Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

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… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Grace Thinking

Romans 12:3

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one (HCSB).

“God uses purposeful community to transform our hearts. The gospel, in the context of a community trying to do something, challenges our hearts and lives. This happens because we are placed in a situation where we are called to repentance, faith, and obedience. This is the process many of us disregard when we isolate and live for ourselves” (Watson, Sent Together). An example of what we ought to do is found in a great chapter on the Christian way of life, Romans twelve.

In verses one and two of Romans twelve, the Spirit of God sets forth the transformed way of life that God desires for his dearly loved people. Next, the Spirit gives specific teaching about the way the transformed people act in local gatherings (12:3-8) and in love (12:9-21). The Spirit does this through Paul the apostle, who asserts his authority to speak for God by the phrase by the grace given to me. At the same time, this phrase provides a model for the way we are to act (cf. 12:6). God’s people have been made rich by grace, and we are to serve God and others in conformity with the grace given to us. This includes the times we correct each other, as Paul was led by the Spirit to correct the Roman Christians in this letter.

In this paragraph, there is instruction about the correct usage of spiritual gifts in local churches. It begins with the right attitude in each member of a gospel partnership. Yes, each member, because this instruction is addressed to everyone. Each one of us must have a correct evaluation of himself or herself. An easy trap to fall into is to assume that others have attitude problems and we do not. “He has a big head,” or “she is in love with herself”. That might be correct, but it turns our attention from the point of the text. You and I must seriously ask ourselves if we are thinking too highly of ourselves. Do we see that we have received mercy in many ways (12:1), or have we become infatuated with who we suppose we are?

At the same time, we must have a sensible or sober-minded assessment of who we are in Christ. Called by grace to be sons and daughters of God, we have received the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to follow Christ together. Therefore, we must not act less than we are. We can do what he has equipped us to do. Whether it is building up one another or reaching out to those away from the Lord, we should not be paralyzed by the not sensible opinion “I can’t to this!” God has placed you in life with the people around you for you to radiate the Father’s glory. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16 HCSB).

God has given each believer in Jesus a measure of faith. Faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; etc.), and so we can trust in the Lord for what we need to build up the body of Christ and to win people for the Lord. This weekend in your local church, you should seek to help others on their journey. Part of this might involve listening to someone you have not listened to previously. You might be able to encourage someone who is weak. Your prayer might stir someone’s heart, and your kindness could refresh another’s heart. Look at others with the eyes of God’s love, and then act in love. Do not hold yourself back. Love one another.

Grace and peace, David

Answering Questions

IMG_0975Ruth 2:1-7

When the Lord calls us by the gospel (good news) of Christ to salvation, he places us in his people, his family, his new gathering, the church. When we repent and believe, we become partners in the good news. God equips each gospel partner to function in the church, and he expects us to fulfill our function, as we saw in earlier articles on 1 Corinthians 12. This requires cooperation with other members. We must all receive direction from the Lord (what is written in his word) and help one another in the mission that the Lord has given us; namely, to fish for people. Christ is in charge of the church and we all will answer to him.

In the story of Ruth, we read of a man entrusted with a task. We are not told his name, but he was a foreman under the direction of Boaz. Boaz wanted to know more information about Ruth, and so he asked his foreman, who made plain observations. He told Boaz what he knew about Ruth’s identity. He said that she was a Moabite woman. The foreman did not hesitate to point this out twice. We must remember that the law covenant separated Israel from the nations, though there is one human race. (The Bible recognizes absolutely nothing about different races among people. Racial prejudice and hatred come from non-Biblical and non-Christian ideas.) God had separated Israel from the nations out of love for Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) and from Israel to send Christ and his people to all people groups (Romans 9:4-5; 15:7-13). Whatever thoughts the foreman may have had about a Moabite gleaning in the fields, clearly Boaz was not troubled at all.

Christ’s new people the church consists of those saved by grace from all people groups. Through Christ we all have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). Therefore, we must reach out to people from all ethnic groups, in order to show God’s glory in saving people from all nations in the Lord Jesus. Are you involved in this part of the mission?

The foreman also told Boaz that Ruth came back (same word as returned in 1:22) with Naomi. When we connect this with the information about Boaz in verse one, the story gets interesting! The God who is in control of everything has his hand on both their lives to bring them together.

The foreman informed Boaz about Ruth’s conduct and request. Ruth was diligent in her work. She worked steadily from the moment she arrived in the field. She was intent on her purpose. If she wanted food to eat, she had to glean. Ruth was bold in her request—to gather among the harvesters. Why would she ask this? In Bible times a reaper grasped the stalk with his left hand and cut the grain with the sickle in his right. As he did this, he would accumulate an armload of stalks, which he would lay in rows for women to tie in bundles. If the workers were skilled, little would be left in the field, except at the corners of the field. If the workers carelessly allowed too much to drop, they might be looking for work the next day in someone else’s field. So Ruth wanted to increase her probability of harvesting a good amount of grain. She is going beyond the law; she is asking for kindness.

How do you need to exercise bold faith where Christ has placed you? Your life is probably less than perfect; don’t be depressed or discouraged. Life was not easy for Ruth on this day of her life. But she lived by faith on God’s word. You and I must life by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, too, regardless of our circumstances. Instead of viewing your life as filled with problems, look at things differently. The Lord is giving you opportunities to rely on him, because when you are weak, he still is strong (2 Cor 12:10). He has promised to be with you always, which includes the trying and taxing times you endure. Rely on his presence and his power.

Grace and peace, David

Reassurance of Friendship

IMG_08592 Corinthians 7:2-4

The apostle Paul concluded the previous section of 2 Corinthians by calling his readers to live according to what they are in Christ; namely, the temple of the living God. One of the great truths about the new covenant people of God is that we do not have a temple but that we are the temple. God lives in us by the Holy Spirit. After doing that, he immediately reassures them of their friendship or fellowship or partnership in the gospel. What we want to think about today is the attitude that must saturate our approach to the Christian way of life. How ought we to live together as Christ’s people? We can profit greatly by learning how Paul reassured his dear friends in Corinth.

Paul told them to “make room” for him (7:2). A contrast of two churches, Corinth and Thessalonica, will help us understand the reason for this request. Both were started at about the same time by the same church planter (Paul), but they had developed different views of the Christian way of life, and Corinth’s view was very defective.

  • The church of Thessalonica started in a time of persecution. They had a decisive break from idols and quickly became an effective partnership in the mission of the gospel. The word rang out from them (1 Thessalonians 1:8)! Yes, they needed to grow in grace, like all Christians do. Although they knew Paul only a short time, they were open to his ministry.
  • Some conflict with the Jews in Corinth happened in Corinth, but this church did not start in the turmoil of persecution. In fact, the Lord Jesus guaranteed Paul release from persecution there (Acts 18:9-10). This was a great outward advantage that Paul used well. But at the same time, the believers in Corinth seemed a little too at home in the world. This attitude showed itself again and again in their opinions about worldly wisdom and their willingness to participate in contact with idolatry, which every new gathering of believers had been urged to avoid (Acts 15:29). Both of these combined together, with evil actions of false teachers, to make them rather closed to Paul’s new covenant ministry.
  • So then, after telling them to separate from idolatry, which they had been too open towards, Paul commands them as Christ’s apostle to make room for him, whom they had been closed towards. They had been open toward the wrong things of idolatry and closed to their true gospel partner. So he repeats the command of 6:13 in different words. Each of us should evaluate ourselves to see if we are open to gospel influences and closed to the influence of the world and its idols.

He joins another personal defense of himself to this command. I think that here Paul gives a summary, forceful defense of himself of any supposed charges that anyone could possibly bring against him. He wants to end the past mess once and for all, in order to have a fresh start with them.

  • He had mistreated no one. When he directed the church to take action against certain people, they were receiving what they deserved. Christ’s apostle was simply applying the Lord’s directives to them.
  • He had corrupted no one. Teaching the way of grace does not provide a license to sin, regardless of how some have twisted the gospel. Gospel grace always leads to a godly way of life.
  • He had taken advantage of no one. The fact that faith in Christ involves a break with a worldly and idolatrous way of life, which can lead to financial loss for some, does not mean than Paul was somehow out to ruin some of them. I will illustrate. Consider the book Radical by David Platt. Suppose a couple reads it and agrees to downsize their lifestyle in order to give more of their lives and finances for the gospel. In the process, something unexpected happens and they suffer financial loss. The author was not trying to cause them harm, but he redirected them to follow Christ more fully. Sometimes in God’s providence people suffer unforeseen difficulties, which might have happened anyway!

If people are going to work together as gospel partners (and all Christians are to be gospel partners with other followers of Christ), we must make room for each other in our hearts and lives. This is where our walk with one another can get messy. Part of the process involves getting rid of incorrect theological views. Sadly, many professing Christians don’t want to invest time in accurate Christian teaching. Then they wonder why the wheels have come off their lives and their relationships with others. Your doctrinal assumptions will affect your life. We must also try to clear out misunderstandings about our actions. This requires patience, which comes from the Holy Spirit.

Grace and peace, David