Month: October 2019

The Secret of Contentment (Philippians 4:10-20)

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Contentment is a rare thing. We are bombarded by a myriad of multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns that reach into every nook and cranny of our conscious lives. These campaigns have saturated our senses with images and taglines all carefully designed to breed discontentment to fuel sales.

And so, whatever device or vehicle or shoe or item of clothing we have or holiday we had is quickly superseded by a new one we now desire.

Against this background, from prison, Paul’s statement strikes a stark contrast;

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

Wow! As we have seen before in Philippians, it is the “whatever” that makes this sentence remarkable. It is easy to be content in good situations or in blessed situations – therefore ‘whatever’ is code for being content in bad situations.

Before you rock back and think this is impossible for me, note that Paul wrote that this had been a process for him. He had ‘learned’ how to be content in whatever situation he found himself in. This was something he had grown in as he followed Jesus.

How content are you at the moment? What is causing you to experience discontentment? Not just materially, but in the stage of life, you are in?

How might God want you to grow, to learn to be content in that situation? How might God want to mature you, or grow your character in the situation you are in right now?

Paul could testify that he had learnt to be content in plenty and in lack – but how? What was his secret?

 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The secret Paul had learnt, was to tap into the empowering presence of God in all circumstances in his life. God, in him, was enough. The awareness of God’s presence with him was the single biggest X-factor that enabled him to endure all things with contentment.

It’s not written here outright, but the sub-text of this section is Paul’s underlying resolute trust in the sovereignty of God. He believed that God had either brought about the circumstances he was presently facing or God had allowed them to happen – God was not having any crisis meetings to work out what to do next; instead the plan and purpose of God was relentlessly moving forward even when he could not understand it or see how it was doing so.

We see this belief and trust in his statement in vs19 and his worship in vs20.

19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen

The Tale of Two Hills (Psalm 24)

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The God of Psalm 24 is almighty (vs10), glorious (vs7), Holy (vs3) and He owns everything on the planet – because He made it all! (vs1)

So who can approach this God? Who can ascend His hill, or enter into His presence?

  • Only those who like Him are holy and pure (vs3).  
  • Only those of who have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ (vs4).  
  • Only those who have never been deceitful or lied to anyone (vs4)

But who can truly claim such things? Who could honestly claim that they have not done anything or even thought anything sinful or impure? No one can – not even one.

So no one then can ascend Almighty God’s hill.  Our sin has separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). No one can approach Him on their own merit.

But praise God, there was another hill that was ascended for us! Jesus, God Himself ascended Golgotha’s hill leading to his death on the cross on our behalf.  

And because Jesus ascended that hill for us, because Jesus was like us in every way and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and because Jesus gave His life as a ransom to pay the price for our sin in our place…

Because of that, because He ascended that hill for us now, we who have put our trust in Him can ascend the hill of Almighty God with confidence.

Our hands were not clean, and our hearts were not pure, but Jesus made us clean, spotless and pure by His substitutionary sacrifice for us, which took our sin away when we believed in Him.

So now, we can walk right into the holy of holies, stand at peace before the King of all the earth (Romans 5:1). Our hope is not in our righteousness but in His; we stand now secure as God’s children, those who belong in our Father’s presence – amazing grace!

It’s the tale of two hills. It’s the incredible story of our Saviour’s love for us.

Rich Application… (Philippians 4:1-7)

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“Therefore…” (vs1). With everything that’s been written already in this letter in your minds, ‘therefore’ – do the following things, live in the following way.

Deep community & love (vs1)
‘My brothers & sisters’ (NLT) – the New Testament and this letter, in particular, is littered with the language of relationship, deep community, love, shared experiences – family. Paul said he ‘loved and longed for’ the Philippians, there is deep affection on display. May we be provoked by this language, to not settle for mere crowds in our churches, or isolated disconnected people in our meetings. Such deep community and relationship require sacrifice and intentional investment of time. But such depth of relationship is exactly what Jesus desires (John 13:35 & John 17:22-23).

My joy and my crown (vs1)
God has connected the health of the members of a local church to the life of the leadership in a remarkable way. Paul clearly loves these Philippian believers and is joined to them at a heart level. They are a joy to him.

Paul knows that as a leader their steadfastness in following Christ in the midst of opposition is in some way connected to not just their eternal rewards but to his!

They are his crown and his future reward. His eternal future is intrinsically intertwined with their present steadfastness. And so when he urges them to remain steadfast, to do so benefits both the Philippian believers and Paul himself. So he urges them to keep standing firm.

Be Reconciled (vs2-3)
This disagreement or disunity was quite possibly the reason for the letter. Two significant women, two women who have laboured alongside the apostle Paul in the ministry of the Gospel are not seeing eye to eye. So Paul entreats/pleads/appeals that they desist and choose rather to ‘agree in the Lord’. Their disagreement is not just a private matter but is impacting the church and so one named ‘true companion/Syzygus’ is urged to intervene, to help them by mediating in their disagreement.

Rejoice always (vs4)
These two unsettled believers (vs2-3) are charged (as are all the believers in Philippi) to; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (vs4). Sometimes when we are in some disagreement, all we can see is the issue or what they did or did not do. Paul urges them to lift their eyes to Jesus again, doing so brings perspective and transforms our hearts. The challenge of this command is the breadth of its application. ‘Always’ is the problem for us here. We have no problem rejoicing when something goes well for us, ‘rejoice always’ is code for; ‘rejoice even when things are not going well or according to your plan.’ It is only possible to obey this command by repeatedly meditating on Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross.

Let your reasonableness be known (vs5)
True unity and reconciliation are only possible when people choose to be reasonable/gentle/considerate. Once again there is one word which makes this hard for us – ‘everyone’.

It is easy to be nice to people who are nice to you, to be gentle when people are being helpful to you, to be considerate when people reciprocate your consideration of them.

It is much harder to be these things when those God has placed in our lives are not like this to us. Yet the motivation for our living like this is that the LORD is at hand.

So do not be anxious about anything, rather pray
Because the LORD’s second coming is imminent, and because God is an ever-present help in trouble we don’t have to be worried or anxious about anything in life but rather ought to pray calling out in every situation (vs6) to the One who loves us.

May the peace of God guard you (vs7)
As believers, we can access peace from God that makes no sense in the natural. We can know a peace that surpasses our understanding that will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus. Pray for yourself to know this sort of peace, let it shape your thinking in al you do.

Who are you following & who’s following you? (Philippians 3:17-21)

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Having just described how he had abandoned all trust and pride in human lineage or achievements (vs1-7) so that he could place all his trust in Jesus Christ and progress in knowing Him better (vs7-11).

Paul then clarifies that he knows that he hasn’t arrived yet. He knows that he hasn’t finished his faith journey but is pressing on to lay hold of all that Jesus laid hold of him for (vs12-16).

Then he says some thing which can sound out of place to the modern ear; “Brothers, join in imitating me” (vs17).  

He urges the Philippian believers to imitate him in all that he has just described regarding his personal faith journey.

This is not the only place Paul says things like this;

  • Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
  • to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. (2 Thessalonians 3:9)
  • What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

Paul unashamedly calls people to imitate his followership of Jesus. Essentially he says, imitate me, don’t be like those who ‘walk as enemies of the cross of Christ’ (vs18) who’s god is their desires, who glory in their shameful acts & who’s minds are fixated on earthly temporal things (vs18-19).

There are plenty of examples of people around us who deny the power of the cross. They live as though Jesus never died for them, they live as though Jesus is not the King of kings or that He ought to be loved, worshipped and obeyed.

As a result, such people live to satisfy their own desires and so celebrate whatever feels good to them regardless of how shameful such things might be. Because they deny the truth about God, they can only see the present (vs19b), but in so doing, they fail to see where the path they are on is leafing – destruction (vs19a).

Paul doesn’t want the Philippian believers; God doesn’t want you and I to be like such people. And so we are called to imitate Paul, to imitate his faith and his walk with Jesus.

All around us, people are looking for a sense of identity and belonging. But we who have believed in Jesus can be secure knowing that we belong already, that our identity was secured the moment we believed in Jesus.  

We who have believed in Jesus all have dual citizenship. We belong to the country of our birth or our adopted country & we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven (vs20).

This world, therefore, is not our home forever. We are visitors here; we are passing through. However, the best is yet to come. We have incredible hope in Jesus; we have something to live for! We belong to God and His kingdom.

We know that Jesus is coming back and His second coming will usher in a new era. There is a day when God will declare; ‘behold I am making all things new’ (Revelation 21:5) and that bright future is ours as believers in Jesus (vs20-21)

So don’t lose heart. Remember who you are and who’s you are. Remember that this life is just the dress rehearsal for the main event – eternity. Don’t undervalue eternity and in so doing make some monumentally bad decisions because your timeframe was way too short.

Find someone to imitate. We shouldn’t place people on pedestals but we ought to imitate the faith we see in others so that we can learn how to have robust faith and so that we don’t walk alone.

Who are you going to imitate? Why don’t you speak to someone today? Or who are you going to say; ‘imitate me’ to? Who are you going to invest your life and faith journey into? This doesn’t mean you’ve arrived, just that you have made some progress and if you want others to mentor you, you should be willing to mentor others too maybe.

God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

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‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)

What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)

Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).

Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).

Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.

Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!

And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)

What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.

I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;

Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.

Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).

LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.

And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).

‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)

The Unequal Team (Philippians 2:12b-18)

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I love the glorious and unequal harmony of Philippians 2:12b-13. These precious verses reveal an unequal team that collaborates to accomplish something of great significance – our sanctification.

We are unequal partners, like a father and a small child in a rowing boat. We are partners. We each have an indispensable role and responsibility for progress. And yet our Father in heaven has the greater responsibility and commitment to our progress. 

We are to work out our life response to the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus – this is our responsibility (vs12b).

And yet we do so, knowing that God is working within us — working in the realm of our desires, causing us to want to live in such a way that we please God (vs13).

Both oars are in the water pulling, but we would never hope to make any progress if it were not for the work of God in our hearts changing our very desires so that we begin to want what God wants more and more.

On the back of this confidence that God is at work within every believer, Paul commands the Philippian believers to; “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (vs14). This is only possible through the enabling work of the Holy Spirit, changing us from the inside out.

We are to embrace life and life’s circumstances free from the quiet murmerings of discontent (‘grumbling’) and free from more public debate and arguments (‘disputes’). We are urged to live in such a way so that we might be blameless, known for our innocence as believers in Jesus – God’s children.

Merely seeking to work out obedience to this one command contained in vs14 will make us extra-ordinary people to those around us.  

Grumbling and moaning are like national sports in South Africa at the moment. But we are not to be like this as God’s children.

We are also to avoid public spats, disputes that do nothing to advance the cause of Christ. Social media posts and comments that have no real building potential come to mind.

We are to be those who shine amid great darkness, those who shine like stars amid a crooked and twisted generation. We are called to be different, to be holy as God enables us and places within us the desire to please Him.

We live this way by holding ‘fast to the word of life’ (vs16). God’s word is our road map, our guiding light as we navigate through life seeking to honour God in all we do as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (vs12b).

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does seeing your role & God’s role in your sanctification in vs12b-13 change your understanding of progress in sanctification (becoming more and more like Jesus)?
  • Is there anything you have been grumbling about or disputing that you feel God is wanting to speak to you about from this passage? What is God saying He wants from you?
  • In what ways do you feel God wants you to shine amidist the darkness around you? What is God challenging you to do, or to stop doing so as to shine?

Foolish (Psalm 14)

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Foolishness is primarily a moral condition rather than a state of intellectual ability. There are some very bright fools out there!

Scripture declares in no uncertain terms that foolishness starts with denial. The fool is the person who says to themselves, the person who lives their life as if there is no God.

Wisdom starts with fearing God, and to know God results in insight (Proverbs 9:10). Therefore to declare that there is no God sentences the declarant to a state of folly since they cannot even start to have wisdom or understanding.

More than this, such a person’s denial of God and refusal to assign to God His rightful place in their lives and the world has devastating results. It leads to a corruption of their personhood and a downward spiral of their deeds.

This downward spiral is on display in Romans 1:18-32 where the truth about God is exchanged for a lie and so such people ‘claiming to be wise, they became fools…’ (vs22)

Wrong believing leads to wrong living, and right believing leads to right living.

May you and I always fear God and keep God in His rightful place in our lives. That’s the way to wisdom, may we never depart from it and may we continually pray that God would in His grace reveal Himself those who are currently denying the truth about God.