Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence. (Phil 3:1-6)
Present day usage might confine ‘flesh’ to a description of the rather grosser aspects of immorality. But, we learn what is our true state before God, and how incredibly marvelous is our Savior, only when we dismiss this popular conception from our minds, and accept that it is not only man at his worst but man at his best who is ‘flesh’ and, therefore, not yet acceptable to God. -John R. Stott
We simply cannot figure God out. His ways and his thoughts are so much higher than ours that unless he reveals his mind to us, we will always get him and ourselves wrong. That is why we not only need to know what God has done for us in Christ; we need to be constantly reminded of it. There is a self-exalting bent within us that always wants to take credit for the good that happens in our lives. When that happens, our confidence before God rests upon our works rather than his grace. It has devastating effects in the individual believer and in the Church.
The only way we can know just how bad we are is by hearing God’s judgment written down in the Scriptures. If we believe what is written there, outside of Christ, we have little reason for self-confidence. Paul shatters our self-esteem by pointing out that none of us are righteous and none of us do good. We all have throats that are open graves, with lips dripping with poison, spewing forth cursing and bitterness from our mouths. [Romans 3:10-14] And if we are still unconvinced, he describes us before salvation as “powerless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies” of God. [Romans 5:6-9]
I think it is true that until we see just how desperate and hopeless we are before a perfect and holy God, we cannot be saved. A. W. Tozer said it like this: “No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God,” and “Until a man has gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.” Too many pulpits spread the attractive and deceptive lie that we are so precious to a loving God and that He must save us. It totally ignores the cross and the terrible wrath and the costly mercy displayed there. We are not suffering from poor self-esteem needing a spiritual lift from a grandfatherly figure. No, we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior! We are dead in our sins and facing an angry God without any credentials that might turn away his just wrath. So, we must repent of our sins and turn to Christ in faith, receiving the benefits that he alone can give because of his death upon the cross.
Maintaining a properly placed confidence is tied to possessing a genuine humility. Tozer wrote, “For the Christian, humility is absolutely indispensable. Without it there can be no self-knowledge, no repentance, no faith and no salvation.” Humility is nothing more than honesty, being in touch with reality.
And, what is true at the beginning is also true to the very end. In other words, we are not only saved by grace- God’s unmerited gift of salvation to those who believe in the Gospel- but we must live out the rest of our days on earth by that same grace. If the truth of our salvation is not fixed in our hearts, the old nature animated by pride will be revived in our heart. And, there are always those around us who will promote such a devastating lie. Like the Church at Galatia, we will be tempted to return to salvation by works. Here is how Paul responded to that threat. Writing to the church, he penned:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? [Gal 3:1-3]
All of our confidence must rest in Christ alone. It is basing our lives on the truth that without Christ working in and through us by faith, we can do nothing. [John 15:7] We may come from differing circumstances, have differing gifts and holding differing positions of influence, but in the end it all comes down to the grace of God working in undeserving servants that accomplish anything of eternal consequence.
It is the godly Christian who knows himself best, and no one who knows himself as God does will see himself as deserving of anything but hell. When we really believe this, then there will be no room for boasting in the Church. Paul the apostle and the lowly publican come to Christ in the same way; by a bowing low before the cross of Christ. “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” [1 Cor. 1:31] We will have to admit that the talents and gifts we possess are on loan from God and are never rewards for human accomplishments. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” [1 Cor 4:7]
When we do see a harvest of God’s blessing upon our lives, when people are saying good things about our ministry, we will not be tempted to scrape off a little glory for ourselves. When Corrie Ten Boom was asked how she remained humble amidst all of the attention she was receiving, she responded: “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think for a moment it ever entered into the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” Then she added, “If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give him all the praise and all the honor.”
So how do we become a donkey in the service of Christ? It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be one of the hardest things we ever attempt and it will be a battle until we breathe our last. First, we need to pray and ask the Lord to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we can know him better. [Ephesians 1:17] It is the Spirit’s passion and mission to magnify the glory of Christ in our lives. Second, we need to open the Scriptures and meditate upon passages that magnify the unlimited riches that are in Christ. [Pa. 119:27] The more we know, the more we see, the more reasons we will have to trust in his promises. Third, instead of exerting much energy in soul searching to see how humble we have become, we should focus upon trusting God in every area of our lives. For, it is not in focusing on ourselves that we will see change but in placing all of our confidence In Jesus and acting upon his promises. That is the sense of Andrew Murray’s great definition of humility:
Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.
That is what Paul is trying to say to the Philippian believers. We need not spend much time beating ourselves down, trying to convince ourselves of how evil we are or striving to lift ourselves up to be better. We need to forget about ourselves and celebrate the grace and mercy of God that is powerfully active in our lives. Instead of trying to make ourselves good enough, we put our confidence in the One who began the work and the One who has promised to carry it on to completion. [Phil 1:7] Our best “flesh” cannot accomplish God’s will and our worst “flesh” cannot keep it from happening when we put all of our confidence in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— Phil 3:1-4
Can we be talking about rejoicing in the Lord and calling men “dogs” at the same time? Does not the command to rejoice in the Lord exclude being angry at the same time? Another similar question might be: Is anger ever an appropriate emotion to be expressed in the service of the Lord?
Some might say that Paul was not angry. He was just stating a fact. I don’t think so. You can say, “Those are false teachers and maybe not be angry, but call them “dogs” and not be angry? I don’t think so. The “dog” image he had in mind was not a cuddly puppy but a scavenging predator. It was a contemptuous term used by the Jews to attack the Gentiles. Paul had no problem with getting in the face of those whose teachings and actions threatened God’s people or diminished Christ’s Gospel.
More examples are found in Galatians. To those who slipped into the church adding works to the simple Gospel he would declare, “…let them be eternally condemned!” And, for those who advocated the necessity of being circumcised, he added, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” [Gal 5:12] To the Christians who had been caught up in their heresy he wrote, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” [Gal 3:1] Even Peter did not escape Paul’s ire: “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” [Gal 2:11]
What about James assertion? He wrote, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” [James 1:19-20] I would say two things. First, Paul did not condemn anger per se. [See Ephesians 4:26], nor did James. He said be slow to anger. The second thing he said was this: “the anger of man” will not bring about the righteous life God desires.
Years ago a very nice lady who happened to be a psychologist came to me with a book she had written. The name of the book was The Gift of Anger. Her thesis was that anger was a natural emotion that should be exerted freely without guilt. She had been schooled in the pop psychology of her day that holding in anger could be detrimental to a person’s soul so that all anger should always be expressed in some way. She asked me to read her book and give my feedback. I did read it and she came in to discuss my thoughts. I knew how much she had poured her life into the writing of that book so I tried to be very gentle in my words. I told her that there were many good things in her book but that it had one fatal flaw. She looked shocked. “What was it?” she asked. I asked her how she dealt with James when he said that the anger of man does not accomplish the desires of God. She answered sullenly: “That is the one passage in the Bible I could not deal with.”
In the light of what we have seen above, how do we “deal with it?” First, we need some kind of definition of anger. Here is my take. Anger is a normal emotion which arises in us when we perceive something as being an evil threat to our welfare and happiness. “Man’s anger” is totally self-centered. It is a reaction to a perceived wrong that reacts by attacking the enemy with bitter thoughts or actions with intent to hurt or get even without any thought of Christ, redemption, forgiveness, truth or love.
Righteous anger has God’s name and the welfare of humanity clearly in focus. To say that Paul was not angry in defense of himself misses the point. He is angry. It is his emotion. He is angry precisely because he is totally given over to the Gospel of Christ and concerned with the welfare of his people. Paul is angry, but it is directed toward evil that has been allowed to slip into the Church, threatening to steal the precious joy that comes to those “who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
For many, calling somebody a “dog” is hardly a good Christian testimony. These same folk are probably uncomfortable with Jesus calling religious leaders hypocrites [Matt. 22:18], blind [Matt.15:14] wolves [Matt 7:15], snakes [Matt. 23:33] and robbers [Matt. 21:13]. In a day when contending for doctrinal truth [Jude 3] is often seen as a divisive and an unnecessary distraction, to get angry about theology seems over the edge. Accommodation and dialogue are far more acceptable than confrontation or contending. “Are we not family? Are we not all brothers? Is not love the governing principle of all that the Church is and does?
Apparently, Paul would say there is more to be said. The Gospel is so precious, the truth of God’s Word is so precise, the purity of the Church is so necessary, the Enemy’s schemes are so subtle, the effects of his lies are so evil, that he determined that drastic acts and caustic words are appropriate in times of great danger.
A few years ago, I read in one of my denomination’s publications a statement by one of our leaders that I found absolutely shocking. He affirmed that sanctification was God’s provision for the hurts of the past. I immediately identified this statement as heresy. It was another example of how unbiblical theories of psychology can sneak into the very center of the church without detection. So, I wrote to my denominational head. I pointed out that sanctification has nothing to do with the hurts others had inflicted upon us. It had everything to do with what we have done against God and how He, by his grace, was changing us from rebels to saints.
He later informed me that he had referred my concern to The Committee for Doctrinal Purity. In a few months, I received a letter from its chairman, a man whose father was friends with my father, years ago. He wrote that if the author, one of our most distinguished psychologists, actually meant what he wrote he probably was technically wrong in what he asserted. Then he addressed me and said something like this: “You know my father and your father were good friends. They would never allow any division to cause a breakdown in their fellowship.”
First, he apparently did not know my father’s love for the Bible or his devotion to its truth. If Dad saw something happening in the church that was obviously in conflict with what God’s Word affirmed, he would be all over it. Second, he missed my motive and intent for writing. I was not writing to hurt or break fellowship with this brother. He had made a public statement that was blatantly false and detrimental to the life of the Church. I was seeking a public correction to that dangerous and false assertion.
I know some of you are thinking: “Gary, you need to get a grip, chill out. You need to judge your heart. You are taking this too personal.” You are absolutely correct in bringing this up. I do need to judge my attitude. If it is prideful, seeking to win points over a rival, I need to repent. But, if God’s truth is precise and precious, for me to overlook teachings that take away from the glory of Jesus Christ and the welfare of his church I would be derelict in duty. The joy of the Lord is so valuable, that it demands that we protect it, contend for it and even get radical because we love it.
So here is a question for you. When was the last time you saw an evil so great or heard a teaching so false, that you became angry? It caused you to speak out, forcefully and directly against those who were promoting it? Here is the real question. Do we love the Gospel of Jesus and the truth of his Word so much that we publicly fight for it, even if we are labeled as divisive or intolerant by our contemporaries? We are called to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” [Jude 3], not because we are cantankerous or love to fight, but because we are consumed and love the Truth. Yes, we must judge our motives. Yes, we must choose our words wisely. Yes, we must love the offending brother or sister. But, fear of controversy or loss of face should never keep us from standing for truth. The joy that is ours in Christ is too precious for us to remain silent and safe.
“Perhaps, I seem to you rather fanatical and mad about a number of things. I myself am sometimes afraid of that. But I know that the day I became more “reasonable,” to be honest, I should have to chuck my entire theology.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. (Phil 3:1-4)
It is a biblical truth that our joy in the Lord is the source of our strength in spiritual battle. Nehemiah said it like this: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10) Joy was clearly at the center of our Lord’s mission and it was his intention to see that his disciples were grounded in that same joy. On one occasion he said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Paul said it this way: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4)
What I would like to do in this devotional is to try and lay out what “rejoicing in the Lord” means and how it affects our faith. Certainly Paul has in mind something far more important than “Be happy. Don’t worry.” Every day I, like you, face tests and temptations that can keep us from living the world-changing life we were meant to live. There are “dogs” out there seeking to devour the freedom and power we are promised in Jesus. Financial pressures, unanswered prayers, ungodly thoughts, disappointments and satanic schemes beat upon our faith. Joy in the Lord is essential if we are to live up to our high calling.
Read more: Philippians #18 Joy and Fanatcism
I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend to every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how much I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. George Mueller Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Phil 3:1I think I am on solid ground to suggest that one of the leading problems of our culture is that people have lost their joy. By that I mean we have created a culture that is never satisfied, always looking for a new and more lasting experience. The search for satisfaction never ends. It is partially caused by a media which employs attractive models, backed up with exciting music, to tell us that if we don’t purchase the latest cell phone, own newest car or take the wildest vacation ever, we are somehow depriving ourselves. It has almost become a moral imperative to cram into our greedy hands as many things as we can grasp. To not follow that path is to fail to live up to our "divine right." At the same time, we know that that life is much more serious and deadly than attaining the newest application for I-pad. There is real evil all around us. There are terrible problems facing us that seem to have no solution. We are constantly reminded of that in our community where we may have hate filled terrorists, crazed gunmen, drunk drivers, cancer victims and abused children. The fact of the matter is that life is a struggle and the exclamation point to that truth is that we all die. Dreams and drugs can drown out that reality for a time, but we can never escape the inevitability of death.The media does not help us with this. Television tells us that all our problems can be solved quickly with the help of technology, techniques and chemistry. It offers us a seemingly unending offering of amusements to keep us from getting too down on what is happening around us. Neil Postman points out that the very word “amusement” means to “not” [alpha privative] “think.” He says that by failing to face life as it really is and by avoiding its challenges through entertainment, we are “amusing ourselves to death.” Indeed, we are becoming a culture of death. In spite of all things we have, many are bored, disappointed, depressed and in despair. One suicide victim left behind this tragic note: “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.” How different should be the outlook of the heart of every believer! That is the sense of Paul’s admonition: “Rejoice in the Lord.” Nine times in four chapters Paul uses the word “rejoice.” In the natural, this is a strange word coming from Paul. He writes as a prisoner and is in chains for being faithful in preaching the Gospel. [1:12-14] Where we might be tempted to whimper in self-pity, Paul sees his imprisonment as a divinely appointed opportunity to witness to the all-satisfying glory of Jesus Christ.Paul was not only in chains, there were some, motivated by selfish ambition, using Paul’s imprisonment to advance their own prestige. How would we respond if we found ourselves in a similar situation? I know what I would do and I have done it. I would feel sorry for myself. I would make sure that everybody knew that my “competition” not only had bad motives, but any results they were having were probably shallow and without any lasting consequences. What was Paul’s response? Here it is in his own words: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” [Phil 1:18] He had one motivation that dominated his life and that was the manifestation of the beauty that radiated from Jesus Christ. Confident that the Lord would see to it that his name would be glorified in his life, no matter what came his way, he was confident he would continue to rejoice.  Now, Paul turns to his friends in Philippi. He sees problems coming from two sources. First, they will face the same troubles he has experienced. Later he would write, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” [2 Tim 3:12-13] Rejoicing and affliction are part of the deal. The first challenge would come from the world. The second attack would come from within the church. False teachers having their own selfish agendas would shift the focus from Christ to their version of fools gold.In both cases, the solution is the same. “Rejoice in the Lord.” In persecution, we remember what God has done for us. He went to the cross, rose from the dead, vanquished every power, and now rules in heaven for us!. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, nothing! Our past is forgiven. Our present is secure. Our future is sure. Christ has promised to be with us and to give us the strength to meet any challenge. Even when we are struggling and in great darkness we can testify with Paul that we may be “sorrowful but we are also "rejoicing.” [2 Cor. 6:10]Although false teachers might not seem to pose the same kind of threat, they are just as dangerous as our persecutors. It is the truth, held on to [John 8:31-32] and contended for [Jude 3] and acted on enables us to overcome the evil one. [1 John 2:14] It is right doctrine that reveals to us the Christ of the Bible. When we know the Jesus of the Bible, nothing can shake our confidence. So, the more time we spend in the Word of God, the more reasons we will have to celebrate and “rejoice in the Lord.”Perhaps some of you are saying, “Ho hum, we know this. We have heard all this before.” The Philippians had also heard it before. But Paul says, “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again.” Why? We need to be reminded of the promises and provisions of God. we are given to forget and when we do, we get sidetracked and confused. So, Paul calls for believers to, ‘Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.
But God's word is not chained.” [2 Tim 2:8-10] It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, known, remembered, and believed, that is our strength and joy even when we are chained in prison. Joy will not just come to us. We must fight for it. It is not just a nice feeling. It is a safeguard for us. When the joy of the Lord is our strength We win and God is glorified. When God's Word rules over our fears we will say with the psalmist, “0 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise — in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” [Ps 56:10-11]
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. [Phil 2:25-30]
Everybody needs a hero to model and follow. Hebrews puts it like this: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb 13:7-8] My hero was my father, my preacher dad. In the opening pages of my book that is soon to be released, I wanted to honor the man who did the most to enrich my life and point me to the joy of serving Jesus. So, I wrote, “To my Father, whose love for Jesus and his Word set the direction of my life.” It has been almost twenty-five years since my father went to be home with his Lord. But, his life and faith still guides and gives me a model after which I can pattern my life. My dad was a man of God. He loved God. He obeyed God’s Word. He served God’s people. Paul tells us to “honor men like him.” [Phil. 2:25] I am trying.
Dad became a Christian as a teenager, when he attended a tent meeting revival. The next day he opened the Bible to John 14:1 and read "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.” He had a serious heart condition from childhood that was life threatening. He reasoned that if God wrote something in the Book it must be true. Therefore, God didn’t want him to have a heart condition. He prayed and God healed his heart. He never had another problem with it until the day it stopped 62 years later. In spite of his poor exegesis, God honored his faith and instantly healed him.
His life was characterized by a simple faith. When he prayed, he expected God to answer. Whether he was praying for the salvation of his family or the healing of our dog’s arthritis, he was convinced that God heard his prayers and would answer them. He didn’t know a lot of theology but he knew Jesus. His prayers and his love for the Bible enabled him to impact thousands of lives with the Gospel. Above his pulpit, he put this scripture for his congregation to see every Sunday: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” [1 Samuel 7:12 KJV] His favorite phrase which we put on his tombstone was this: “Why live in God’s world without God?” He really believed that. God was sovereign and working his will in the world and in his Church every day and in every way, for the glory of His name and the good of His people.
A few years ago I was speaking at a church camp in Wisconsin that my parents had attended for over fifty years. While at lunch, one of the campers sat down beside me. He looked at me and asked, “Are you Bob Rieben’s son?” I said I was. He then told me that he knew my father before he was married to my Mom. He then volunteered, “Your dad was the most positive man I have ever known.” That was my dad. His confidence in the goodness and greatness of God would not allow any room for pessimism or defeatism.
At the age of 18, he felt called to preach the Gospel. He read his Master's words, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” [Matt 28:18-19] so, he went. With little formal education, he felt compelled to obey the Lord’s commission. He would enter a small town, go to the town center, sing and play his guitar, and when a crowd would gather, he would begin to preach. At the close, he would point to an old abandoned store front and announce, “We are meeting there next Sunday. If you want to hear the Word of God, join us.” He would stay in that village until he had enough people to start a church. Then, he would call in a pastor to take his place and he would be off to the next community.
His lack of formal training did not affect his confidence in his call. The man who praised my father’s positive spirit was his superintendent at one time. He told me of a Sunday when he visited the church where my father was the pastor. The church had outgrown the building so that some people had to stand during the meeting. My father had tried to persuade the Church Board to move to a larger building. They refused. So, after the sermon, my father stood up and announced to the congregation that he would be at a larger building next Sunday and then added, “If you want to hear me preach, I will be there.” The souls of people were more important to him than the fear of controversy.
Neither was he afraid to be unconventional in his passion to win the lost. He made it a priority to reach out to the poor and forgotten of the society. He had a bus ministry before it was cool. He would go to the local housing projects and gather the kids and bring them to church on the bus. He also went way out into the “boon docks” to reach people nobody else cared about. He found one family who lived in a one room cottage with a dirt floor that included thirteen family members. He not only brought them to church, he supplied them with food and clothing. The kids that arrived by bus were dirty, smelly, poorly dressed and rather disruptive to the services. Some of the longtime members were less than impressed with the nature of this kind of church growth. My father didn’t care. Jesus loved the poor and so did he.
He was always ready to give even when it cost him. I had the privilege of speaking to a pastor's conference in California. On three separate occasions, ministers came up to me after the service with stories of how my dad helped them when they were struggling young ministers back in the Midwest. I was not surprised. At one time, we had a steady stream of street people coming by our house for handouts. We couldn’t imagine how all of these people were finding our home. Then dad found out that the local parish priest would direct them to our house saying, “The pastor who lives there is sure to help you.”
On one occasion the local sheriff called my dad and asked if he could help a family that was stranded and without money. Dad told him to send them over. He took them out to eat and got them gas and then put them up in our church apartment. In the morning he went over to take them to breakfast but they were already gone, and so was the TV, a clock, the bedding and everything else that was not tied down. That kind of thing was not that unusual, but it did not keep him from continuing to help the needy. He was a servant of Jesus.
What really made a mark on my life was that he lived in the home the same way he lived in the pulpit. He was truly a man of God not only in words but in life. He always stood on principle. He was like a tree, not a weeping willow but a redwood. I watched him receive harsh and cruel criticism from some of his leadership and yet he refused to get caught up in bitterness. He continued to love them. Later in life, after he left the church, the very ones who treated him the worst had the nicest things to say about him. Someone has rightly observed that churches often build monuments to the leaders who have long gone with the very stones they used to throw at him when he was in their midst.
My father was also a crack-up. He had a great sense of humor and our house was always a place of laughter and fun. Although he was dead serious about his walk with Jesus, he showed us by his laughter that it was not a drag. Serving Jesus, following Jesus, suffering for Jesus, was not a sacrifice but a privilege. You could not be around him very long without your faith in Christ being strengthened.
Last summer I was attending my high school's fiftieth reunion. One of the men attending was a member of our church when I was growing up. He has since denied much of the teachings he received from my father and the church. We had a spirited debate on the nature of the scriptures and the person of Christ. But, in a moment of reminiscence, he conceded to me, “Your father was bigger than life.” And I told him the reason: he loved God’s Word and His Christ. Another member of our youth group commented, “In all the pastors that we have had through the years, your Dad was the standard we compared them to.” Awesome!
My last moments with my father were a microcosm of his whole life. He had a heart attack and I hurried from California to Florida to be with him. When I entered his room he wasn’t there. I asked his roommate where he was. He said, “He is making his rounds.” I finally found him in his hospital robe, going from room to room, praying for healing for complete strangers.
When he got back in bed I asked him if he was afraid of anything. He said, “No” and then added, “I am concerned about your mother if something should happen to me.” I said, “You can be sure we will take care of her.” Then, trying to fulfill my pastoral role, I asked if I could pray for him. He replied, “No, I will pray for you.” He did and I will never forget that moment. It was the last words I heard from my hero. He ended his days the same way he had lived them throughout his life: thinking more about others than himself; trusting Jesus Christ to the end, showing me and my family what joy in Jesus is all about. I thank God for my father, my pastor and my hero, Rev. Robert A. Rieben.
Jesus promised his disciples three things: They would be absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble. F. B. Maltby
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. [Phil 2:17-18]
One of the dearest friends Barb and I have is Rev. Ed E. Eliason. We served with him for four years as his youth pastors back in the Stone Age. We have been blessed to be a part of Edwin and Margaret’s family for over forty years. We have shared vacations, birthdays, anniversaries and families. Right now, Ed is in the hospital after a life and death struggle.
That crisis has caused me reflect upon the influence of his godly life. We call him “Easy Ed”, because he has such a sweet and mellow spirit. His ministry is characterized by a love for people. I don’t think there is an ambitious bone in his body. He loves the Lord and he serves people. I guess I was so drawn to him because in that regard, he is just like my dad. Like my father, he would not be described as an executive, entrepreneur, or a C. E. O., but, no one can tell me he has not been faithful and successful. He has a way of making people feel loved. Everywhere we have traveled with him, whether in Tel Aviv or Detroit, Michigan, or Springfield, Missouri, people have called across the airport concourse, “Hey, Ed.” When we visited Israel, the mayor of Bethlehem sent two cars to our hotel to escort us back to the city. When attending denominational meetings with him, we would literally have to drag him out of the door. Everybody knew Ed and he seemed to know everybody. In the hospital, the family had to assign someone to handle the calls he was getting from well-wishers.
The passage before us is a reminder of what it takes to lead like my friend. It describes a life that goes against what the world often portrays as the essence of successful leadership, where name, fame and game are the symbols of success. I was listening to a well-known author and conference speaker a few years ago. He recalled riding in a car with his wife and asking her this question: “Do you ever recall hearing the word “successful” being used to describe our pastor when we were growing up?” He went on to explain that in those days the Pastor was the shepherd. He fed, led, protected and gave his life for the sheep. Shepherds are not worried about being successful but about being faithful; not about having large flocks but about producing healthy sheep; not about having a big name but about having a big heart. The godly shepherd of old received his reward when the members of his flock were satisfied with the joy of the Lord.
Today, more often than not, our pastors are trained to be “professionals”- executives, entrepreneurs, and C. E. O.’s. The ultimate test of success is numbers. If you have a church of a 1000, God is blessing you. If you have a church of 5,000, God is really blessing you! And, if you have a church of 20,000, you are blessing God. The “gifted ones” know how to “make it happen” and are seen as the real “makers and shakers” of Christianity. Forgotten is the faithful shepherd of the small group, who day after day cares for his flock, regardless of the cost, welcoming anonymity for the privilege of loving the people God has entrusted to his care.
The language Paul uses here doesn’t contain a hint of self-promotion. It is the language of self-sacrifice. Theologian Adam Clark suggests that the image Paul uses may come from the practice of sailors, who have just survived a harrowing trek across storm tossed waters. It was a common practice to offer a sacrifice [thusia] to God when they reached the safety of the harbor. The pouring forth [spendomai] refers to the wine that was spilled on the sacrifice before what remained was consumed by the worshipper.
In this case, the metaphor probably is a reference to the believers at Philippi who have reached the safety of God’s eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ and the founder of the church at Philippi, had to enter stormy waters in order to lead God’s children to the safety of the harbor. In fact, his whole life consisted of going from one crisis to another. He never knew from what direction the next blow would come. Pain was the price he paid for the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel to the people.
Suffering and the Gospel were woven together from the very beginning. In Acts 9, Luke records the Lord’s directions to Ananias concerning Paul: "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." [Acts 9:15-16] Later, writing to the believers at Ephesus, Paul penned, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” [Eph. 3:13] So, for Paul, suffering was never an accident or a tragedy. It was essential for the manifesting of the glory of Christ. The Gospel would not spread, the church could not grow and the believers would not be blessed without the suffering of Christ’s messengers. The cross stands at the center of all that God would do in this world.
Paul had one focus in all that he did. It was not about his comfort or his name but it was about the welfare of the people that God has allowed him to serve. Here is how he expressed it: “If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” He anticipated that his future would include even more suffering, but he knew that it was divinely designed to strengthen their faith. He didn’t want his people to misunderstand: His suffering was for their glory. They were discovering the beauty of Jesus, Christ was being honored and he was glad. There was no self-pity, no discouragement and no doubts.
We discover the source of Paul’s generosity in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10. His ambition was to “put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry would not be discredited.” His calling, his ministry controlled everything he did. Then, after citing a litany of struggles his ministry led him through, he wrote, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” [2 Cor 6:10] Paul’s constant flow of riches toward others was supplied by the stream of rejoicing that bubbled up from deep within him. The joy of knowing and loving Jesus was a never ending fountain. The struggles of life could not block this stream of grace.
Thank God for servants who refuse to have their ministries shaped by the values of their culture. Like my father, Easy Ed had his share of critics who wanted a more “professional” and “sophisticated” leadership style coming from their shepherd. Some of their actions and criticism were unfair, ungodly and hurtful. But Ed kept loving and serving his sheep. He never lost sight of his calling. Like Paul, his task was simply to “work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” [2 Cor 1:24]
Thank God for servants who still maintain a spirit of gentleness and hope even when going through stretched-out pain, never losing sight that they are called to lift others up through their struggles. They know that the One who called them is faithful and will take care of them. So, like my friend Ed, they are freed from self-focus to give their lives to lifting others up. What a privilege to have had this model of Christ-like service as a friend all these years! The Church of today needs more men and women like Easy Ed. May his numbers increase!
“The next time you feel like complaining, remember that your garbage disposal probably eats better than 30% of the world’s population does.” Anonymous
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life — in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. [Phil 2:14-16]
It is so easy to lose our perspective. We have more than any other nation in history or geography and still complain that we are not getting what we deserve. We saw this illustrated on the national stage when a Georgetown coed testified to a Congressional committee how she was victimized because her Catholic institution did not provide her with reproductive health care. She, and her other “victimized” students, had to pay $3000 dollars a year to enable them to engage in sex without the fear of becoming pregnant. I have no doubt that she actually believed what she was saying. She thought she actually “deserved” to be treated better.
I would like to take this young coed on an “enlightenment trip” to the villages of Malawi. There, she would see ladies shouldering most of the burden of labor. From the time a little girl is born, she is considered a valuable commodity; not because of her personhood, but because of the labor she will provide. Soon, she will be carrying water for the household, walking for miles each day. When she is not on that errand, she will have a sibling strapped to her back, for the mother is most likely out in the fields working. She will most likely never make it to a “Georgetown like” university; probably never go beyond a six grade education. There simply is not the money, the time or the opportunity. The immediate needs of the family won’t allow such a luxury. She will probably get married as a teen, have several children, and if she survives the birth problems and the health risks of living without adequate health care, she will spend her days working hard. And, will probably have little time to complain about what life has brought her.
In America, complaining is a national pastime. Go out to lunch and pay attention to what is being said by those who surround you. It will not be unusual to hear fellow workers complaining about the boss or the supervisor or the unfair conditions found on their job site. I may also be so bold to suggest that you will almost never hear them expressing their gratefulness for the job they have and for their employer, who trusted them and hired them. We are hardwired for complaint, not gratitude.
Paul was not addressing unbelievers, he was writing to the church at Philippi. Christians have the same problem with ingratitude. We also lose perspective. We forget where we have come from and what we have received by grace. We look at something that seems to be unfair and react by complaining or arguing with those who we feel are responsible for our lack. So, we live and operate like the world around us.
But, Paul has much greater expectations for followers of Christ. He seems to think that there should be a distinct difference between the redeemed and the depraved. This difference should be so dramatic that we shine like stars in a very dark sky. Something so fundamental, so life-transforming, so perspective-altering has happened inside us, that our normal response should be radically different from our non-believing neighbors. When we respond the same way as our unbelieving friends do, we reveal we lack the biblical essentials of gratitude and contentment and joy.
A lack of gratitude is a clear indication that we have forgotten what God did for us on the cross. When somebody says, “I know that Jesus died for me, but…” it is a clear sign that they have lost sight of the incredible cost that was paid for us to be adopted into the family of God. Although we were sinners, running away from God, and rebels shaking our fists in his face, he died for us. [Romans 5:6-10] It was a heart overflowing with gratitude that caused Paul to exclaim, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” [2 Cor 9:15] The words of that great hymn At Calvary capture this awesome truth: “Oh the love that drew salvation’s plan; Oh, the love that brought it down to man; Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.” When we think of what God has done for us, we have no room for complaint, even if he would not do another thing for us. But, of course, he does, for an eternity!
And, when we are filled with discontent, it is a sign we have lost sight of what God has given us. He has promised to meet every need we have. [Philippians 4:19] He has a great plan for our lives. [Jeremiah 29:11] He has promised to not only save us but give us life more abundantly. [John 10:10] We not only have the blessings of knowing Him now, but the unspeakable joy of enjoying him forever. [Psalm 16:11] Our problems come when we listen to the advertisers on T. V. who continually tell us that we will never be satisfied or happy until we have fame, beauty, power, wealth, intelligence, a new car and a perfect body. To listen to those lies and then complain and be sad because we do not have those things is evidence of our unbelief. To state it bluntly, we are accusing God, the One who promised to meet all of our needs, of holding out on us.
Paul gives us direction and hope when he writes, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” [Phil 4:12-13] Paul believes in the goodness and greatness of God. He knows that God is watching over him and cares about all of his needs. Anxiety and arguing and complaint is not an option for the one who really trusts the Lord and his promises.
When we are sad, when the joy is gone, when self-pity rules, we are casting a shadow over the glory of Jesus Christ. “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” Nehemiah proclaims. [Nehemiah 8:10] Isaiah adds, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” [Isaiah 61:10] Again Paul gives us further perspective when he commands,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Phil 4:4-7]
You cannot argue and be gentle at the same time. You cannot be thankful and complain at the same time. You cannot rejoice and engage in self-pity at the same time. You have to make a decision. Either you think like the world or you believe God. Arguing, complaining and sadness have to go when we trust God at all times and in every situation. So, Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” [Rom 15:13]
Do you not see? This is not just about us and our comfort. It is about the name of God and His glory. Isaiah declares that God will “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” And, then he adds, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” [Isa 61:3] When we are arguing, complaining and pouting, we are declaring to the world that Jesus Christ is not enough. May the Lord help us to repent of that terrible sin against his all-sufficient and all-satisfying beauty.
The story is told by Corrie Ten Boom, of the time in the concentration camps of Germany. In their morning devotions, she and her sister Betsy were reminded by 1 Thessalonians to rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks in all situations. Betsy suggested that they give thanks for every detail in their crowded, filthy, flea infested barracks. Corrie flatly refused to thank God for the fleas. Betsy persisted and Corrie finely gave in and joined in with the thanks. During the months they spent at that camp, they were surprised that they could openly hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was not till several months had passed that they discovered the reason the guards would not enter their barracks: the fleas! They, by their trust in God’s meticulous care of them, no matter where they were, were not victims in paradise. They were victors in prison. May God give us the grace to follow their example so that we can join them in displaying the splendor of our God.
If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if it has no facts to bother about. C. S. Lewis
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:9-11
To know God and to understand his ways is not easy. It takes hard thinking. As Lewis reminded us, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.” Asking questions of the text is crucial if we are to squeeze out of the passages the truth we seek. Very early in my studies, I was told by one of my mentors that one of the questions I needed to ask was, “Where for the therefore?” “Therefore” [or “wherefore”] is used 446 times in the Bible. So, it is important for us to discover where the “therefore” is pointing. It means, “in the light of what you have just read, this is the result.” “Therefore” points back to what Paul has written about Jesus in verses 5-8 as a set up for what he is about to declare.
Paul was concerned about divisions in the church and the attitude that birthed it, pride. Christ died to birth a new people united in him and bound with his love. Division, competition and manipulation were improper in God’s family. The antidote for division is humility. If the members of the church don’t know how that looks, he counseled them to look at Jesus. We should have the same attitude [2:5] that was in Christ when he entered our world and lived among us. He humbly gave up his divine prerogatives to live among men with the same kind of weakness that we humans have. In other words, for his time on earth he chose not to use his unique powers of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. He lived as a man, dependent upon His Father, living in full trust of His love and care for his every need. He came not to “Lord it over us” but to serve us in weakness.
His mission was unique in time and eternity. The Creator God did not just come to earth. He came all the way to earth. He did not grasp his position but let go of his rights. He lived not as a master but as a slave. Instead of being hailed as King he was reviled as a criminal. He died not in the quietness of sleep but in agony of the cross. His whole life was directed toward experiencing the depths of human suffering. For sin to be fully atoned for, it was to be fully felt in the life of our Savior.
That is the blessed “therefore” of which Paul writes. Because of what Jesus suffered, because he willingly descended to the lowest place, because he fulfilled the Father’s will to the letter, therefore, the Father lifted him to the highest place. He honored the obedience of the Son by giving him a name above every other name in heaven and earth. That name is Jesus. Every single knee will bow to him, either now in repentance and faith, or then, in fear and judgment. All that Jesus suffered, all that he accomplished, all that he has received, is done “to the glory of the Father.”
There are two crucial blessings that radiate from this passage. First, the length to which God would take to reconcile us to Himself is absolutely mind blowing. This is not a case where the Father is wrath and the Son is love; or where the Father commanded the Son to go and he went reluctantly. We were chosen by the Father in eternity past. The Son was slain from the foundation of the world. In other words, our salvation came as a gracious act of the Godhead who acted in concert and total agreement. The choice, the grace, the cost, should overwhelm us with gratitude and humility. In the words of Charles Spurgeon: “Be not proud of race, face place or grace.” It is truly a humbling to understand and appreciate what God has done for us. Pride is not appropriate but confidence is.
The second blessing is this: A pattern has been established that applies to us as well as the Son. We are called to live like the Son. We are to give up all confidence in the flesh and live trusting in the faithfulness of the One who called us. It will mean forgetting about ourselves for the joy of serving Jesus. It means giving up what “we deserve” for the chance of giving others what they need. Following Jesus will mean we give up the lights of Hollywood for the nights in darkest Africa. It will mean being tired, getting sick, leaving family and possibly even dying. All of this is done without one speck of complaint of regret. Why? The answer: life’s great therefore.”
Here is the blessing. Nothing that we lose compares to what we gain by serving Jesus. Nothing given up for the sake of Christ will be lost. Jesus said it like this: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” [Matt 19:29-30] To be caught up in the things of God, to discover more and more of the treasures that are in Christ, to be friends with him and to daily uncover the secrets of friendship with him, is the only truly exciting and satisfying way to live.
It all begins when we humble ourselves and exchange our independence for dependence on the promises of God. James wrote in James 4:6, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." To do it our way, to be the self-made man, is to invite God’s resistance. If all that was created exists to give God glory, we are in reality opposing him. But, when we humble ourselves, when we make it our life’s passion to honor him with our lives, while we do all things in the strength he provides, he lifts us up. So, James concludes, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” [James 4:10]
“Pride,” C. S. Lewis observed, “leads to every other vise: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Jesus Christ not only gave us a model to show us, by his death and resurrection he changed us. The “great therefore” means that because we are in Christ, we can live the same God honoring, people serving, pride busting life he demonstrated in his mission to earth. And, we can count on this; that the same God who exalted the name of Jesus above all other names, will in due time will lift us up.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Elliot, 1949
Unbelievers can argue philosophy. They can dispute theology. They can subvert history. And they can undermine character. But they are helpless in the face of extraordinary feats of selfless compassion. George Grant
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, Phil 2:8-9
After describing the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Paul describes the unbelievable lengths that God would go to save his people. We simply cannot miss the significance of this incomparable act of love and humility on God’s part. It is not just that he came to earth, or that he gave up his divine prerogatives, or that he came to serve instead of rule, not even that he came to die for us. The ultimate pull upon our hearts is ultimately the way in which the Son of God accomplished his mission. Jesus said it like this: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." [John 12:32]
Read more: Philippians #12 A Platform of Selfless Compassion
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. [Phil 2:5-7]
The other morning I enjoyed a wonderful study on humility in the Word. Jesus reminded me that although he was the Son of Man, deserving of all honor, he came to earth not to be served but to serve. I prayed that I would have the same kind of attitude. I felt so good about myself as I imagined lowering myself like Jesus did. Then, my wife and I went to Walmart.
On the way, I was driving in the left lane when a car alongside us proceeded to move into our space. I honked but he continued to come. I slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident. Then, I sent him a Christmas greeting with my horn. He returned the greeting with an obscene gesture.
By the time we reached Walmart, I had gotten control of the anger and was feeling pretty good about my self-control. Barb and I separated and went in different directions. I was pushing my cart down an aisle when I saw a mother and her teen-age daughter ahead. They saw me coming but turned their heads toward their shopping. As I got closer, I realized that it would be a tight squeeze to get by because there was a pillar in the middle of the row. So, when I got to the lady, who had her back to me and not wanting to disturb her, I slowly inched the cart around so as to not hit her. The daughter saw me coming and said, “Mom.” Mom ignored her. Again she said, “Mom.” Again Mom ignored her. The third time Mom turned to her and said, “What do you want?” “The man is trying to get by,” explained the daughter. Her Mom shot back, “That is why they invented the words ‘Excuse me’!”
I continued on, shaking my head. I had tried to be careful not to disturb her and that is how she responded. Ugh! Later, as divine vengeance would have it, I came out of a row into a main aisle just as the mother and daughter were coming toward me. I pushed my cart in front of them and said very self-righteously, “Excuse me!”
Now, in retrospect, I am not very proud of my actions. I could have blamed a bad day or Christmas depression or an empty stomach. I could have even claimed that I was only responding to the ugliness of others. But, the fact is that I was just thinking of myself and any thoughts of honoring Christ were absent. Apparently, a simple prayer and some good feelings were not enough to change my depraved, self-centered heart.
In our last devotion, we heard Paul exhorting the Philippian church to “treat others better than themselves.” In the wisdom of God, the Church was to be the grand example of a loving and united family. In Christ, all of the things that once divided and caused competition were destroyed on the cross. [Ephesians 2:14-18] Christ has now “created one new man out of the two, thus making peace.” This “new man” meant not just a lack of hostility but unusual charity. That kind of lifestyle was meant to be carried out into the world and practiced as a witness to our unbelieving neighbors. [Matt. 5:16]
For that to happen, we needed to experience a major attitude adjustment. Our model is Jesus. Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ.” Jesus was controlled by an attitude that could be described by one word: humility. He continually lowered himself to lift others up. He explained the thrust of his life like this: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." [Matt 20:28]
As the Son of Man, he had every right to demand respect and service from us. Instead, in conformity to his Father’s plan, he chose to give up his glorious existence and inherent rights and come to earth to serve and save sinners and rebels like you and me. Whether he faced friend or foe, he always gave not what was deserved but what was needed, no matter what it cost him.
Paul exhorts us to have the same attitude. How does that miracle happen? It obviously takes more than just a wish to imitate Jesus. We retain a huge residue of self-focus within us so that self-determination will never be enough. No, we need an ongoing miracle. Paul tells us that the source of that transformation comes through the Spirit who is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to become servants like Jesus. [Phil. 2:12-13]
A brief look at Jesus will help us to get on that path. First, Jesus’ sacrificial service was based upon his unqualified trust in the Father. This is not some psychological theory but an eternal reality. When Jesus was insulted and attacked, he did not respond in kind, but trusted himself, his well-being, to the One who makes all things right. [I Peter 2:23] And, at the last supper, with the cross only hours away, he demonstrated that trust in a surprising and unusual way. He washed his disciples’ feet. The reason Jesus could act with such humility in a time of personal calamity is explained by John with these words: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” [John 13:3-4]
Jesus was not a helpless victim. Neither ugly people nor painful circumstances determined his actions or his reactions. The Father had given all authority to him. Jesus knew where he came from and where he was going. With his life securely in the good hands of his Father, he continued to serve under the shadow of the cross. His attention remained fixed on the need of others. In this passage, Paul reminds us that we are called and equipped to live with the same kind of self-forgetfulness. When we react to rude drivers and rude shoppers with anger and ugliness, we are showing that we have forgotten who is ultimately in control of our lives. We are demonstrating a lack of trust and gratefulness.
We might wonder if this kind of change is even possible. Paul seems to think so. He writes, “let this attitude be in you.” No matter how impossible it seems and no matter how many times we have failed, Paul exhorts and expects us to live like Jesus. However, his confidence does not rest upon our will power but Christ’s presence. He is working in us, through His Word, to change our heart so that we want to be just like Jesus. [Phil 2:12-13] The Spirit who is committed to shaping Christ in us won’t let us get away with self-centered hissy fits on city roads or store rows. He will convict us and point to a more excellent way. God at work in us is Paul’s source of exhortation to us.
Transformation will take a lifetime. It will involve commitment, failure, confession, forgiveness, repentance and progress. The starting point will be a growing awareness of our privileged position in Christ. Each day we will have to prepare for battle through engagement with the Word and prayer. As we feel anger arise because of disrespect, we learn that those events are designed as opportunities to respond with graciousness instead of reacting with ugliness. What is at stake here is much more than preserving my pride but protecting my joy. Pleasing Jesus, portraying Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, is eternally more rewarding to our souls than demanding momentary respect from strangers.
Corrie Ten Boom, that precious lady who suffered unspeakable indignities at the hands of the Nazis, was once asked if she found it hard to be humble. She pointed to Jesus arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey. She said that as the masses were waving palm branches and singing praises it never occurred to the donkey that those expressions might be for him. And, then she concluded, “If I can be a donkey on which Jesus rides in His glory, I give him all the praise and honor.” That, my friends, should be our attitude. Be a donkey, not a jack ass.
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