Posts Tagged 'rejoice'

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 5

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We serve a God who loves us. He loves us so much that He did this:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16, 17 TNIV)

God gave us Jesus to save us. But God’s giving didn’t begin or end with Jesus. God has always been giving to people. To the lost, He gives ample opportunities to get saved. To believers, God gives so much more. He meets all of our needs, both temporal and eternal. So far, we’ve looked at some of the things God has provided us with in abundance:

• In Romans 5:20 and Philippians 4:7 we learned that God has supplied abundant grace that has resulted in abundant peace between us and Him and between us and the world around us.
• Isaiah 55:7 told us that there is abundant pardon available from God. No matter who comes to God for forgiveness of sins, God is able to do just that in abundance.
• Only Jesus satisfies the needs of every human heart, according to Psalm 36:8.
• And thanks to the abundant life Jesus talked about John 10:10, believers can be living today lives full of heavenly power and blessings.

No matter what it is you need, God is able to provide more than what you are asking for. He’s not a cheapskate when it comes to blessings! The world, on the other hand, is also generous, except in reverse. While God gives good things in abundance, the world gives the opposite. For example, there’s plenty of strife in the world. There’s conflict everywhere. And there’s misery. For most of us, our lives feel like what Louis Armstrong sung about:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah!
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground
Oh, yes, Lord
Although you see me going ‘long so
Oh, yes, Lord
I have my trials here below
Oh, yes, Lord
If you get there before I do
Oh, yes, Lord
Tell all-a my friends I’m coming to Heaven!
Oh, yes, Lord

Talk about depressing! Oh, yes, Lord. The thing is this: That’s not how God wants you to live, and He has made it possible for you live in a state of abundant joy for your whole life, regardless of your circumstances.

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26 KJV)

That’s what Paul wrote, and he meant it. But just what did he mean? Let’s take a closer look at this “exceeding abundantly above” provision.

The church at Philippi

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been called the “Letter of Excellent Things,” mainly for it’s excellent content, which is so positive and uplifting. Some twenty times, Paul used terms like, “rejoice,” “thanksgiving,” “be content,” and “praise,” none of which are dependent on outward circumstances. In fact, Paul wrote this upbeat, cheerful letter from prison, uncertain of his own future!

The city of Philippi was named after Philip, father of Alexander. The great battle between Brutus and Octavian was fought here and shortly after that, the mighty Roman Empire was born in 42 BC. It was a long-time military outpost, with an obvious and strong military presence. The citizens of Philippi were all Roman citizens and therefore enjoyed all the rights and privileges that came along with that citizenship.

Speaking of citizenship, the ethnic makeup of Philippi was diverse indeed. Greeks, Romans, and Asians all lived in relative peace, and each of their religions and philosophies were respected. In fact, Philippi was a city steeped in superstition and mythology. Given the city’s strategic location and their propensity toward all things supernatural, it’s understandable why Paul wanted to start a church there, which he did on his second missionary journey, around 52 AD.

The Jewish presence in and around Philippi was practically nil; not enough even to support a synagogue. That meant Paul had to change his church-planting routine, and instead of spending time in the Jewish community, he did the next best thing: He went to a prayer meeting, held down by the lake.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13 – 15 TNIV)

Lydia was convert number one. After her, a slave girl converted to Christianity, which got Paul and Silas thrown into prison. You know the story. Our two intrepid church planters started singing hymns and praising God and they were set free from their imprisonment by a supernatural earthquake. The head of prison, who saw the power of God, became convert number three, as well as members of his family.

At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:33, 34 TNIV)

And so the now-famous Philippian church was born. A fascinating aside was the makeup of the congregation. Lydia was a pure capitalist – a somewhat wealthy business woman who was Asiatic. The one-time slave girl was Greek, and she represented the lower, working classes. The jailer was a Roman and he represented the middle class. Truly, this church exemplified the power of the Gospel to attract and to save anybody:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26 – 28 TNIV)

Persecuted and poor

We know that while the church at Philippi was spiritually solid, they were a persecuted lot, largely on account of their association with Paul:

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…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. 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. (Philippians 1:7; 28 – 30 TNIV)

Not only were the Philippian Christians persecuted, but they were poor. And yet, they were one of the most generous churches Paul had ever encountered in his journeys:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own… (2 Corinthians 8:1 – 3 TNIV)

Notice what Paul wrote, because it’s surprising. The Philippians’ JOY had combined with their POVERTY to make them GENEROUS. That’s the exact opposite to way the world operates. It says you can’t be joyful if you’re poor. It says poor people can’t be generous. No wonder the world is miserable! It runs contrary to the way the Kingdom of God runs in every way. Jesus gave us the Kingdom precedence in Matthew:

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16 TNIV)

Everything in the Kingdom is upside down compared to everything in the world! Really, though, in the Kingdom, everything is right-side-up; it’s the world that’s messed up.

Paul’s state

Paul wrote this positive, upbeat, and cheerful letter from prison.

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 TNIV)

There’s that whole upside-down-way of looking at things again. You’d think that being thrown into prison would stop your evangelistic efforts. But, no! The exact opposite happened – being imprisoned helped to spread the Gospel even more! Dr Luke, Paul’s personal physician, friend, and traveling companion, tells us what Paul was going through at the time he wrote this letter.

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. 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 28:16; 30, 31 TNIV)

He was stuck at home, unable to leave, yet that didn’t stop him from sharing the Gospel. Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes the least contrary thing stops us from leaving the house and even just coming to church, never mind actually doing something of value for God! A headache…a tickle in the throat…a phone call…all those things keep us from the Lord, yet here was Paul, imprisoned in his own rented house, finding a work-around for his imprisonment! What a guy!

For their part, the Philippians were concerned for Paul and wanted to see him released but Paul had learned to be content and to do the best for His Lord in whatever circumstances he found himself. In fact, Paul was willing to die for Christ and he didn’t view that as a bad thing!

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 TNIV)

The man’s whole life was wrapped up in Christ, in witnessing for Christ, in fellowship with Christ, and the goal of Paul’s life had become making his life a channel through which others may come to know Christ as Savior. Now, not everybody has that goal in life. For the businessman, a happy life may be wealth. For the slave, hard work and suffering. For the philosopher, more knowledge. For the soldier, victory and fame. For the ruler, a kingdom.  But for Paul, as it should be for all believers sold out to Jesus Christ, death should be seen as gain. To die would mean ultimate freedom – freedom from whatever it is that binds you from living a full and fulfilling life. It would mean deliverance from yourself – your pain and suffering. Far from an evil thing, because of the Cross, death has been turned into a way for believers to experience the new life of freedom and abundance that comes from being completely like Christ.

Yet he was willing to stay and work for the Lord, and that gets us to our fifth “exceeding abundantly above” provision, that of joy. Paul was convinced that he would be released from his prison (he was) and that he would see his friends again (he did):

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26 KJV)

The “abundant rejoicing” would be occasioned by Paul’s freedom. The greatest source of joy for the Philippians would be the answer to their prayer! Is it yours? Do you rejoice and experience abundant joy when your prayers are answered? Or do you barely notice? Here’s the problem. You and I frequently pray with a worldly mind. That is, we pray for things to happen the way we think is best. That may not be bad or sinister, by the way, but it may be worldly. Remember, the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate like that. In God’s economy things appear to be upside down to us, but really they’re right-side up. So sometimes, while it may appear that your prayer is either going unanswered or it is answered in a way differently than you prayed, God is answering it the right way: The way of the Kingdom. So you should rejoice no matter what. Later on in this letter, Paul got to the point:

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 TLB)

The Message, a quirky version of the Bible if ever there was one, translates this verse slightly differently:

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! (Philippians 4:4 MSG)

Revel in God, no matter what. Determine to be full of joy regardless of how you feel. An amazing thing happens when you start rejoicing when you’d rather not: you will feel happy. The Philippians were full of joy when the world said they shouldn’t have been. Paul was joyful when the world thought he should have been miserable. How do you feel?

Parables of the Lost, Part Two

The Lost Coin, Luke 15:8—10

Parable_of_the_Lost_Coin

The beauty of Luke 15 is that in three simple stories—this one being the second and simplest—Jesus illustrates one of the most profound attributes of God the Father:  His amazing grace.  In the first parable, the parable of the lost sheep, we learned to what extent the shepherd would go to in order to find and bring a lost sheep back into the fold.  These three stories were told in response to a comment made by some religious leaders, who slighted some in the crowd listening to Jesus teaching.   These “righteous” and orthodox religious-types were shown to be not nearly as kind as God; they would have written off the tax collectors and undesirables in the crowd as being beyond help, as being so sinful as to be beyond the pale.  But not God; God in fact loves people who stray away from His fold just as much as He loves those who never stray, and there is great  joy in His heart when the lost one is found and comes home.

In the first parable, then, we see the love that compels God to search for the lost sheep.  In the second parable, we move from the pastoral landscape of shepherding to the peasant life.

1.  The coin, verse 8

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one…

The message of this second parable is similar to that of the first one, except that we are introduced to different aspects of how God seeks that which is lost.

The silver coin Jesus mentioned amounted to roughly a day’s wages for a common laborer.  It was not uncommon for women to wear these coins on a chain around her neck if she did not have some kind of change purse.  If she was really poor, she probably did not even have money enough to buy a change purse!  These 10 coins represented over a week’s wages; likely all the money she had.  Perhaps the chain broke or the knot came untied and all the coins fell from her neck and onto the dirt floor of small home.  Being poor, she probably had no windows or small windows and no light except for a borrowed lamp, or when the door was open.  We can picture her stooping over, looking under tables and chairs, sweeping every nook and cranny in search of her coins.  She found 9 of them, but for some reason, she one eluded her.

What will she do?  She needs every coin to pay rent, buy food, or whatever.  Can you imagine how heartbroken she must have felt when she found all but one?  Have you ever lost your wallet?  Or lost some money?  Do you remember how you felt?  How you tore your house apart looking for it?

2.  Lighting the lamp and sweeping, verse 8

Does she not light a lamp…

Because her small one or two room typical Palestinian dwelling had limited exposure to outside light, she would have needed light.  Somewhere she found a lamp, perhaps it was hers or perhaps it was borrowed, and she lighted it.   It would have been the obvious thing to do; we would do exactly the same thing if we lost something precious to us.  Of course, we would run and get a flashlight and look in every single dark corner of the room in which we think we had lost our article.  Like the searching for the lost sheep was the obvious thing to do, so lighting a lamp would have been the normal thing for this woman to do.

…sweep the house…

In addition to more light, the desperate woman would next be expected to grab a broom so she could gently sweep behind and under and around the furniture, just in case the lost coin rolled under there.  Again, the way Jesus taught this, using the broom would have been the obvious and natural thing to do when looking for this lost coin.

3.  A determined search, verse 8b

…search carefully until she finds it?

Just like the determination of the shepherd, this woman will search and search and search and she won’t give up until finds and retrieves the lost coin.  This woman won’t be deterred from finding that coin; she will search for it as if her life depended on it.  Once again, we should note the beginning of the sentence which this phrase ends:

Does she not…

In other words, the things this woman does in search for her lost coin—

  • Lighting a lamp;
  • Sweeping the house;
  • Not giving up.

–are all things that a normal person would do.  These three things would be in keeping the normative behavior of a human being; not one thing this woman did was out of character for a human being.

4.  The desired result, verse 9

And when she finds it…

There was never a doubt in this woman’s mind that she would find the lost coin.  The phrase is matter-of-fact:  she set out to find the coin, and “when she finds it” indicates that her goal was reached.   This woman did not get lucky in finding the coin and she did not “stumble upon it,” she began as she ended:  knowing she would eventually find the lost coin.

…she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

Once again, our eyes are drawn back to the phrase of verse 8—

Does she not…

Calling her friends and neighbors together would be considered the normal thing for her to do.  And why not; this woman would have been thrilled about finding the coin and, like most of us; sharing good news with others makes the good news even better.  However, the thing that should be noted is this:  it is implied that her friends and neighbors knew she had lost the coin.  How did they know this?  Obviously she told them.  Perhaps she told them in desperation or perhaps she told them so that they could pray for her as she set about to find the coin.  Or maybe they saw the fevered activity around her small home and came to look and to make sure she was all right.

5.  Jesus’ interpretation, verse 10

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Is Jesus teaching that angels rejoice when a sinner repents?  The Bible clearly teaches that angels are deeply interested in man and his salvation—

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.  (1 Peter 1:12)

In fact, angels probably know far more about our salvation and the plans of God because they continually dwell in His presence.  No wonder they rejoice so much!

However, that is not the main point of this short parable.  The main point of this parable is that almighty God, who lives in the presence of the angels, actively seeks the lost and rejoices when as few as one repents.   That being the case, should we not have the exact same attitude?  It is part of God’s character to do everything within His power—as the woman did—to track down the lost person and find them.  Do we do that?  Or do we treat backsliders the way those self-righteous religious leaders treated the tax collectors?  Do we consider them lost for good?  Have we simply given up on them?  God gives up on no one.  Do we exhaust our resources in seeking the sinner?   Jesus’ point, because He really is addressing the Pharisees, is that they—the orthodox religious leaders—should be as concerned about backsliders and sinners as God is and that they should do everything in their power to help them.

Neither the sheep nor the coin is actively looking to be found; the initiative is on the One doing the searching:  the shepherd and the woman.  Someone once wrote these beautiful words:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew, He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me; It was not I that found, O Savior true, No, I was found, was found of Thee.

Ancillary interpretations of the parable:  Rightly dividing the word

Jesus’ very simple interpretation of the story He Himself made up and told has not stopped Bible scholars from coming up with other interpretations and applications.

The most interesting one I have read is that, by the process of elimination, the woman in the story represents the Holy Spirit.  Proponents of this interpretation believe that the each of the three parables shows a member of the Trinity in action:  the shepherd represents Christ, the prodigal’s father represents God the Father, and therefore the woman has to represent the Holy Spirit.

The lamp represents the Gospel and the broom (yes, the broom!) represents the law.

While these ideas are interesting, it is better to stick to our Lord’s own assigned meaning to His own story.  It is doubtful that the woman represents the Holy Spirit for nowhere in Scripture is the third Person of the Trinity ever referred to as a woman, while Jesus is referred to as “the Good Shepherd” and God as our “Heavenly Father.”

(c)  2009 WitZend

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