part of the verse is something most of us understand. The sticking point are the words “your own.” We are not obligated to work out anybody else’s salvation, only our own.

  • With fear and trembling. This isn’t necessarily how we are to work out our own salvation, it’s the attitude we should assume. Philippians is a letter full of joy and optimism, not fear and trembling. Paul is in no way indicating that Christians should live fearful that God will “get them” if they mess up. Paul is referring to a “holy fear” of God that causes us to tremble at the thought of sin.

Knowing that God is the partner of each and every Christian, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, Paul proceeds to list a number of things Christians are expected to do in this present life. Christians are expected to live up to a standard set in the Word of God. If they do, then… will shine among them like stars in the sky… (verse 15b)

Just as stars (phosteres) refer to heavenly bodies that “light the darkness,” so the light of the Christian illuminates the darkness of the moral and spiritual world. Christians ought to be “light-bearers,” like lighthouses on the seacoast.

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. (Matthew 5:14)

This “lighting of the darkness” is possible only by this unique Divine-human partnership. God gives us the ability to live as He commands us to. Our good intentions can get us only so far. Intentions are not actions. Christians are called to action—action that is pleasing to God.

This is another mark of Christian maturity; living lives in Heaven’s direction. Holiness and purity of action, not just of intent, characterize the truly mature believer.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


Confident Living, Philippians 1:6—30

The letter to the Philippians was written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. In spite of that, this letter is full of joy and optimism. The great preacher, G. Campbell Morgan, nicknamed this letter “a singing letter, a love letter.” Philippians is Paul’s most personal letter; a letter from an old man who was in a reflective mood, remembering with great fondness a body of believers who meant so much to him.

1. Confident of maturing, 1:6—11

a) Continuous good work, vs. 6, 7

…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. 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.

Verse 6 is such a meaningful verse to so many believers. The expression, “being confident” is causative, meaning that there was absolutely no doubt in Paul’s mind that God was in no way finished working in the Philippians. No matter what the circumstances were, good or bad, God was working in the lives of Paul’s friends to a positive end.

What was this “good work” Paul was referring to? It was grace; the transforming grace of God. As God had been working in them to transform them, the result was their own working for God’s good pleasure:

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. (2:12, 13)

Salvation is such an amazing thing. It really is the “new beginning” some people long for. In Christ, all the failures and guilt of your past are wiped away. Nothing in the world can compare to what Jesus Christ can do for a person when He works in them.

b) Abounding affection, vs. 8—11

Paul’s love for the Philippians was the same love Christ had for them. He loved them from his inner-most being because that was how Christ loved them. Paul was so united with Christ, that the indwelling Christ loved the Philippians through him.

Back in verse 4, we read this:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…

And here we have a glimpse of the content of those prayers. Paul’s prayers are always interesting to study because they shed light on his core beliefs; his theology.

 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. (verses 9—11)

The word for “love” Paul used was not eros or philia, types of human love, but agape, a divine love. The phrase “your love,” then, really means “God’s love in you.” This hearkens back to the previous thought about Paul’s love for his friends being Christ’s love for them. Earlier in his career, Paul wrote the Roman church this famous verse:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another… (Romans 13:8)

Love is continuous, because it is always owing, always conscious of its debt. Christians are able to love one another solely because God loved us first. Christian love is meant to “abound more and more,” a good way of translating the Greek perisseue, a verb in the present tense, describing continuous growth and advancement.

However, while believers are to be generous in their loving of one another, they are to love while exercising discernment in that regard. Once again, a look at the Greek phrase is enlightening. The words used, epignosis (knowledge) suggests a thorough understanding of general moral principles, and aisthesei (discern) refers to the practical ability to apply general principles in everyday situations. In other words, we might say that Christians ought to love one another from the heart and from the head. We should never allow ourselves to be taken in or taken advantage by anybody, even a fellow believer.

Believers today, like the Philippians of Paul’s day, must always be growing and advancing in the faith. That growth, according to Paul’s theology, is demonstrated in the love we have for one another.

2. Confident of the Gospel, 1:12—18

Paul wasn’t just confident his friends would continue to grow and mature and that God would continue to work in them, he was also confident of the Gospel.

a) Bound and bold, vs. 12—14

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (verse 12)

Stuck in prison with no clue when he would get out, somehow Paul could write verse 12. This man had something lacking in most believers today: perspective. Paul’s commitment to the Word of God was so complete, he couldn’t tell his friends how it was with him without mentioning how it was with the Gospel! In Acts, Dr Luke describes what was happening to Paul in Rome:

They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. (Acts 28:18)

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! (Acts 28:30, 31)

The use of the word “actually” or “rather” in the KJV, suggests that the Philippians may have been expecting bad news from Paul, so he was quick to quell any fear they may have about their friend’s state.

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (verse 14)

Notice that it was not “in spite of my chains” but “because of my chains.” This is more than just a man of God writing something to inspire somebody else, Paul is declaring that the successes he and his fellow workers in their evangelistic endeavors had experienced was actually due to his imprisonment. Another way to look at this verse is that the believers in Rome became bold in their proclamation of the Gospel because Paul was in prison. The word “proclaim” comes from the Greek lalein and denotes that the Romans were no longer silent; they were bolder than ever in spreading the Word.

Paul’s confidence was not misplaced. It was firmly grounded in the Gospel. What motivated these Romans so? Certainly it wasn’t the hope of Paul’s release, because nobody knew when or even if Paul would ever be released. Their new-found courage and confidence in the Gospel came from Paul’s triumphant example in carrying on his work while under arrest. It was his courage and his confidence in the Gospel that made the difference in their lives.

b) Reason to rejoice, vs. 15—18

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. (verse 18)

We don’t know what Paul’s stature was, whether he was a tall or a short man, but spiritually and he was a giant. While he was in prison, many genuine believers were now witnessing and evangelising, picking up the slack because Paul was unable to get around town. But at the same time, others had taken up the pulpit, preaching the same Gospel Paul was preaching, but for very different reasons. These people, not false teachers, were taking advantage of the fact that Paul was stuck in one place, out of the public’s view. They preached, not because they cared about saving souls, but to advance their own agendas, whatever they might have been. We aren’t told, but since human beings never really change, we suspect it had to do with money and power.

But Paul tells his friends that, really in the great cosmic scheme of things, it is the Gospel that changes lives, not the one preaching it. As long as the person preaching is preaching THE Gospel, who cares why they do it? We can almost hear Paul adding, “Let God sort it all out, not me.”

3. Confident about the future, 1:21—28

Paul had no idea what his future held, but, as the song says, he knew who held his future.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (verse 21)

a) Life or death, vs. 21—26

What exactly does this now-famous phrase really mean? Will L. Thompson’s words express Paul’s thoughts perfectly. Of course, his famous hymn is “Softly and Tenderly,” but the lesser-known “Jesus is All the World to Me” contains Paul’s thoughts:

Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad, He’s my Friend.

In the Greek, the opening words of verse 21 are emphatic; he is giving a personal testimony about how he truly feels. But he is also drawing a contrast between himself and those other preachers he referred to earlier, who preached the Gospel for all the wrong reasons. Paul, in contrast to them, was not self-centered, but Christ-centered. He was so in life and he would be so in death.

Everything Paul did, he did for the cause of Christ. And even death was considered by Paul to be “gain,” that is, something positive. It meant that, at last, he would be united with One he lived for.

Whether or not he ever regained his freedom was literally of no consequence to the apostle. He looked forward to seeing Christ in death, but at the same time, if by God’s grace he was let out of prison, he saw that as an more opportunity to continue doing what he had been doing: preaching the Gospel.

b) Heavenly citizenship, vs. 27—28

Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live 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 with one accord for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.

Ever optimistic, Paul wanted to encourage his readers to remain resolutely steadfast and faithful, unafraid of what the future may hold. If ever there was a message for the Church of Jesus Christ today, it is to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel without being frightened.” We see so much disunity in the Church these days. If the Church were to live and function as it ought, the world would listen to our message. But the part of this piece of advice that stands out to us is the phrase “without being frightened.” Why would Paul write that? Those who live lives consecrated to the Lord will always be objects of derision. The world loves to mock the principled Christian. Even other Christians poke fun at their fellows who take their faith seriously. Paul knows this all too well, and so he offers the advice: don’t be afraid of anybody who may oppose you.

The true believer really has nothing be afraid of in the world because he’s just passing through on his way to heaven. Chuck Swindoll once said that a Christian should pitch his tent with shallow pegs. The reality is, this world is NOT our home. How invested should we be in it?

Paul describes believers as “citizens of heaven.” That phrase is deeper than it seems. The word Paul used was politeuesthe, from which we get “citizen.” In its original meaning, it meant to live according to laws and regulations. Philippi was a Roman colony, and some of its citizens were from Rome, but all Philippians were entitled to all the privileges of Roman citizenship. Even though Philippi wasn’t IN the Roman Empire, it was a tiny piece of the Roman Empire on foreign soil. Probably most of the citizens of Philippi had never been to Rome, but they were subjects of Roman law. Moffatt’s translation of verse 27 is a little more revealing: “For we are a colony of heaven.” As Philippi was to Rome, so is earth to heaven.

In fact, while the Christian lives on the earth, his allegiance is to Heaven. Once we were citizens of Earth, but not any more, and so our loyalty is Heavenward. This change in loyalty necessarily means a change in lifestyle. Citizenship carries with it both privileges and responsibilities. Christians are called to live according to the values of their heavenly commonwealth, not of the culture around them.

When we live like that, we are demonstrating our maturity in Christ.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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