Saturday, March 23, 2013

Doxology, Greetings and Benediction

Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Philippians 4:20-23)
Paul has thanked the Jesus believers at Philippi for their faithful support and partnership with him in the ministry of the gospel. He has urged and encouraged them to work out the differences they have among themselves and come together as a team for the sake of the gospel. He has given them the supreme example of the Lord Jesus Christ and His attitude of humble servanthood to guide them. He has shown them that God is at work in them, creating in them the desire for His way and empowering them to do His good pleasure. He has offered himself, Timothy, Epaphroditus and others as good patterns for living out their life in Christ. He has shown them many reasons to rejoice and celebrate in the Lord. And now he brings his letter to a close, with familiar elements that appear in all his letters: doxology, greetings and benediction.


The word “doxology” comes from doxa, the Greek word for “glory.” A doxology is a prayer that lavishes praise and honor on God. It has two main features: A statement of God’s glory, goodness or praiseworthiness, and an expression of His eternality.

At the beginning of this letter, Paul offered a benediction of grace and mercy, “from God our Father.” Now he invokes glory “to our God and Father.” As believers in the Lord Jesus, we share together in the same faith and the same family, with God as our Father. Even in his doxology, Paul is reinforcing one of the main themes of this letter: We are all in this together.

The ultimate reason for everything Paul has written in this letter, and indeed in all his letters, is that God may be glorified. He is worthy of all glory, honor and praise for ever and ever.


Greetings customarily appear at the end of Paul’s letters and convey his own warm regards and those of his companions. Here he sends them to each one of the believers at Philippi. The church as a community matters but so do the individual believers, and together they are one. Paul refers to them as “saints,” just as he did at the beginning of his letter. Individually and together as a church, they are holy ones who have been set apart by God as His own.

Paul also takes this opportunity to send greetings from “the brethren,” who are his ministry companions, and also from all the believers with him in Rome, especially those who are part of Caesar’s household. Remember that Paul is under house arrest there for preaching that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. Earlier in his letter, he mentioned how this had become evident “to the whole palace guard” (Philippians 1:13). No doubt, those who guarded him heard quite a bit about the gospel, and apparently some came to the Lord Jesus through his ministry.


A benediction is a prayer of blessing, calling on the power and goodness of God to be present and active in the life of the one being blessed. Paul began his letter with a benediction: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2). Now he closes with one: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

The grace that comes to us from God comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to us and with us and for us. God always has grace towards us, it is always with us, it is always for our benefit. And it always brings Him glory.

From God we receive grace, to Him we give glory. Forever and ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Focus Questions
  1. How does giving glory to God our Father bring us together?
  2. How does recognizing our identity as “saints” strengthen the purpose of Paul’s letter?
  3. How might you extend the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ others?

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, March 21, 2013

Paid in Full

Working through Paul's letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, I came across a Greek verb that caught my interest: apecho. It is a compound word, made up of apo and echo. The first part, apo, is a preposition that literally means “off” or “away.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that, “in composition (as a prefix) it usually denotes separation, departure, cessation, completion, reversal, etc.” The second word, echo, means to hold or to have.

Apecho has a number of meanings and uses. Thayer’s Greek Definitions shows these:
1) have
     1a) to hold back, keep off, prevent
     1b) to have wholly or in full, to have received
     1c) it is enough, sufficient
2) to be away, absent, distant
3) to hold one’s self off, abstain
But it is one use in particular that interests me, one that is commonly attested in ancient Greek documents. It was frequently used in a commercial sense, as a matter of accounting, specifically as a receipt to acknowledge that payment in full had been made. In A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich), the first entry under apecho has it as a commercial term, to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.”

That is how Paul used it in Philippians 4:18, speaking to the believers at Philippi as partners in the ministry of the gospel. They had a relationship of “giving and receiving” (v. 15; the Greek words were commonly used of credits and debits, or expenditures and receipts). He brought them the gospel and discipled them in the faith; they sent him out with financial assistance and other support to carry the ministry to other cities and regions. In his letter to them, Paul acknowledged the gift they recently sent him when he was under house arrest in Rome for preaching the gospel: “I have all,” is how the NKJV puts it. The NIV and ESV bring out the meaning more precisely: “I have received full payment.” The NRSV says, “I have been paid in full.”

We can find apecho used with this same significance elsewhere in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, where Jesus says:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:2)

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
Jesus chastises the hypocrites (used of actors or stage players) for the showiness of their giving, praying and fasting. They are engaged in a bit of theater, to be seen well by others. And that is all they will receive for their efforts. God has nothing for them — they have already had their payment in full, the paltry praise of men. Luke’s parallel account of Jesus’ Sermon records this:
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received [apecho] your consolation. (Luke 6:22-24)
For those who love and trust and serve their riches, there is no reward for them in heaven. They have already received their payment in full, in the uncertainties of material wealth.

We have already looked at Paul’s use of apecho in Philippians, but he uses it again in his letter to Philemon. Philemon had a slave, Onesimus, who ran away to Paul for relief from his master. Paul then brought Onesimus to faith in the Lord Jesus, just as he had earlier led Philemon to the Lord, and Onesimus proved to be a great help in Paul’s ministry. Legally, however, Onesimus needed to be returned to Philemon, his master. So Paul wrote this letter, desiring that Philemon would now receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in Christ.
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive [apecho] him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 15-16)
In receiving Onesimus as a brother in Christ, Philemon would be gaining much more than he would from having Onesimus as a slave, and in this way he would be “paid in full.”

One other thing I find interesting about this word is this: In the “negative” instances, where the hypocrites have their reward and the rich who trust in their riches already have their consolation, there is no more that is coming. No more reward and no more consolation.

On the other hand, in the “positive” instances (Paul’s use of apecho), there is the sense of full receipt plus more besides. In Philippians 4:18, “I have received full payment and even more” (NIV). And in Philemon, “That you might receive [apecho] him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother.” That speaks to me about the abundance the grace of God brings.

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

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We’re in This Together

Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:15-19)
Paul and the Jesus believers at Philippi are partners in the ministry of the gospel. The language of “giving and receiving” speaks of this partnership in terms of accounting. The Greek words literally refer to credits and debits, or as The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament puts it, “an accounting of expenditures and receipts.” Paul borrows these terms to describe the reciprocal nature, the “give and take,” of their relationship.

He was the one who first brought them the good news about Jesus the Messiah, and trained them up in the faith. In return, they have been very supportive of his ministry, faithful partners with him in it right from the beginning, when he and his team first departed from Philippi to minister the gospel in Thessalonica and other parts of the empire. They are very good examples of what Paul instructed the believers in Galatia, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In fact, Paul mentions their great generosity in one his letters to the believers at Corinth:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
They were not only willing to be a part of the good news going out into the world, they begged to be a part of it, such was the intensity of their desire. The secret of their generosity — and the abundance of their joy! — was that they have first given themselves to the Lord.

Paul is not one of those con men who goes around dressed up like a philosopher in order to part fools from their money. Not at all. He has been often severely persecuted for proclaiming that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, and he is quite prepared to die for His sake. He does not hunt for or hint after money. He has already learned the secret of contentment. But what he seeks after is this: that fruit may “abound” to their account. Here again is the metaphor of a business partnership. The word for this “abound” speaks of increase, and the New International Version translates this phrase as, “But I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” Though Paul is out evangelizing abroad while they remain at Philippi, they reap the reward just as Paul does.

“I have all and abound.” The Greek word for “I have all” literally means “I have received” and was commonly used as an accounting term indicating that full receipt has been made. The NIV translates it as “I have received full payment,” and the New Revised Standard Version has, “I have been paid in full.” Paul adds, “and abound.” He considers himself to be “paid in full,” with more besides.

“I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you.” His needs are quite sufficiently met by their gift. Departing from the language of business for a moment and taking up a different metaphor, the Old Testament language of sacrifice, Paul calls their gift, “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Their offering is certainly pleasing to Paul, but more than that, it is pleasing to God. It is not out of their abundance that they have given — they have needs themselves — but they have given themselves to God and then, out of that, to Paul’s ministry.

Paul goes on to add, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice that he does not simply say, “and God,” or “your God,” but he specifically says, “my God.” He is not only in partnership with the Philippians, his entire life and ministry is a partnership with God.

Paul is not presently in a position to supply anyone’s needs, but his God is, and He will more than make up for what is lacking in Paul. The Philippian church gave supply for Paul’s need, and God will make good on it, to supply their own needs as well. As Paul noted to the believers at Corinth, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Notice that this supply from God is according to His great riches. It is not limited to the dimensions of their own gift to Paul, or to Paul’s obligation. It is not even limited by the size of their own needs. It is according to God’s unlimited wealth, which is now available to us in Jesus the Messiah, who has reconciled us to the Father. The Philippians’ generous, sacrificial gifts to Paul and the ministry of the gospel will not leave them short in any way but are an occasion for the abundance of God to be revealed in their lives.

Focus Questions
  1. Why do you suppose Paul uses accounting terminology in this passage?
  2. What do you suppose is the “fruit” that is credited to the Philippians’ account?
  3. What does all this say about their partnership with Paul?

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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Paul’s Secret

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. (Philippians 4:10-14)
Paul is in their hearts and on their minds. But he is also under house arrest in Rome, over 800 miles to the west and not an easy journey, so they have not had much opportunity to express their love for him in tangible ways. Finally though, they were able to send Epaphroditus to him, along with some supply for him and his ministry. Paul was overjoyed to hear from them again and grateful to receive their gifts of love.

Not that Paul is overly concerned about his needs. He’s been in itinerant ministry for years now and has endured numerous persecutions, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, stonings and other perils for the sake of the gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-33). But regardless of whatever situation he may find himself in, he has “learned to be content.”

There are two different Greek words that are translated as “learned” in this passage. The first one is manthano, which in this case means he has learned something through experience or practice. We will look at other word for “learned” in a moment.

Now, God did not ordain or meticulously plan all those experiences Paul endured but He certainly used them in Paul’s life to teach him. And so Paul learned to be content. The Greek word for “content” is autarkes. It is a compound of autos, a reflexive pronoun that can be translated as “self,” and arkeo, which means to be sufficient or satisfied. Literally, it means “self-sufficient,” which was considered a virtue by ancient Greek philosophers.

However, Paul uses it differently here. The contentment he has learned is not because of any self-sufficiency that comes from his own ability or strength but one that comes from someplace else, which we will see in a moment. The Amplified Bible, in its usual expansive way, translates autarkes as, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted.” Paul’s peace and well-being are not dependent upon his circumstances but on something that is within him, though it does not originate from him.

So Paul knows how to respond when he is humbled — humiliated — by his persecutors and has everything taken from him. Had not the Lord Jesus willingly subjected Himself to that for Paul’s sake? The Greek word for “abase” is the same word Paul used when he spoke earlier about Messiah, who “humbled Himself” to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). So Paul is quite willing to be humbled now for Jesus’ sake.

Paul also knows how to view his abundance when he has more than enough (the Greek word for “abound” literally means to superabound). He welcomes those times but does not trust in them for his well-being. Both circumstances, being humbled and having abundance, are always subject to change.

How did Paul come to this understanding? He learned “the secret.” Behind the second “I have learned” in this passage is the Greek verb mueo, which speaks of being initiated into a mystery. There is something Paul discovered going on inside him that changed everything for him. So whether he is hungry or full, experiencing lack or having more than enough — it is all the same to him.

So what is this secret, this mystery into which he has found himself initiated? Simply this: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul’s “self-sufficiency” does not come from himself but is the ability and strength that comes from the Lord Jesus. In his letter to the Jesus believers at Colosse, Paul speaks of the “mystery,” which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This ability Paul experiences is the ability of Jesus the Messiah in him, strengthening him for everything that comes his way. Surely that is part of the glory of which he speaks.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul gives an example of this strengthening and the sufficiency of Jesus in his life. Paul was being harassed by a “messenger of satan,” and cried out to God for relief. But the Lord spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). The Greek word for “sufficient” is arkeo, which is part of the compound word Paul uses here in Philippians, autarkes.

Paul’s “self-sufficiency,” then, is not one that originates with him, it is the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus at work in him. So Paul’s weakness, lack and humiliation becomes an occasion for the strength of the Lord Jesus to come forth in him in all its glory. Paul concluded, “Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For it is God who is at work in him “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

All the same, Paul commends the believers at Philippi for this fresh expression of their continuing love for him. They have done well to “share” with him in his current difficulty. The Greek word for “share” is sygkoinoneo, a compound of syn, which means “together,” and koinoneo, which means to take part with. They have truly “partnered together” with Paul in his ministry, his life and his present circumstances. And that is cause for rejoicing on Paul’s part.

Focus Questions
  1. Who are the ones who would be glad of your assistance, and what are the opportunities that lay before you?
  2. Who are the ones who partner with you and make you glad for their help?
  3. How have you experienced the sufficiency of Jesus’ strength in your 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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Think on These Things

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Having shown how to displace worry with the peace of God, Paul now presents a list of virtues. Things for us to think about. Things that will focus us on the Lord Jesus, because all these things are found in Him and can well be said of Him.
  • Whatever is true. Facts can quickly change. What is true endures.
  • Whatever is noble. Worthy of honor, uplifting.
  • Whatever is just. Promotes what is right and worthy of community.
  • Whatever is pure. Thoroughly good, unmixed, undefiled, unsullied.
  • Whatever is lovely. Points us toward and promotes love.
  • Whatever is of good report. Well spoken, gracious and promotes the good.
Paul concludes this list with a sort of catchall: “If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy.” This sums up the preceding list and leaves it open-ended for more besides. Excellent things that promote the good can show up in unexpected places. Look for them.

“Meditate on these things.” Literally, take account of them, reckon with them. Carefully consider and reflect on them. These are the kinds of things that should fill our thoughts.

What we fill our thoughts with is important because how we think affects how we act. So now Paul moves from theory to practice, from the kinds of things to think about to the kinds of things to do. He does not speak abstractly about what to do but offers them something very concrete: his own example. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do.”

For years now, Paul has known them, ministered among them, partnered with them in the gospel. He was the one who brought them the good news about Jesus in the first place, and along with Silas, Timothy and Luke, discipled them in the faith. We saw earlier how he offered these, along with himself and others, as a pattern for living out their faith together in the Lord Jesus. “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Philippians 3:17).

Now he reminds them again of what they have learned and received from him, how he taught them, discipled them, trained them. They took hold of all that and embraced it. There is also what they heard the reports about Paul and how he conducted himself as he ministered in other regions. And, of course, they witnessed for themselves how Paul lived when he was there with them.

He has shown them what kind of things they should pay attention to and how to translate those things into living. Now it comes down to two words: “These do.” Literally, put them into practice. Do them regularly, habitually, not as a one-off but as a way of life.

With this comes a promise: “And the God of peace will be with you.” Earlier Paul spoke of the peace of God guarding their hearts and minds. Now he speaks of the God of peace being with them. That completes the circle. But what does he mean that God will be with them? God is everywhere, of course, by the nature of His existence. And God is at work in them, not only enabling in them the desire to do the good things God wants them to, but also empowering them to do it (Philippians 2:13). But it is as they actually set about doing these good things, putting them in practice, that they will experience that desire and power of God at work in them. God will be there helping them every step of the way. And that is certainly something to rejoice about.

Focus Questions
  1. What does discipleship look like?
  2. How does what we do reflect what we think?
  3. How does this all lead to 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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eternally Fresh Awe and Wonder

I think of eternity with God as something like the vision of God in His temple in Isaiah 6. The seraphim about Him cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (v. 3).

They are not saying the same thing three times over. Each time they exclaim “Holy,” it is because they have just seen something in God that they have never seen before. And it leaves them in fresh awe.

I think eternity with God will be like that. We will always be discovering something new in God that we have not seen before. After all, He is infinite while we are finite. That leaves plenty of room for eternal wonder.

There will be continuity. We do not lose our identities. We will be in resurrected bodies. We will live upon the earth. There will also be discontinuity. No sin, no death, no sickness, no injustice. The kingdom of God will be fully manifested, the will of God done, fully and completely, on earth exactly as it is in heaven. Heaven and earth will be joined together as one. Forever. And we will live in a continual state of awe and wonder.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Replacing Worry with Divine Peace

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
The Lord is with us, “at hand,” as Paul said in verse 5, so we don’t ever need to worry about anything; we can bring everything to Him. Nothing is too big for Him to handle, nothing too small for Him to care.

Dealing with worry is no small matter. It is an important issue, a question of whether we are going to trust God. Jesus addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Matthew 6:25, 31)
God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so how much more will He take care of those who belong to Him? So Jesus and Paul say, “Stop worrying” (that is how Wuest’s Expanded Translation puts it).

However, it is not enough to just get rid of worry. We must replace it. In fact, we must displace it, because it will not leave on its own — it will need to be pushed out. But how do we do that?

Jesus’ answer in the Sermon on the Mount is, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Peter’s answer, in his letter to Jesus believers who were scattered everywhere, is, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And Paul gives us this: “But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Prayer and thanksgiving — that’s worship. Supplication is a particular type of prayer, also known as “petition,” where we bring our needs and concerns to God and look to Him for the provision He has made. But notice that this kind of prayer happens in the context of worship, wrapped about with praise and thanksgiving. It is in worship, standing in awe of God, that we gain fresh perspective and our faith is strengthened. There we can lay requests before the Lord, knowing that He will hear and answer with His provision and protection. Knowing that He is our God who takes care of us, we give Him thanks.

When we replace worry with prayer, praise and petition to God, the result will be peace. Divine peace. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Paul uses the Greek word irene here for “peace,” but being Jewish, he no doubt has the Hebrew word shalom in mind. It is a word that speaks of wholeness and well-being. It comes from the Lord and is a gift and a blessing for His people.

The peace that comes from God is not something we can think our way to. It is much more than we can understand. However, we do not need to be able to explain it in order to enjoy the benefit of it. Paul says it will guard our hearts and minds. It will be like a hedge around our affections, desires, thoughts and perceptions, so that we are not pulled away by anxious emotions and distracting cares. It will keep us properly focused and on the right path. The peace of God comes to us through Jesus the Messiah, for it is through Him that we have peace with God.

Focus Questions
  1. Why is it important to replace worry with something else?
  2. How does worship give us the proper perspective on the things are concerned about?
  3. How does giving thanks help replace worry with peace?

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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Kingdoms of This World

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Consider for a moment the story of the kingdoms of this world that can be told in three passages from the book of Matthew — one from the beginning, one from the middle and one from the end.

First there is the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. It begins after the baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The Spirit led Him out to the wilderness in order for Him to be tested. Three times the devil comes to put Him off His purpose. The third temptation was this:
The devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:8-11)
Notice carefully that Jesus did not argue over whether satan had the right to all the kingdoms of the world. He accepted the premise that they were the devil’s to offer. It was the condition He rejected, that of falling down and worshiping satan. Only God is to be worshiped.

When Jesus returned from the wilderness, He began preaching about a different kingdom, the kingdom of God, announcing that it was now at hand (Matthew 4:17).

In the middle of the story, we find Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons. The Pharisees accused of Him of expelling those demons by the power of Beelzebub, that is, by satan. Jesus answered:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. (Matthew 12:25-29)
Jesus was casting out demons by the power of God, not of satan, and that could only mean that the kingdom of God had now come into the world. Jesus was binding the “strong man” and plundering his house. In other words, He was binding up satan and taking away everything that belonged to him. The kingdoms of this world would no longer belong to the devil but to God.

Near the end of the story, after the cross, where the victory over satan and all the principalities and powers was ultimately won, and God raised Jesus from the dead in triumph, Jesus appeared to the disciples and announced:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)
All the kingdoms of the world now belonged to Jesus, God’s anointed King. With the authority He now possessed, He sent the disciples out to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything King Jesus taught (vv. 19-20).

In the beginning of Matthew, the kingdoms of the this world belonged to satan. At the end, they belonged to Jesus. As the voices of heaven announce in Revelation 11:15, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rejoicing in the Lord ~ Always!

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:4-5)
The believers at Philippi have been experiencing increasing persecutions from outside the church as well as tensions from within. Paul has dealt with both of those realities, each in turn. Now he offers some brief comments that are broad enough to address both sets of circumstances, as well as many other troubles besides.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” You can’t get more emphatic than that. There is always joy! Always. This is not some glib saying Paul serves up to paste a good face on a difficult situation. It is the reality he lives in, regardless of whatever else is going on in his life or in the world. The joy of the Lord is our strength and it is bigger than the world.

Paul frequently speaks of joy. The word for “rejoice” is found about thirty-three times in his letters, eleven times in the book of Philippians alone. The word for “joy” comes up about twenty-four times overall, including five times in Philippians. Look at a few of the occurrences in this present letter and notice what his joy is centered on.
  • “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (1:18).
  • “Holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” (2:16).
  • “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (2:17).
  • “For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me” (2:18).
  • “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (3:3).
“Let your gentleness be known to all.” No one English word captures all of what is meant by the Greek word epieikes, here translated as “gentleness.” It is a word that speaks of a having a sense of proportion and balance for the give-and-take of life. It is patient, decent, gracious. Some of the more expansive translations put it this way:
  • “Let your sweet reasonableness, your forbearance, your being satisfied with less than your due, become known to all men” (Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation).
  • “Let everyone see that you are gentle [kind; considerate; patient]” (The Expanded Bible).
  • “Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit)” (The Amplified Bible).
This is how we ought to be with all people, whether they are fellow believers with whom we have differences, or with those outside the church who might consider us as enemies — even those who want to persecute us. Epieikes is the same Greek word that is used in the ancient Greek translation of one of the apocryphal books, where wicked men conspire against one of the righteous and say: “Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle [epieikes] he is, and make trial of his forbearance” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:19, RSV). The world is watching how we live, how we act and how we respond to adversity. Let us always show the gentle and patient forbearance of the Lord Jesus.

“The Lord is at hand.” In the give-and-take of personal relationships, we will never come up short, no matter how much we give, because the Lord is always with us. When we are experiencing persecution or other adversity, we can meet it with patience and forgiveness and faith — to a degree beyond our own natural capacity! — because God is with us, enabling us to desire His good will and empowering us to do it. We do not need to seek revenge or try to settle accounts on our own, because God sees what is going on and will set things right at the appropriate time.

Focus Questions
  1. Where did the apostle Paul find his joy? What was it centered on?
  2. Where and how do your find your joy?
  3. What is the connection between joy and “gentleness” (epieikes)?

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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Standing Fast with One Mind

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:1-3)
“Therefore.” Because there are those who are “enemies of the cross,” and because “our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul urges a certain response: “So stand fast in the Lord.” To “stand fast” means to persevere, remain faithful, be strong and firm in our stance. The sense of the word “so” here is, “in this way.” Which way is that? The one Paul has been urging from early on in this letter, where he said, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

What Paul means particularly here by “stand fast in the Lord” is to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” When we learn to stand fast together in unity, we will be able to stand up to any challenge we may encounter. Pay attention to the word “striving together,” because we are going to see it, or rather the Greek work behind it (synathleo), again in just a moment.

Up until now, Paul has been approaching this matter in general terms. There has been a tension in the community of believers at Philippi and Paul’s concern about it has been an undercurrent of this letter from the beginning. Now he addresses it directly: “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”

These two women are well known in the church and very prominent in the work of the ministry at Philippi. The church as a whole has partnered with Paul in the gospel, through their hospitality and financial support, but Euodia and Syntyche have actually “labored with” him in the gospel ministry. Here again is that Greek word, synathleo. The prefix syn means “together” and athleo is where we get our English word “athlete.” So, these women have been Paul’s teammates, active in the arena with him, for the gospel.

Here is the great irony, then. Along with Clement and other fellow workers, they have been team players with Paul, spending themselves for the sake of the Lord Jesus. But now some sort of division has arisen between them and it is big enough that it has been affecting the mission of the church at Philippi.

“I implore,” Paul says. I urge. I beg. I exhort. I plead with. Paul does not take sides here (except the side of unity) but he is very emphatic. He does not simply say, “I implore Euodia and Syntyche,” which would have the same meaning but with an economy of words. Instead, he breaks it out: “I implore Euodia and I am implore Syntyche,” emphasizing it individually to each one of them.

Now here is the substance of his exhortation: “Be of the same mind.” Simple, yet profound. And it is what he has been writing about for most of his letter. We see this, for example, in Philippians 2:2, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” And in Philippians 3:16, “Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.”

Paul qualifies this with the words, “in the Lord.” Both women are believers, followers of the Lord Jesus and devoted to His gospel. God is at work in both of them, creating in them the desire for His will and also empowering them to do it (Philippians 2:13). Both of them are named in the “Book of Life.” And the Lord Jesus humiliated Himself to the point of death on the cross for both of them so that they may take part in His glory. Paul’s earlier exhortation to the whole church is especially appropriate with regard to these women: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

But there is also someone else nearby, a third party. Perhaps a pastor or elder in the church, or perhaps a mutual friend. Whoever it is, Paul now appeals to him or her: “And I urge you also, true companion, help these women.” The word used here for “companion” is syzugus, from which we get the word “syzygy,” which speaks of connection, conjunction or alignment.

The Greek word for “help” here is quite interesting. It is syllambano, a compound of syn, which means “with” or “together,” and lambano, which means to “take hold of.” It can mean to seize, or take as a prisoner; to catch; to conceive (as of a woman conceiving a child); or to take for one’s self (as with all words, which of these meanings is actually used is determined by the context). But there is another meaning, and that is the one Paul has in mind here: “to take hold together with one, to assist, help, to succor” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions); “to assist, take part with” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).

Paul uses this word in the middle voice (as compared to the active or passive voice). That is, he wants this person to be a part of the situation. Not to be a busybody, and not to be just a bystander, either, but to get involved in the process of reconciling these sisters in the Lord. Perhaps this person has been off to the side with hands in the air, thinking there is no way to resolve it, or perhaps simply not knowing what to do. But Paul has now given quite a lot of instruction concerning it and has provided a solid basis for appeal by the example of the Lord Jesus, and even his own example and that of other team members. So here is an opportunity to apply the lesson and be the “true companion” Paul knows him to be by helping these two women reconnect and come into proper alignment with each other, all standing fast with one mind.

Focus Questions
  1. How does standing fast together in one spirit and one mind help us remain strong and faithful in the Lord?
  2. What would it take to be a “true companion” who can helps others come together in unity?
  3. What is the balance between being a bystander and a busybody?

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.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Conformed to His Glorious Body

[He] will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:21)
We eagerly await the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven, where we have our citizenship. When He comes, He will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” Paul is speaking, of course, about the resurrection of our bodies from the dead.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body … For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 52-53)
This brings completion to the example Paul began in Philippians 2, about the Lord Jesus, who “humbled” (Greek, tapeinoo) Himself and became obedient to the point of death on the cross. For that reason, God exalted Him highly — glorified Him — giving Him the name that is above every name.

Likewise, when Jesus comes again, He will transform our “lowly” body, literally, the “body of our humiliation” (the Greek word for “lowly” is tapeinosis). Our bodies are “humiliated” because they are corruptible and subject to death, because of sin and the fall of Adam. But they will one day be changed, made just like Jesus’ resurrection body and full of His glory.

This will happen by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself. This is the same power Paul speaks of in Ephesians, where he prays that believers 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, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
The Lord Jesus came and gave of Himself for our sake, sharing in our humiliation so that we might share in His glory. How then can we not do the same for each other, and in “lowliness of mind” (Greek, tapeinophrosune) esteem each other better than ourselves, watching out for the well-being of others as well as ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4)? Have this same attitude in you, then, that was also in Jesus the Messiah, knowing that you will share in His exaltation when He comes again.

Focus Questions
  1. What do you imagine it will be like to have your body transformed like that of the risen Messiah, a body that is no longer susceptible to sickness and subject to death?
  2. Does that help you understand how we have been humiliated by sin?
  3. Does the coming resurrection and our future glorification with the Lord Jesus enable you to give yourself more freely, as He did?

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, March 1, 2013

A Colony of Heaven on Earth

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
Paul wants the believers at Philippi to follow him, Timothy and others as sound examples of living together as followers of Jesus. He has two reasons particularly in mind. The first we have already seen: Because there are those who, though they present themselves as believers, actually live as enemies of the cross by their self-absorbed behavior. The second reason is this: Our citizenship is in heaven.

Paul knows very well about citizenship. Though he is from Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 21:39), he is a freeborn citizen of Rome. And he does not mind invoking its benefits, as we see in this vignette from when he was placed under arrest by a Roman commander in Jerusalem:
And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”

When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”

Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?”

He said, “Yes.”

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.”

And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”

Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. (Acts 22:25-29)
Like the old American Express ad says, “Membership has it’s privileges.” A Roman citizen has great status throughout the Empire, and the believers at Philippi understand how important and valuable this citizenship is. Philippi is one of only five cities in Macedonia that enjoys a special citizenship status with Rome. But now Paul speaks of a much greater citizenship, one possessed by every believer in Jesus.

It is important to understand that this citizenship is not about what we will one day be. Notice that Paul does not say that “our citizenship will be in heaven,” but rather, “our citizenship is in heaven.” For believers in Jesus, it is present reality, not just future hope.

It is also important to understand that this citizenship is not so much about where we are going as it is about where we are from. That is, Paul is speaking here more about our source than our destination. We know this is about heaven as source because we eagerly await for the return of the Lord Jesus from there.

Citizens of Rome were sent out to create colonies in every territory that was under Roman authority. The purpose was to establish the life and culture of Rome throughout the empire. Citizens of heaven are sent out to create colonies in every territory under heaven, to establish the life and culture of heaven throughout the earth. “We are a colony of heaven,” is how Moffatt’s New Translation puts it.

The Greek word for “citizenship” (politeuma) is about commonwealth or community. It comes from a word that speaks of the administration of a city. To be a citizen of heaven means that our lives are now administered from there. We no longer have to live in bondage to the lusts and desires of the old way of life we used to know. We are no longer subject to the world systems that are manipulated by principalities and powers.

As a colony of heaven, we are here to establish the life and culture of heaven on earth. For all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to King Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 28:18), and He has sent out His assembly, the Church, to disciple the nations and teach them everything Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20). The end result will be heaven and earth coming together as one (Revelation 21), the will of God being done on earth exactly as it is being done in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

This process is not yet finished, of course, but it has already begun. The darkness is already fading away and the true light of King Jesus is already shining (1 John 2:8). Even so, it will not be full and complete until the King comes again. So we watch for that day with eager anticipation, living out our citizenship here and now, enjoying the favor of heaven and imparting its blessing to the earth.

As a colony of heaven on earth, we are to live in such a way that demonstrates that reality. Although it is not apparent in English translations, Paul touched on this earlier, when he said, “Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). The Greek word for “conduct” is politeuomai, which speaks of the citizens of a free country getting along together in community. As citizens of heaven, then, we must learn to get along well together on earth — because there is no division in heaven.

Focus Questions
  1. What are the benefits of having heaven as your destination?
  2. What are the benefits of having heaven as your source?
  3. How does the way we conduct ourselves demonstrate the reality of heaven on earth?

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.