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DEVOTIONS FOR MEN
As Paul concludes his letter, he reminds them one more time that mature faith yields true contentment that is not dependent on circumstances (see v 11-13). It's important to note this as the context for one of the most well known and most misunderstood verses in the New Testament: Philippians 4:13 (NLT) "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength." Out of context, this verse could mean a lot of things, most of which are misleading or directly contradict other scriptures. For example, Paul is NOT saying, "Christ can help me achieve any goal I set or any dream I dream."
Of course God gives us wisdom, talents, opportunities, relationships, resources, and many other blessings that can create and fuel goals and dreams. Some of the goals and dreams that burn in our hearts do come from Him, and He will definitely help make the ones that do happen in His time. Still, that's not what Paul is saying here. He's not talking about Christ helping us achieve; he's talking about Christ helping us endure and thrive no matter our circumstances. Re-read the rest of Philippians 4 and the earlier posts to explore this truth more.
Having said all that, however, there are a few more things we can glean from Paul's concluding words to his dear friends in Philippi. First, he is thankful and praises God for the ways that they have reached out to Him and made His life better. It's clear that they send him financial help and implied that they probably sent food, blankets, clothes, or other kinds of "gifts" besides money. Paul doesn't write these off as meaningless details because he is content no matter what. Instead, he takes time to thank them. He celebrates that they have been part of the answer to His prayers and made his life better in tangible ways.
As we wrap up 2015 and begin 2016, please take a few moments to acknowledge the ways that people in your life have done these two things for you. Have you prayed for something in this past year and God used a friend or a family member (or a team of them) to meet your need? Has someone gone out of their way to make your life better--even if you could have survived without the extra blessing? Tell them! Thank them! Thank God for them. And start thinking and praying about how you can bless them in the coming year.
This is the passage I spoke about this morning. If it's not on there already, you should be able to hear that sermon on our Teaching page soon. In the meantime, here are the basics:
There are only two kinds of real truth in the world. All other kinds of "truth" are interpretations of these.
First, there are facts -- raw data that is observable, measurable, reproducible, perceivable by the senses and/or easily confirmed with lots of harmonizing, reliable research). Second, there are absolutes -- deeper truths that (like facts) are true no matter what we believe about them. In John 14:6, Jesus Himself claims to be THE way, THE truth, THE life and the ONLY way to God--and said to build our lives on His teaching (Matthew 7). But what happens when what the Bible says and what we observe seem to clash? A great example of this is the "Peace on earth" the angels proclaimed at Jesus' birth and the hyper-violent state of the world today. Either the Bible is not actually true (Jesus did not bring peace on earth and does not deserve the title, Prince of Peace) OR we misunderstand what the biblical writers meant by "peace on earth." I believe it is the latter, and that Paul is expressing this very truth in a practical way in Philippians 4.
We must never separate the CONTEXT of biblical truth from the words themselves. For example, Jesus promised "peace of mind and heart" as "a gift the world cannot give" and urged his followers, "So don't be troubled or afraid (John 14:27, NLT), but He spoke these words the night He was betrayed, right before His worst suffering and their darkest moments were beginning. Similarly, Paul wrote today's passage (and roughly half of what we call the New Testament) from prison! Clearly, the "peace" they were promising was not an absence of any form or physical conflict or some kind of sentimental feeling. So what was it? And how do we experience it?
Paul explains in these famous verses that we experience Christ's gift of peace when we trust Him enough to obey Him--no matter our circumstances. He urges us to "set" our minds on all that is true and good and right in the world and to worship God for those things--even as we ask for what we need in the moment. It is no accident that this famous passage uses the word THEN so strategically...Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9, NLT)
The first few paragraphs of Philippians 4 seem a little out of place in such a hopeful letter. Paul clearly assumes that his readers in Philippi are mature and experienced enough in their faith to be able to apply the wealth of deep and yet practical advice he is sending them.
But apparently--even is such a strong, positive, practice church--some women are having a disagreement. It would be easy to throw in some chauvinistic jokes (or even some honest observations) about women tending to have disagreements in church to this day...but let's not go there. Let's talk about MEN letting disagreements destroy their fellowship with their Christian brothers. We all either know "those guys," are "those guys," or have had to help "those guys" work things out. This is not a male/female thing or a then/now thing. This is us, right now, so let's see what Paul's strategy was. I am quoting the Philippians 4:2-3 (NLT) below, but I encourage you to go back and read this in as many versions as you can and think and pray about it more, on your own.
"Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche..." Paul calls them by name. He doesn't mess around and waste time and space. "Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement." Only one reason is ever needed as to WHY two Christians should work out their problems--no matter what they are. "And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women..." He urges trusted church leaders to get involved and make sure this gets resolved. "...for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life." Paul subtly reminds the two ladies and the leaders that there are other people who could easily join the Let's Solve This Now Team if needed, giving the ones having a conflict a genuine, heartfelt, grateful compliment in the midst of it all.
Of course, the ultimate advice on solving conflicts between believers is Jesus' own teaching in Matthew 18 (you should read the whole chapter if this doesn't ring a bell). Paul clearly knows and is applying that process here. So guys...are you "that guy" or need to help "those guys" work things out? Get on it. I appeal to you.
In Philippians 3:17 (NLT), Paul says, "Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example." What an interesting challenge--to learn from those who lead us and from those whom we lead! This would seem to make no sense if it didn't sound so much like Jesus' teachings about and example of humble leadership (see Philippians 2:1-11).
Then in verses 18-19, Paul tearfully reminds them that "there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth." These are, remember, people who claim to be Christians. People in their church. Probably some people who lead them and some whom they are leading--but their true loyalties and their ultimate destinies are not what they seem to be. Again, we hear echoes of Jesus' own teachings (see all of Matthew 25).
In verses 20-21, Paul reminds them to make sure their conduct reveals some genuine, internal changes made by the Holy Spirit--and what Rich Mullins called "a loyalty that is deeper than mere sentiment." Like the Philippians, may we live daily so people can tell that "we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives...eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior." And as we look forward to our total and glorious transformation into His likeness then, may we remember that He is "using the same power with which He will bring everything under His control" to complete His work in us, right now.