Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Power of His Resurrection, the Fellowship of His Suffering

That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)
This living relationship we have with God through faith in Jesus the Messiah (and through His faithfulness) is all about knowing the Lord Jesus, the power of His resurrection — and the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

Knowing the Lord Jesus? Sure. Though it is greater and more wonderful than we can imagine, it is something we can embrace with joyful anticipation. Likewise, knowing the power of His resurrection. That’s an easy Yes. But knowing the “fellowship of His sufferings” and being “conformed to His death”? Well, we need a little time to think about that one, don’t you. For Paul, however, it is a quick and ready Yes. It is part of knowing Jesus intimately, and Paul is glad to give up everything else for that.

Paul glories in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and what that means for our own future resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15, where he teaches at length about that). And his prayer for believers is that God would give us Holy Spirit revelation that we may know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20). This is the same power by which God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Paul definitely wants to know Jesus in the power of His resurrection, but just as much, he wants to know Jesus in the partnership of His sufferings. He is not, of course, referring to participation in the passion of the cross and the work of atonement Jesus did for us there — that work is already full and complete! No, he is talking about being persecuted for proclaiming the Lord Jesus as God’s Anointed King.

This is not theoretical with Paul but a reality that he has experienced often since he first came to know Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Though he does not do so here, he could easily have recited a litany of the persecutions, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, stonings and other perils he has endured for the sake of the gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-33). And of course, he writes this present letter from under house arrest in Rome. Yet he rejoices — there is always joy! — and he wants the believers at Philippi to rejoice as well, even as they too are experiencing persecution. As he observed earlier, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me” (Philippians 1:29-30).

The fellowship of Jesus sufferings, in a very real sense, has to do with emptying ourselves, pouring ourselves out and becoming servants for the sake of others. Just as Messiah emptied and poured Himself out for our sakes, taking the form of a servant. Paul still bears that in mind as he continues his letter. Just as Jesus became obedient even to the point of death on the cross, Paul is ready and willing to be “conformed” to His death — which seems to be the likely outcome of the course he is on — “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This if statement is not an expression of any doubt, and “attain” does not mean that he must somehow earn or deserve resurrection from the dead; the Greek word simply means to “arrive.”

The simple truth about resurrection is that there must first be a death. Paul has died to himself and the only thing that matters to him now is knowing Jesus. Departing this life holds no fear for him because he fully expects that he will be raised from the dead when King Jesus comes again. Does it matter then how he dies, whether as a martyr or by some other means? Not to Paul, it doesn’t. Either way, the end result is the same — resurrection from the dead! And there is no shame in suffering for the sake of the One who suffered for us.

Focus Questions
  1. Have you experienced personal, intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus?
  2. Have you experienced the power of His resurrection in your life?
  3. Is it worth everything you are, everything you have — even your own life?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Faithfulness of Messiah

That I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
Paul puts no “confidence in the flesh,” that is, in who he is by birth or what he has accomplished. In fact, he considers everything in his life as “loss” so that he might “gain” Jesus as his Messiah, to know Him and Lord and be “found in Him.”

To be found in the Lord Jesus means to belong to Him. In Ephesians, Paul tells believers that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). That is, God accepts us because of His Beloved Son. When God looks at us, He sees Jesus, and when He looks at Jesus, He finds us. God is thoroughly delighted about that. So is Paul, and to him it is worth everything.

Paul no longer seeks a “righteousness” of his own, that is, a right relationship with God that is based on anything he is in himself or what he has done. He has given up looking for it by keeping the law of Moses, which turned out to be a disaster for him. Outwardly, he seemed to being keeping it well, but in his heart of hearts, he knew he was a mess. In Romans 7:7-24, he describes the desperation of that experience and how he ended up by crying out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24). And then of course, in the next verse, he rejoices in the answer: “I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

What Paul has found that is so incomparable is a relationship with God that is based on the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. The NKJV says, “through faith in Christ,” but I think the better reading is “through the faithfulness of Christ.” The word “of” gives us a more literal rendering of the Greek text, and the Greek word pisteos, often translated “faith,” can just as well be taken here as “faithfulness.” A number of translations support this reading, including the Common English Bible, The Expanded Bible, N. T Wright’s Kingdom New Testament and Stern’s Jewish New Testament.

Now, it is quite true that we are counted as righteous before God through faith in Jesus the Messiah, but that is possible only because He has Himself been found faithful to God. Israel, through whom God wanted to bless all the nations of the earth, had proved unfaithful. But where Israel failed, Jesus her Messiah succeeded. Paul has already shown us in Philippians 2:5-11 what that faithfulness of Messiah looked like, how the Lord Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross, and how God therefore gave Him the name that is above every other name and dominion over everything in heaven and earth.

Paul discovered, much to his surprise — and relief — that it is not about him. It is not even about the law. It is about Jesus, whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. In Him, we are now dead to the law (Romans 7:4) and it has no more power, no more say over us. Jesus nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). It is not circumcision or any other aspect of law-keeping that demonstrates this right relationship with God, but faith in Jesus the Messiah.

In Him, we are also now dead to sin. It too has no more power and no more say over us. In his letter to the Jesus believers at Rome, Paul speaks of
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:6-11)
That is how Paul, as he writes to the believers at Philippi, now reckons himself. What he values far above all else is the living relationship with God that has been won for us by the faithfulness of Messiah.

Focus Questions
  1. How did a law-based relationship with God turn into such a desperate situation for Paul?
  2. Why is the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah such a relief for Paul?
  3. How much of your relationship with God have you considered to be based on your own performance?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

From Great Loss to Great Gain

Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:4-8)
Paul is dealing with the joy stealers, the legalistic teachers who insist that Gentiles must be ritually circumcised in order to be identified as belonging to the people of God. They have confidence in the flesh — literally! But Paul sounds a very different in response: “We have no confidence in the flesh.” However, if these teachers want to boast in themselves and their accomplishments, Paul can match them point for point and put them under the table. Here is his resume:
  • Circumcised the eighth day. Paul was no proselyte but a Jew from birth and circumcised as an infant, according to the law of Moses.
  • Of the stock of Israel. His ancestry went all the way to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel and who fathered the twelve tribes that became the nation of Israel.
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul’s line came through Benjamin, the only tribe that was loyal to the tribe of Judah and the throne of David when the kingdom divided.
  • A Hebrew of the Hebrews. Paul was no Greekified Jew, but a Hebrew-speaking Jew born of Hebrew parents.
  • Concerning the law, a Pharisee. Though Jews in other regions followed pharisaical notions of piety, it was only in and around Jerusalem that the Pharisees themselves flourished, and Paul was there in the thick of it. He was not merely a wannabe but a real Pharisee.
  • Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Paul even outdid many of his fellow Pharisees in zeal — by actively pursuing and prosecuting Christians.
  • Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Paul conformed completely to every legalistic standard and observance.
Add all that up and Paul wins the competition hands down — if that is the game those teachers want to play. He was very well-credentialed and that should have been quite profitable for him, or so he had thought at an earlier time in his life. But now comes the kicker, and Paul adds it all up in his own estimation: All that was once in his plus column turned out to be a minus. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”

The latter three points are not a source of pride for Paul — certainly not persecuting the church. He is not ashamed of his Jewish heritage (nor should he be), but at the end of the day, not even that matters if he has missed the most important thing. So he is quite willing to count even that as loss because he has found the thing that is exceedingly greater and much more excellent: To know Jesus as his Messiah and Lord, “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” That is all that matters for him now — it eclipses everything else.

The words “loss” and “gain” are accounting terms, the language of the marketplace. The things Paul has enumerated above, he now counts as “rubbish.” The Greek word he uses, skubalon, is much more severe than the that English translation lets on. The KJV renders it as “dung.” It is excrement and offscouring and rubbish, vile and detestable (you can supply your own modern day equivalent and it would be quite accurate), and everything that keeps us from knowing the Lord Jesus should be counted as such.

So Paul puts it all in the loss column, and if that were all he had, he would be in a very deep hole. But, joyfully, he has something else that cancels out all his loss. He has come to know the Lord Jesus, God’s Messiah King. And that is great gain!

Focus Questions
  1. What heritage and accomplishments are you most proud of in your life?
  2. Have you experienced Jesus the Messiah as your Lord in such a way that eclipses all of these?
  3. How would you describe or explain that?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Don’t Let Them Steal Your Joy

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:1-3)
“Finally,” Paul says, and it might sound like he is finishing up his letter and bringing it in for a landing. Not so. The Greek literally means, “as for the rest,” and signals a transition to a new topic.

“Rejoice in the Lord.” There is always joy, and it is found in the Lord Jesus. It is a constant theme with Paul, particularly in this letter, and he certainly does not mind saying it again. It is for their safety and well-being that he does so now, especially in view of what he is about to say.

There are those who would come and steal that joy, and Paul warns the Jesus believers at Philippi to watch out for them. “Beware the dogs. Beware the evil workers. Beware the mutilation.” He is not talking about three different groups, but describing the same group in three different ways. In his ministry, he has frequently dealt with these Jewish legalists who insist that circumcision is the necessary means of identifying who belongs to God. He has addressed their teaching in his letters to the Jesus believer in Galatia and at Colosse. This is serious business and Paul refers to these false teachers with very harsh language.
  • They are “dogs.” Dogs engage openly in behavior that would be shameful for people to engage in. Pagans, who shamelessly behave in ways that violate the law of God, would be considered dogs by these false teachers. But Paul turns it around on them and it is now the teachers themselves who are called  “dogs.” Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the law of Moses, and it is no longer circumcision but faith in Him that now marks out God’s chosen people. To teach otherwise is shameful to the gospel.
  • They are “evil workers.” Elsewhere, Paul refers to similar teachers as, “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:13).
  • They are “the mutilation.” This is a play on words. The Greek word for “circumcision” is peritome, from a word that means “to cut around.” The word for mutilation is katatome, which means “to cut up.” These false teachers are hacks, promoting what is not necessary but is actually now useless in identifying the people of God. They mutilate the good news about Jesus the Messiah.
Paul has an answer for them, one that is also a great encouragement for Jesus believers everywhere: “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” That really turns the tables, because true circumcision — the one God is really interested in — is not the one that is made with hands (and knives) but the circumcision of the heart. For circumcision was always meant to be the outward sign of an inward reality. This was made clear in both the Law and the Prophets.
Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16)

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts. (Jeremiah 4:4)
The physical rite was the cutting away of the flesh and symbolized faithfulness to the covenant God made with Israel. Removing that little fold of skin, however, could not produce what it signified. But what that ritual could not do, Jesus Himself has accomplished in us. In his letter to the Jesus believers at Colosse, where he has also dealt with the same issue, Paul said, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). Those who possess the “circumcision made without hands” are recognized in three ways:
  • We worship God in the Spirit. This gets to the “heart” of the matter, where God has placed His own Spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:24-27), and we worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
  • We rejoice in the Messiah, Jesus. The word for “rejoice” here is not the same one we have seen earlier, although it is no less celebrative. It is a Greek word that means “to glory, exult or boast in.” We do not boast in anything about ourselves, but our glory is in the Lord Jesus — we brag about Him. He is the one who, as Messiah, has fulfilled all that is required of the people of God.
  • We have no confidence in the flesh. Paul is using the word “flesh” here in a double way. It speaks of our humanity apart from the power and Spirit of God. But in view of the controversy he is addressing, it also refers here to physical flesh, which was subject to the ritual of circumcision. As believers in Jesus, we put no stock in any of it. Our confidence is in Him and the Holy Spirit.
Putting any confidence in ourselves and what we can do will rob us of our joy. That was not the intent of these teachers but it would most certainly be the result. So Paul is quite glad to remind the believers at Philippi once again to rejoice in the Lord Jesus and put all their confidence in Him — that’s where the joy is!

Focus Questions
  1. How can the circumcision of these legalistic teachers rob us of joy?
  2. Why is it a joy to have no confidence in ourselves or anything we have done?
  3. What does the “circumcision of the heart” look like, and how does it bring us joy?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On The Day I Called

On the day I called, You answered me. (Psalm 138:3)
In this psalm, the David gives praise to the LORD for His lovingkindness and loyalty — God has kept His word. And now he gives his reason: “On the day I called, You answered me.”

Many Christians, when they pray, usually wait to see if God has answered their prayer. That is, they are not willing to believe it until they see it, and when they see it, then they will believe it. Of course, there can be some time between when we pray and when we see the answer, between “Amen” and “There it is!” But if we are not willing to believe it until we see it, then that time becomes a matter if instead of when.

However, the Bible teaches us something different about prayer. Look at a couple examples from the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel called on the Lord, and even while he was yet praying, the answer came in the form of an angel: “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. At the beginning of your supplication the command went out, and I have come to tell you” (Daniel 9:22-23). Daniel prayed and the answer came right away. But watch what happened on another occasion, in chapter 10. Daniel set his heart to understand something, and during that time he fasted from wine and meat and “pleasant food.” He did this for three weeks, then he had a vision and the hand of an angel suddenly touched him.

“Do not fear, Daniel,” the angel said, “for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Daniel 10:12-13).

Now, notice that in both cases, Daniel’s prayer was answered right from the beginning. In the first instance, the answer showed up immediately, but in the second, the answer did not appear for 21 days. Even so, in both cases, God answered on the day Daniel prayed.

God’s timing is not always our timing, not just because He is eternal while we are finite, but because He sees the “bigger picture” and knows the right time. In the New Testament, there are two different Greek words that are used in regard to time. One is chronos, which speaks of clock or calendar time. The other is kairos, a word that signifies a poignant, purposeful time. God works according to kairos time, the appropriate and propitious time. So, when we pray, God hears and answers us that very day. The answer may come immediately, or it may take a while before it shows up — but it will always come at the right time.

On the day we pray, God answers us. That is what Jesus taught. He said, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Notice the tense here: “believe that you receive them.” The NASB says, “believe that you have received them.” In other words, we receive the answer at the time we pray. Where I come from, when you have received something from someone, you thank them. So, when we have prayed in faith, that is the appropriate time to say, “Thank You, Lord,” knowing that we have received what we have asked.

That is what the dynamic of faith adds to our prayer. We do not have to wait to see the answer in order to know that we have the answer. We do not see so that we may believe, we believe so that we may see. God hears and answers our prayers on the day we pray them, and if we believe that when we pray, we will surely see it come to pass.