What Does Humility Look Like?

Philippians 2:5-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.

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Christian Unity

Philippians 2:1–4

[1] So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, [2] complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. [3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4] Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (ESV)

INTRODUCTION:

If we really want to advance the gospel, we must be united (Phil. 1:5). Division harms the body of Christ and hinders the gospel (1 Cor. 3:3). However, unity cannot be imposed from the outside; it must come from within. That is why Paul appeals to the heart.

1. MOTIVES TO UNITY

A) Consolation in Christ (John 17:21)
B) Comfort of love (John 13:34-35)
C) Fellowship of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13)
D) Affection and Mercy (Luke 6:36)
E) The joy of our ministers

2. MEANS TO UNITY

A) We have to renew our minds. Unity of mind, purpose, and love. (Rom. 12:2; Amos 3:3) Renewal of the mind leads to transformation of life. We all have to become spiritually minded if we are to be united in love and purpose (1 Cor. 2:14-3:3).

B) We have to avoid selfish ambition. Jesus Christ himself did not hang on to his privileges as God, but humbled himself. He was born in a manger, he worked as a humble carpenter, he ministered as an itinerant preacher who was dependent on others for support (Luke 8:1-3), and he died on a cross intended for criminals.

C) We have to consider others better than ourselves. Jesus himself – the Master! – washed his disciples’ feet.

D) We have to be interested in other people’s concerns. Such was Jesus. He was interested in all kinds of people.

APPLICATION

  1. In what ways have I been selfish recently?
  2. What steps should I take in order to become more interested in others rather than just in myself?

PRAYER

Lord, please forgive me for the many times I’ve been selfish and divisive. Help me to love people, especially my fellow Christians, and to be interested in them. Amen

(Photo by Wylly Suhendra on Unsplash)

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

TEXT:

Matthew 6:13

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

INTRODUCTION

Sin is the Christian’s greatest grief. Christians can still sin and this happens when we succumb to temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, but giving in to temptation is. We need to be prepared for temptation when it strikes. We should prepare ahead of time how we may avoid it.

EXPLANATION

Temptation is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13). It is part of human experience. Christians are not exempt from temptation. Even the Lord Jesus Christ himself was tempted in the wilderness.

God is not the author of temptation (James 1:13, 15), but he is the governor of it. He does not directly tempt anyone, but he does allow it in accordance with his own wise and good purposes. Thus, he allowed Satan to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31-32). And Joseph could say to his brothers who did a lot of evil towards him, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

We need God’s help to avoid and overcome temptation (Hebrews 2:18). We can’t do in in our own strength.

But although God provides the strength and the wisdom, we are to also exercise responsibility in the matter. We are to watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41). And we are to resist the devil, so that he may flee from us (James 4:7). We should also plan ahead to avoid circumstances that unnecessarily expose us to temptations. Ironically, we sometimes tempt the devil to tempt us!

APPLICATION

Do we regularly pray to be preserved from temptation and delivered from the evil one?

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For me to live is Christ

TEXT:

Philippians 1:19-30

INTRODUCTION:

Probably the most important question in life is: What is the meaning of my life? How should I live my life? Paul answers this question in a very straightforward manner: To live is Christ. And why not? After all, he gave his life for us!

2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV
[15] and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Philippians 1:20
as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

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The Importance of the Gospel

“12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. 14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. 15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. 16 These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice . . .”

Philippians 1:12-18 (CSB)

Introduction:

What is the gospel? It is the good news of salvation: Christ died, was buried, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Why is the gospel important? Because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16-17).

  1. The Advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12-14)

Paul was in prison, but what others saw as a misfortune, he saw as an opportunity to promote the gospel. Adverse circumstances may be blessings in disguise in that God allows them in order to spread the gospel. In this case, the finest soldiers of the Roman Army were exposed to the gospel by being chained to Paul. God is able to produce good out of evil (Rom. 8:28).

Another benefit that Paul saw in his situation was how his example was emboldening others to share the gospel. The lesson here is: Our courage in sharing the gospel in spite of persecution serves to encourage others to be courageous also.

If the gospel is all-important to us, it changes the way we see our circumstances: Instead of considering them as unfortunate events, we consider them as blessings or opportunities. Just like this pandemic. True, it is a tragedy. Nevertheless, because of it, more people not only have more time for the gospel, they also have greater willingness to engage with it.

  1. Abuse of the Gospel. (Phil. 1:15-17)

Unfortunately, there’s a wrong way to preach the gospel: One can do so out of a spirit of envy and rivalry. Some preachers were taking advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to increase their own importance and influence.

There should be no competition when it comes to the gospel. This is not about who’s the best preacher or whose church is the biggest. It’s about Jesus Christ and him alone (1 Cor. 3:5-9; 1 Cor. 2:1-5). “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The right motive in sharing the gospel is love and compassion (2 Cor. 5:14; Mark 6:34). We share the gospel because, as Steve Green put it in his song, people need the Lord.

  1. Application of the Gospel (Phil. 1:18)

We should apply the gospel to our lives. One way to do so is to make it the basis of our joy. Our joy is not dependent on circumstances. Our joy depends on what we consider important. For Paul, what is important is that Christ is preached; what happened to him didn’t really matter as long as Christ is proclaimed. That’s what gave him joy (Phil. 1:21; 3:7-8).

Application:

  1. Do we share the gospel?
  2. Do we find our joy in circumstances or in the gospel?
  3. How do we make use of the opportunities in our circumstances to advance the gospel?

Prayer:

Lord, help us to find our joy in you and in your gospel. Amen.

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Thoughts on Habakkuk

I recently handled a Bible study via Zoom on Habakkuk, one where I had to touch on sufffering, God’s role in it, God’s purpose in it, and what our response should be. Although I believe that what I said during the Bible study faithfully aligns with Habakkuk’s teaching, I realize that some of the things I said might have come across as being insensitive, especially with respect to people who’ve suffered a lot during this pandemic. That wasn’t my intention, so I’ve decided to write this in order to clarify to myself at least what I really meant.

I hold to a very strong view of God’s sovereignty. In line with that, I believe that the present pandemic would not have occurred without his permission. I also believe he has a good purpose in so allowing it, even if that purpose is one of judgment. I know it’s going to be very hard for people to accept that it was God who sent this pandemic, in the same way that Habakkuk had great difficulty accepting that a holy God would use wicked Babylonians to punish his own people. But the Bible is very clear on this: God is holy, God is righteous, God is good, God is not the author of sin. Nevertheless, it is God who creates calamity: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

The other objection I anticipate has to do with rejoicing in spite of disastrous circumstances because God’s purpose in allowing calamities is to grant salvation to his people in the end. So many verses actually support this “joyful and triumphant” attitude in defiance of circumstances. Habakkuk of course rejoices in God his salvation, the possibility of a life-threatening famine notwithstanding. So does Paul in the latter part of Romans 8. The life of Joseph and his sufferings is all about this truth: “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” And of course, Romans 8:28 is the all-encompassing basis for joy in all circumstances. And the supreme example of all this is Jesus, who “Out of the anguish of his soul shall see and be satisfied” that the result of his sufferings will be the salvation of his people (Isaiah 53:11).

Even so, this might be of small comfort to people who are in the thick of suffering. I remember reading somewhere something to this effect, that even if Job in the end had children again in lieu of the ones he lost, that would never really compensate for the loss he suffered. That’s the same objection I’m anticipating, and the problem is if I try to answer it in a straightforward manner, without taking into account the ravaged emotions of people who’ve suffered greatly in this pandemic, I would come across as insensitive. I have no intention of minimizing or belittling anyone’s suffering. We should weep with those who weep. But at the end of the day, one simply has to reckon with the Bible’s claim that the greatest sufferings God’s people endure in this world are simply not worth comparing to the glory which will be revealed in them someday (Romans 8:18).

Finally, there’s the problem of evil. Even if we assume that God is going to produce something wonderful out of all this evil and suffering that he allows in our world, does the end really justify the means? All I can say is, that’s actually what Habakkuk’s second complaint in his book is all about. How could a holy God use a people more wicked than his own people to punish his people? What happened to God’s justice? And God’s answer in this book is, “The just shall live by faith.” “God is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20). He is God after all; he knows what he is doing and no one can stop him. All we can do is pray and ask for mercy: “In wrath, remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). And rejoice, even if the worst happens, because those who have faith in him will live; they will not die (Hab. 1:12; c.f., John 11:25, 26). God is the God of salvation to the just who live by faith (Hab. 3:18).

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The Fate of the Wicked

Read 2 Chronicles 22:10-12; 23:1-21.

“All the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was calm, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword.” (2 Chronicles 23:21 NIV)

When Ahaziah died, his mother Athaliah made her move to consolidate power in herself. She had all the royal heirs killed – all except one: her grandson, Joash. She would have killed him too, undoubtedly, had not Joash’s aunt, Jehosheba (Ahaziah’s sister), hid him from her for six years.

In the seventh year there was a coup: Joash was made king and Athaliah was killed. Such was the fate of this wicked woman. Whether in terms of wicked counsel or murderous acts, she was indeed wicked. When she died the Bible says the city not only rejoiced, it also became calm and quiet, i.e., it finally had peace. What a terrible legacy! Instead of people mourning over her death as a great loss, they were quite happy to be rid of her.

A number of Scripture passages come to mind upon reading about Athaliah’s death: “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a person sows, that he shall also reap.” “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” (Proverbs 11:10)

Lord, I realize from your Word not only how destructive wickedness is, but also how loathsome and reprehensible it is. May you eliminate all traces of it from my heart and mind. Cleanse me by your blood and make me holy. Amen.

A Mother's Influence

Read 2 Chronicles 22:1-9.

“He [Ahaziah] also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly.” (2 Chronicles 22:3)

One should not underestimate the impact of a mother’s influence upon her child. In Ahaziah’s case, from a young age he was trained in wickedness because “his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly.” As a result, he walked in the ways of the house of Ahab (Israel’s wicked king). They too were his counselors. It comes as no surprise, then, that he ended his life badly. An abundance of evil counselors made sure of that, beginning with his mother.

Happily, the Bible also provides a counter-example to Ahaziah’s mother in the person of Timothy’s mother, Eunice. Paul says of Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5) The faithfulness of Eunice – and her mother’s before her – bore fruit in the life of her son Timothy: He became a stalwart soldier of Jesus Christ, a preacher of his gospel, and a shepherd of his flock.

Mothers, by your influence you are a force to reckon with – either for good or for ill. May your influence be for good!

Lord, bless our mothers who have committed themselves to training up their children in your ways. May their hearts rejoice when they see their efforts bear fruit. Amen.

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On Plagues and Judgment

In my Bible reading during this time of quarantine, I’m taking note of the times when God judged his people by sending a plague among them.

For instance, we have the case of King Jehoram who walked in the wicked ways of the kings of Israel, who killed his brothers, and who led his people to spiritual harlotry. The Lord punished him in this way, “Behold, the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions,” (2 Chronicles 21:13 ESV).

Then we have the case of the Israelites in the wilderness: “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 106:13-15 ESV)

It may well be that the present calamity that has befallen the world is a form of global divine judgment. For people of faith who believe that God is sovereign, that nothing happens outside of his will, and that he has a purpose in everything, including judgment, this conclusion is not easy to dismiss.

In any event, now is as good a time as any to heed the words of 2 Chronicles 7:13, 14: “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”(NKJV)

Lord, forgive us our sins. Show us your mercy. Heal our land, heal our world! Amen.

Image Source: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/07/coronavirus-epidemic-prediction-policy-advice-121172

When I am afraid . . .

“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:3, 4)

And so it begins. In accordance with Jehu’s prophecy, wrath had gone out against Jehoshaphat from the Lord because he had allied himself with Ahab; he helped the wicked and loved those who hated the Lord. Thus a great multitude from Edom was now coming against him. But to his credit, Jehoshaphat turned to the Lord whom he had offended. He prayed, “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (verse 12) And the Lord in his mercy and grace answered him through Jahaziel: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (verse 15) And in line with Jahaziel’s words, the Lord worked a mighty deliverance in Judah’s behalf, setting an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. We should heed Jehoshaphat’s words in this regard: “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets and you will succeed,” (verse 20).

Lord, thank you that in spite of my sins you remain gracious and merciful towards me and are ready to help me whenever I am afraid. Help me never to turn away from you, for you are always ready to forgive me and help me whenever I sincerely repent and return to you. Amen.