Examples of Self-Giving Service for the Joy of Faith, part 4 (Philippians 2:27-30)

Last week we looked at the amazing example of Epaphroditus, a young man who had risked his life completing the mission he was given—to bring a gift to Paul from the Philippian church.  He did that faithfully, despite the fact that he was very sick and almost died.

Paul pointed out how valuable Epaphroditus had been to him and also the Philippians, because he intended to send him back to them and wanted the Philippians to esteem him and welcome him with open arms.

When we left off last week we noted that Epaphroditus had been very ill, near to the point of death, and Paul tells them two things:  First, that all the while he was sick his mind was more upon the emotional distress they would be feeling rather than his own physical distress.

Second, Paul indicates how dependent they had been upon God for Epaphroditus’ revival.  Listen to these last few words of Philippians 2:

27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

We who have the benefits of modern medicine may easily read right past “but God had mercy on him.”  But in Paul’s day few people drew back from death’s door.  Many sick people eventually died.

This wasn’t a matter of the young man’s simply getting better but of God’s direct healing—“the sovereign merciful act of God himself” (O’Brien).  Even though we have the benefits of modern medicine (and should avail ourselves of it), it is still God who brings healing.  In this case, medicine wasn’t available.  Evidently Paul did not have the ability to heal everyone he wanted to be healthy, even his fellow workers.  Divine healing has always been subject to the will of God, and not something that someone can force whenever he or she wants (cf. 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20).

Only God could have done this.  And Paul lets them know that this was the case.  If God had effectively brought him back from “death’s door” then he must have a purpose for him.

Epaphroditus had been spared death by the merciful intervention of God himself.  And, as the apostle was quick to mention, the mercy extended further, to Paul himself — “and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27b).

Like Christ, Paul was “a man of sorrows” due to his calling (cf. Isaiah 53:3).  He was also a man who, amidst sorrows, experienced a fountain of joy, as we note from the sixteen instances of forms of the word joy in Philippians.

Among his present sorrows in Rome was the selfish rivalry of some Christian leaders.  How thankful he was that the sorrow of Epaphroditus’ death was not overlaid upon those sorrows. How grateful he was for the sovereign will of God and for divine mercy.  But what Paul wanted the Philippians to know was that when they received Epaphroditus back again, they were receiving a man who, as it were, was back from the dead.  So this was likewise a mercy to them.

For all these reasons — Paul’s esteem for Epaphroditus as a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, an apostle, and a messenger who desperately longed for home and was distressed at their distress and who almost died carrying out their assignment — because of all of this Paul says, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” (v. 28).

When Epaphroditus arrived, the Philippians would be relieved to know he was safe, Epaphroditus would be relieved to be home, and Paul would be “less anxious” about him.  Nothing would please Paul more than a proper reunion.

Paul will urge the Philippians to regard Epaphroditus highly (“hold men like him in high regard”), and to welcome him back wholeheartedly (“with all joy”).  Perhaps Paul sensed that they would undervalue him.

Paul now urged, “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (vv. 29, 30).

During the long separation between Paul and the Philippian church (and especially since his imprisonment in Rome), the Philippians had been unable to fully express their fellowship/partnership in Paul’s ministry — especially since they lacked a way to supply his needs.

He had daringly exposed himself to danger.  It was while he had labored for his absent Philippian brethren, to make up their deficiency in this sense (4:14-18; cf. 1 Cor. 16:17), that he had become dangerously ill.

Epaphroditus’ heroics enabled them to complete their gospel obligation to Paul.  He was the key link that did not fail in his mission.  They owed the young man big-time.

In effect, single-talented as Epaphroditus was, he was like Christ.  Paul makes this very clear in the Greek because the phrase that tells us that Epaphroditus “nearly died” in verse 30 is exactly the same as the phrase in 2:8, which describes Christ coming “to the point of death.”

Epaphroditus’ near death for Paul echoes Christ’s real death for us.  This young man had the mind of Christ.  He was not only willing to lay down his life for the sake of others, he almost did!

He clearly wasn’t thinking of himself and his own desires or needs.  His heart was focused on finishing his mission to Paul, of helping Paul on behalf of the Philippian church.  Thus, he made possible for the Philippian church to be partners with Paul in the gospel.  The Philippians, Epaphroditus and Paul would all be rewarded for their part in making the gospel known in Rome.

Thomas Constable has an interesting side note:

Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of gamblers. When a pagan Greek threw the dice he would cry out “epaphroditos!” meaning “favorite of Aphrodite.”  Epaphroditus’ name may have connections with this custom.  If so, Paul may have written that Epaphroditus “risked [gambled] his life” as a wordplay on his friend’s name.  Paul made a more obvious wordplay with Onesimus’ name, which means “useful” (cf. Phile. 10-11).

Epaphroditus gambled with his life and won because God was with him and had mercy on him.

David Guzik shows how Epaphroditus’ example influenced other risk-takers in the early church:

In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women who called themselves the gamblers, taken from this same ancient Greek word used in not regarding his life.  It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases.

Often, when a plague struck a city, the heathen threw the dead bodies into the streets and fled in terror.  But the gamblers buried the dead and helped the sick the best they could, and so risked their lives to show the love of Jesus.

Paul doesn’t chide Epaphroditus for taking a foolish risk, but exalts him because he had taken a faithful risk.  He was completing his mission.

Now, it is possible that Epaphroditus was sent not only to bring a gift to Paul, but also to be his attendant.  It may be that Epaphroditus fulfilled the first, but because of his sickness was unable to be of much help to Paul.  Perhaps the Philippians believed his mission had failed.

But Paul wants them to know that this was not the case.  Epaphroditus had proved himself very valuable to Paul and despite his extreme illness had accomplished his mission.  Why?  Because he had the mind of Christ, a selfless willingness to expend himself in every way to put others first and minister to them.

And Epaphroditus did this to fulfill what was lacking in the Philippians service to Paul.  We, likewise should have the heart that there is something lacking in our service until the job is done.  We should not be satisfied with good intentions or a half-done job.

And we should be willing, like Epaphroditus, to help others complete the job, even if it wasn’t our job to begin with.

That is why Paul is so proud of Epaphroditus.  In every way he showed himself to be a humble, others-centered man.

Epaphroditus represents a category of people who are to be honored.  If we have read Paul correctly, it is not only the up-front people, those with the more public gifts, who are to be honored but also those who regardless of their gifts live out the example of Christ.

By holding up Epaphroditus, Paul contradicted the Greco-Roman culture’s, and also our modern culture’s, rewarding those who seek prestige and position.

Markus Blockmuehl explains:

Once again, those who stake their ambition on the example of Christ in 2.6-11 will find themselves in conflict with the values and presuppositions of the secular path to power.  By saying that it is people like Epaphroditus whom the Philippians should hold in honour (entimous), Paul at once contradicts Graeco-Roman society’s pervasive culture of rewarding the upwardly mobile quest for prestige and public recognition (philotimia).  The Church instead will prize and value those who aspire to the mind of Christ.  (The Epistle to the Philippians , p. 17)

In other words, real honor should go not to those who seek honor, but to those who serve in humility, even behind the scenes, but who do so faithfully.

This ought to lay the ax to those of us who define success in the evangelical community as a kind of lordship: sitting in the honored seat, being the feted guest at luncheons, speaking to vast throngs, building monuments, naming buildings after ourselves, collecting honorary titles.

Over the course of chapter 2, Paul had taken great pains to get the Philippians outside themselves, beginning with the command in verses 3, 4:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Paul knows that for true partnership in the work of the gospel to exist, there must be unity among the workers. The key to achieving unity is for each believer to adopt the humble mind of Christ.

Paul had held up the supreme example of Christ in verses 5-11.  He had raised the example of his protégé Timothy in verses 19-24, as a man who looked out for others’ interests.  He had lifted up the layman Epaphroditus as an unforgettable example in verses 25-30.

But what about Paul himself?  As we would expect, we see that the great apostle practiced what he preached as he put the interests of others above his own in sending Timothy and Epaphroditus back to Philippi, leaving himself alone and unattended in Rome.

Was Paul thinking about himself during those dark days in Rome?  Hardly!  He was willing to sacrifice his own interests for the well-being of others.  Paul, the theologian, lived out every aspect of his theology in the most practical ways.

The magnitude of Paul’s humility and benevolence toward Epaphroditus can be seen by contrasting Paul’s words in our text to what someone of lesser stature might have made out of this same situation.

Let’s suppose Paul was a very insecure and threatened leader, who had to keep reminding others of his position, power and prestige, a petty fellow, who found it impossible to praise others.  What could this kind of man have done with the circumstances at hand?  Let me suggest one very fictional scenario:

“From Paul, the esteemed apostle of God’s choice, to all those under my charge in Philippi.  As you know, missionary work is very demanding, and only the strong of heart can endure under conditions such as I am presently experiencing.  Unfortunately, Epaphroditus is not a strong man physically.  His trip to Rome with your generous gift was too much for him, and he almost succumbed to his illness.  It was fortunate that I was able to nurse him back to good health.  Epaphroditus is not a strong fellow in spirit, as well as in body.  He simply could not hold up under the stress of the situation.  He became so homesick that he was of little help to me here, and so I have sent him home.  His return should serve as a warning to the faint of heart.…”

Rather, in our text (verse 29), Paul actually commands the saints at Philippi to give him a hero’s welcome home.  Paul encouraged Epaphroditus and prepared the way for a triumphant reunion with his friends, family, and fellow believers.

By multiplying the examples of Christ-minded, others-centered men Paul is encouraging the Philippians (and us) that we can be like them.  Oh, we might not want to think of ourselves as like Christ, or even Paul, maybe not even Timothy.  But Epaphroditus is normal, just like us in our weaknesses, yet still able to put others ahead of himself.

What about us?  We know that public ministry gifts must be used to glorify Christ in looking out for the interests of others.  We know that God sees all and will hold his leaders responsible.

But what about the quiet, perhaps single-talented Christians like Epaphroditus?  Will they get a pass?  No!  Rather, they should fear that if they bury their talent (thinking “it won’t matter”), God will certainly see and hold them accountable.

They should read what the master said to the lazy servant in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:14-29.

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

So don’t hide your talent.  Even if you have only one ability to serve God with (and some may think they have none), use what God has given you to minister to others.  Ask him how to use the talents and abilities you have to minister to others.

Epaphroditus certainly wasn’t Paul or Timothy.  He was a “brother,” a “fellow worker,” a “fellow soldier,” a “messenger [apostle],” a “messenger” — that’s all!  He had the mind of Christ — that’s all!  He is honored today by both man and God — that’s all!

Examples of Self-Giving Service for the Joy of Faith, part 3 (Philippians 2:25-26)

During these last few months of coronavirus, I think we all have come to a deeper appreciation of the value of fellowship.  We genuinely miss one another.

As we have seen, fellowship in the Philippian church was not of the ice cream social variety but was rather the fellowship of people bound together by a great spiritual quest.

The Greek root word for fellowship occurs six times across the brief chapters of Philippians, rendered variously as “partnership” (twice), “partakers” (once), “participation” (once), and “share” (twice).

And each occurrence emphasizes a different aspect of the Philippians’ fellowship or participation with one another: 1:5 emphasizes “partnership in the gospel”; 1:7 describes the Philippians as “partakers . . . of grace”; 2:1 lists their “participation in the Spirit”; 3:10 records Paul’s desire to “share” in Christ’s sufferings; and 4:14, 15 employ the words “share” and “partnership” to stress fellowship in giving — “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (4:14, 15). So fellowship involved participation in the gospel and grace and the Spirit and suffering and giving.

In 2:25-30 we learn that the Philippians had decided to express and confirm their fellowship with Paul by taking up an offering for him and dispatching an envoy to make the 800-mile trek to Rome and pay Paul’s prison expenses and minister to his needs. This was crucial because the Roman prison system didn’t provide for food, clothing, or medical care.

So young, strong, healthy, godly Epaphroditus was chosen and was entrusted with a considerable sum of money.  This meant that he was not traveling alone when he fell ill because Paul had established apostolic precedent in sending large gifts by group (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:16-22).

The most likely scenario, therefore, is that when Epaphroditus fell ill, one of his traveling companions (or an acquaintance passing the other way) returned to Philippi with the alarming news, while another, or others, stayed with Epaphroditus and nursed him along so that he finally made it to Rome, very much worse for the wear.  But ever-faithful Epaphroditus delivered the goods and set himself, as he was able, to caring for Paul as the Philippians’ surrogate.

However, it wasn’t long until Paul decided that the young man should return to Philippi for reasons that the apostle would later explain.

What is at once apparent from what Paul says here is that he was concerned that the Philippians give the young man a proper welcome.  It was very possible that the little church, preoccupied with surviving in Philippi’s obtrusive, oppressive, “little Rome” culture, coupled with their surprise at Epaphroditus’ early return and the fact that he didn’t remain with Paul as long as they expected, could have worked to make his “welcome” to be little more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of his return, without the church truly engaging him and hearing and valuing his story and expressing genuine appreciation, kinda like when our young soldiers returned from Vietnam.

A church (like a culture) that does not recognize the sacrifice of its own for the sake of the gospel makes a big mistake.  And the wise apostle simply would not let that happen.

Moreover, Epaphroditus’ selfless conduct was a living example of the mind of Christ in his serving the interests of others.  So in verses 25-28 Paul prepares the way for a proper homecoming upon Epaphroditus’ return to Philippi.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Unlike Timothy, Epaphroditus was not very well known outside of Philippi.  Epaphroditus is mentioned only here in Scripture, but Paul makes certain that the Philippians (and we) recognize him and honor him for his example of selfless service.

Paul began with an unusually complimentary introductory fanfare.  There was no drum roll, but it was definitely “Here’s Epaphroditus!

Epaphroditus’ introductory resumé had five entries, three from Paul and two that referenced the Philippians.  Paul called him “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.”

In a world of imitations, “my brother” referred to the real thing — the theological reality that two who were truly brothers shared the same spiritual bloodline.  “My brother” resounded with affection, the love of believer for believer — “my dear brother.”

“Fellow worker” is intentionally elevating.  Jesus would say of the church in Ephesus, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:3), and this was singularly true of Epaphroditus.  He worked, but more, he was Paul’s “fellow worker,” the great apostle’s coworker.  Paul was the public, up-front apostle, and Epaphroditus was the behind-the-scenes servant.  Yet the two were equally coworkers — one in work and dignity.

Next, the image that “fellow soldier” evokes lifts Epaphroditus high.  Paul says elsewhere, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

This was the battle they were fighting.  It is a spiritual battle, but nonetheless a real battle.

The two fought shoulder-to-shoulder in Rome.  Perhaps Paul had in mind the trademark imperial soldiers’ battle ethic of standing side-by-side, dug in with shields locked solid, swords drawn.  The truth is, young Epaphroditus was a battle-tested warrior who had been wounded in combat and was being sent home for a rest.  This man was no weekend warrior.  He had proven himself with distinction.

Now, let’s apply this to our church life today:

These three titles for Epaphroditus serve also to tell us what the church is like:  It is a community (fellow-brother) that works together (fellow-worker) for a common cause—to advance the kingdom (fellow-soldier).

So the church is a community, a corporation and a cause.  Some people are more oriented towards one than the others and we have to learn how to approach people with different “hats” on.

Why is this so important to grasp?

If you are in community with someone, then you are a family.  If you are in a cause together, then you are an army.  If you are in a corporation together, then you are a business.  These three dimensions are vastly different from each other in more than just metaphor – they have different core values, different key persons, different ways of entrance and exit, and varying ways of payback.

Consider values.

In a community, the greatest values are, arguably, love, loyalty and mutual support.  In a cause, the greatest value is winning.  In a corporation, it is effectiveness.  Could there be some tension between love and winning, or love and effectiveness?

Or think about roles.

In a community, the roles fall into such things as father, mother, brother; in a cause, it would be general, lieutenant, or sergeant.  In a corporation, one thinks of a CEO, a president, or an employee.  You relate to someone as father in a vastly different way than you do as either general or CEO.  Approaching someone as an employee is not the same as approaching them as a brother.

And think of the tension between these three when it comes to key people or heroes.  In a community, the key people are often the ones the community rallies around, meaning the weakest.  Think of the way a family revolves around a newborn.  In a cause, the heroes are the ones who are the most committed.  In a corporation, the most honored are usually the most productive.

And perhaps most tricky of all, think of how you exit each of these dimensions.  In terms of leaving a community, well, you don’t.  You are part of a family, or family of origin, forever.  You can’t ever really leave.  When it comes to a cause, you have to desert or, if honorable, die in the effort.  In a corporation, you either quit, are fired or retire.

Starting to get dizzy with the complexities?

Sorry to pile it on … but we haven’t even arrived at the tough part.

Think about knowing which hat to wear.  Someone is not performing well at all, but you know that part of it is based on personal issues in their life.  Do you wear the corporate hat of performance or the community hat of concern?  In truth, it might be both.  They may need a word from you as their general to pick up their pace for the cause and also need a father-figure at a moment of weakness.

Paul knew the value of all three relationships and was able to partner with Epaphroditus in all three areas.  May we have the flexibility and grace to do that too!

[The above information about community, cause and corporation is from James Emery White, but I originally heard it from Jim Dethmer.]

Now let’s get back to the text of Philippians.

Beyond all that Epaphroditus meant to Paul, he had served the Philippians themselves in a twofold manner, as “your messenger and minister to my need” (v. 25b) —two titles of honor that rightfully belonged to the great Apostle Paul himself.

“Messenger” is literally “apostle.”  And though Paul did not use apostle here in the full technical sense of one who had seen the resurrection and had a special commission to preach the gospel (cf. Acts 1:21-23; Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 15:7), it was, nevertheless, a designation of intended dignity.

Likewise, “minister” is also a title of dignity that was evocative of priestly service as Epaphroditus ministered to Paul’s needs. Paul may have been thinking of Epaphroditus’ ministry to him as similar to a priest’s.  He presented the Philippians’ offering to Paul as a sacrifice (4:18).

Gerald Hawthorne says:

“Epaphroditus was their envoy to him, their way of telling him that they cared enough to send their very best …”

Paul is confirming that Epaphroditus had performed a very valued service to him, just as they meant to happen.

Here’s the picture: Epaphroditus was a layman whom we would never have heard of were it not for Paul’s brief reference here.  But he was not a “mere layman.”

Epaphroditus served in no public capacity. He did not shepherd a flock, as did Timothy.  He did not take the gospel to an unreached area.  He did not receive special revelation.  And he wrote nothing.

All he did was faithfully discharge his duty by delivering a bag of money to Paul and then by looking after him.

Yet he is called by Paul “brother . . . fellow worker . . . fellow soldier” and was identified to the Philippians as “apostle” and “minister.”

Paul’s makes no distinction between the ministry of Timothy and the ministry of Epaphroditus, as though one ministry is “first class ministry” and the other is “second class.”

They are very different men, with very different ministries, but they are both a vital and valuable part of the body of Christ.

We must understand that to serve in some unnoticed, unrecognized place in the body of Christ is as much the work of Christ as is public ministry.  Paul teaches the same thing in 1 Corinthians 12 in his exposition of giftedness.  Paul believed this implicitly, and so must we!

And, of course, we know that Jesus tells us that ministry done in secret is rewarded by God.  So don’t disparage yourself or others if your ministry is behind-the-scenes or in the background.

Epaphroditus was remarkable.  He held himself responsible to God by the same standard of faithfulness that Paul used for himself.  No wonder Paul singled the young man out as an example to the church in Philippi, where so many were looking out for themselves rather than others.  Epaphroditus had put on the mind of Christ, taking on the humble life of an unsung servant.  The Philippians needed to see the young man for the man he was and receive him as such.

As a further motivation to properly welcome Epaphroditus back, Paul mentions Epaphroditus’ homesickness: “For he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (v. 26).

This was not a case of simple longing for a warm bed and some Aegean cuisine.  It was a complex tension going on in Epaphroditus’ heart. Paul had used the same term in the introduction to this letter to describe his own personal longing for the Philippians “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:8).

But what really distressed Epaphroditus was not the fact that he had been so ill, but the knowledge that news had gotten back to Philippi of how desperately sick he was.  He was distressed because he feared they were distressed.

This may be difficult to understand in this day of cell phones when while in England I can call a friend and have him answer on his cell as he walks out of a restaurant in France!  However, longtime missionary families understand Epaphroditus well and can tell you of quite different days when it took weeks to communicate.

How intensely Epaphroditus mentally suffered is seen in that the only other use of the Greek word here translated “distressed” is used to describe Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:33).

The young man agonized as he imagined the prayers that were being offered for him by his brothers and sisters in the church.  Some of them, he knew, had lost sleep over his plight.  How he longed for them to know he was okay.

What a sympathetic, empathetic soul Epaphroditus was!  Again, the young man was like Christ in his lack of self-interest and focus upon others. “You Philippians, receive him properly.”

If that wasn’t enough to convince them to give him a good welcome, Paul adds, “Indeed he was ill, near to death.  But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27).

The gravity of Epaphroditus’ trauma was such that it suggests that his fellow travelers had given up hope that he would live.  Again the example of Christlike servanthood is repeated.  Just as Christ had died as a servant, just as Paul had faced death serving the gospel, so Epaphroditus had come near to death in Christ’s service.

So here again is a good example of Christ-mindedness.

Examples of Self-Giving Service for the Joy of Faith, part 2 (Philippians 2:19-24)

Throughout Paul’s letter to the Philippians he has been encouraging them to adopt the mindset and attitudes that would lead to unity.  It seems that some interpersonal conflict was in danger of spreading and causing strife within the Philippian church.

In chapter 2, after encouraging the Philippians to give up rivalry, conceit, griping and arguing, he puts forth several examples of men who “did it right,” men who were worthy of emulation.  First, Paul reminded them of how Jesus Himself had given up the true glory and rightful authority of being God in heaven, to take on a human nature in order to serve and sacrifice for us sinners.  Paul goes on in this chapter to indicate how he was doing the same for their behalf (2:16b-17) and finally he turns to the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Here is what he says about them:

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Notice how they both served and sacrificed for the sake of others.  It is this other-centered, willingness-to-sacrifice attitude that Paul was confronting them with, urging them to follow these examples.

So Paul gave them a description of the submissive mind in the example of Jesus Christ (vv. 6-8), explained the dynamics of a submissive mind in his own experience (vv. 16b-17) and now introduces us to two more examples.  Warren Wiersbe points out that it was necessary for Paul to add these two examples, because he knew his readers might be prone to claim: “It’s impossible for us to follow such examples as Christ and Paul!  After all, Jesus is the very Son of God and Paul is a chosen apostle who has had great spiritual experiences.”

You might feel the same way.  Thus, Paul introduces them to the attitudes of two “ordinary saints” who were unspectacular and normal.  Just like us.

“He wanted us to know that the submissive mind is not a luxury enjoyed by a chosen few; it is a necessity for Christian joy, and an opportunity for all believers” (Warren Wiersbe).

Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24)

Apparently Timothy was a favorite of the Philippians, and Paul deems it necessary to explain to them why he had not already sent Timothy.

Paul probably met Timothy on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6ff), at which time, perhaps, the young man was converted (1 Cor. 4:17).  Apparently, Timothy’s mother and grandmother had converted first (2 Tim. 1:3-5) and they had quite a positive influence on Timothy’s conversion and beginning discipleship (2 Tim. 3:14-17).

Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father, but Paul always considered this young man his own “dearly beloved son” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2).  When Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra while on his second missionary journey, he enlisted young Timothy as one of his fellow laborers (Acts 16:1-4).

Apparently Timothy took the place once held by John Mark, whom Paul had refused to take on this second missionary journey because of Mark’s previous abandonment to the cause (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41).

Paul begins with Timothy: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you” (v.19).

Remember, Paul is under arrest in Rome.  And as always with Paul, there is no presumption in his planning as he hopes “in the Lord Jesus” to send Timothy their way.

This is not a glib cliché.  This is the way Paul lived, as other outtakes from his letters make clear: “if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19) and “if the Lord permits” (16:7) — Deo volenti.

It is Paul’s way of saying, “If it be the Lord’s will.”  It shows that he did not make decisions based simply on common sense or on what he thought was best, but he submitted everything to the Lord and His will.

When he mentions how Epaphroditus got well from his illness, he doesn’t say, “Thank goodness he got better!” but rather, “God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but also on me.”

When he instructs the church to welcome Epaphroditus, he tells them to “receive him in the Lord with all joy.”  Clearly, the Lord was the focal point, source and goal of all of Paul’s life and ministry.

Paul bows to God’s will, but at the same time he longs for Timothy to make that round-trip to Philippi and back to Rome because he felt sure that cheerful, heartening news would be coming from Philippi as the Philippians read his letter and took it to heart.

Paul deeply loved this little church, as he said in the introduction of this letter: “I hold you in my heart . . . how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (cf. 1:7, 9).  As a result, Paul had hitched his emotions to the ups and downs of the church.

Certainly the apostle was a happy man, but his was not an unclouded happiness.  The ministry brought new joys, but with those joys there were also new sorrows.

As he had earlier written to the Corinthians, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:28, 29).

Similarly, he wrote to the Thessalonians, “When I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

Paul’s heart rose and fell with his people.  His greatest pains were heart pains over his people.  But his greatest joys were heart palpitations over their advances.  Paul anticipated that news from the Philippians would do his heart good.

The reason Paul wanted to send Timothy is clear in verses 20-21:

20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Timothy’s heart for others was unique—there was “no one like him” in this way among the Roman believers and other compatriots of Paul.  Literally Paul said, “I have no one equal in soul.”  He was truly a “kindred spirit,” one whose heart beat like Paul’s—a heart that was truly tied to the welfare of others.

What Paul means, then, is that Timothy has the same love and concern for the Philippians as he himself does.  They are “equal-souled” in their concern for the welfare of the Philippians and the furtherance of the cause of Christ.

This seems an astonishing statement, but the rest of what Paul said will make it clear.  Paul’s assessment was that there was no one like Timothy “who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” — that is, one who, when he arrived on the scene in Philippi, would give the active interest and practical care that Paul desired be shown—the kind of care he himself would give them if he were present with them.

The word translated “genuinely” here in v. 20, “genuinely concerned,” is the word gnesios.

The related adjective gnesios occurs four times.  It can refer to children born in wedlock, i.e., they are legitimate and “genuine” children.  It is also used to qualify teaching as being genuine or accurate, and love as pure and sincere (2 Cor 8:8).

Interestingly enough, it is used by Paul in 1 Tim 1:2 and Titus 1:4 to refer to Timothy and Titus as “true” sons (of the apostle) in the faith (cf. Phil 4:3).  Though the stress in Phil 2:20 is on the idea of sincerity, Hawthorne is probably correct to note that the root idea of “legitimate children” should not be overlooked.  Thus Timothy is genuinely interested in the Philippians because he is a genuine son of Paul, and thus “equal-souled.”

Timothy is genuinely concerned for others.

Ironically, the very self-centeredness that Paul had just warned the Philippians about in 2:4 (“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others”) was part of everyday life in Rome —“They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v. 21).

It is said that when Henrietta Mears, one of the most effective American Christian educators of the twentieth century, would walk into a room, each person often had the feeling that she was saying to him or her, “Where have you been?  I’ve been looking all over for you.”

Miss Mears’s genuine concern for others marked and elevated a whole generation of remarkable leaders.

Timothy stood in stark contrast to others there in Rome, who “all seek after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”  This must be a general statement.  Paul had many fellow workers whose commitment to Jesus Christ was complete at this time, one of whom was Epaphroditus. Paul would commend him shortly (vv. 25-30).

More likely Paul had in mind those believers in Rome who were so engrossed in promoting them own ministries (Phil. 1:15-16) that they had no time for the real work of the Lord.  In contrast, Timothy served with Paul in the furtherance of the gospel (2:22). Christ and the gospel were at the center of Timothy’s life.

Like Timothy, we also live in an age of unprecedented self, of weightless souls consumed with their own gravity.  And today many Christians actually believe that it is “Christian” to pursue self-fulfillment as an ultimate goal in life.  It is often believed that salvation is all about me, rather than about God.

But Timothy’s example trumps such self-delusion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.  God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.  We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible.  When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised [in] our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done.

It is a strange fact that Christians frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them.  They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s “Crooked yet straight path.”  They do not want a life that is crossed and balked.  But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1954), p. 99)

The Philippians were well aware of Timothy’s worth, having observed him serving with Paul, and developing their own affection for him.  So Paul says…

22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

Warren Wiersbe notes:

“The submissive mind is not the product of an hour’s sermon, or a week’s seminar, or even a year’s service. The submissive mind grows in us as, like Timothy, we yield to the Lord and seek to serve others.”

Timothy had a track record of observable worth in the gospel ministry.  Paul did not add him to the team on his first missionary journey, but left him in Derbe and Lystra where he grew in his faith and got involved in ministry so that when Paul returned years later young Timothy was “well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2).

Timothy had served as Paul’s envoy to Macedonia a decade earlier (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Acts 17:14; 18:5; 19:22), to Corinth on several occasions (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10), and also to Ephesus (cf. 1 Timothy 1:2ff.).

Hawthorne observes, “Timothy was a young man with exceptional potential for missionary statesmanship and church leadership.”

  • He is left behind in Berea to continue the work after Paul is forced to leave because of threats against his life (Acts 17:14).
  • During a time of persecution he is sent to Thessalonica to strengthen the believers in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
  • He is sent to Macedonia from Ephesus with a similar mission (Acts 19:22).
  • He is sent as Paul’s emissary to bring teaching and healing to the troubled church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17-21).
  • He is apparently sent to Philippi and perhaps returns with a monetary gift from that church for Paul (Philippians 2:19; 4:15-16; Acts 18:5).
  • He is instructed how to appoint elders and deacons in the churches (1 Timothy 3).
  • He accompanies Paul on his last trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
  • He is at his side during his imprisonment.

So Paul is referring to more than 10 years of ministry side-by-side in the spreading of the gospel.

Harry Ironside noted:

“Youth is often exceedingly energetic, and impatient of restraint.  Age is inclined, perhaps, to be over-cautious and slow in coming to conclusions, and it often is a great difficulty for two, so wide apart in years as Paul and Timothy, to labor together happily.  But where the younger man manifests the spirit that was in Timothy, and the elder seeks only the glory of God and the blessing of His people, such fellowship in service becomes indeed blessed.” (51)

Furthermore, his devotion to the Apostle Paul was remark-able: “as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (v. 22b). Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father because Timothy, like so many others, had come to Christ under Paul’s ministry.

In vv. 23-24 Paul indicates that he would be sending Timothy to them as a gift, but that this meant a sacrifice on his part, again for their sakes.

23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

The Philippians had always been generous with Paul (see Philippians 4:14-16), and now Paul wishes to be generous with them.  His “gifts” to this church are Epaphroditus and Timothy.  Paul is here telling the Philippians that he is sending them the best gift that he has to give.

Paul’s gift of Timothy to the Philippians is at Paul’s expense.  How easy it would have been for Paul to ask Timothy to stay there with him, at his side, to minister to him.  Instead, Paul indicates an eagerness to send Timothy as soon as possible.

We must remember that Paul was being confined until the outcome of his trial was over.  Men like Timothy and Epaphroditus were Paul’s hands and feet.  They did for him what he could not do himself.  To send men like this away is something like a blind man loaning his Seeing Eye dog to a friend.

However, as much as they desired a visit from Paul or Timothy, Paul would be sending Epaphroditus back to them at this time.  They were not to think of Epaproditus as “second rate,” however, as Paul will explain in vv. 25-30.

On the contrary, Paul considered him his “brother,” “fellow-worker,” “fellow-soldier,” and “their apostle and servant” (2:25).  Indeed, they were to honor men like him because of his work in the gospel on their behalf which almost cost him his life (2:27-30).

Examples of Self-Giving Service for the Joy of Faith, part 1 (Philippians 2:16b-18)

Throughout Paul’s letter to the Philippians Paul has been encouraging them to pursue unity, and the primary attitude that fuels unity is self-abasing humility, which allows us to listen to and find common ground with others.  Early in chapter 2 Paul pointed to the ultimate example of humility in Jesus Christ, that although He really was fully divine, He cloaked Himself with humanity, became both a servant to others and a sacrifice for others.  That kind of attitude should percolate within the minds and hearts of every believer.

Having focused on Christ’s example, Paul exhorted the Philippians to “work out” their corporate salvation by not griping and arguing against one another.  He then ends this chapter by pointing out three other examples of self-abasing, self-giving men who were worthy of honor and imitation…Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. 19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Today we’re going to look at Paul’s example of humility, expressed in vv. 16-18.

Paul speaks of his ministry among them using three metaphors, ones that he uses often:

  1. Running a race
  2. Working a project
  3. Sacrificial worship

Paul’s ministry among the Philippians was first of all like “running” a race.  This is a metaphor that Paul uses of his own spiritual life, most particularly in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Philippians 3:12-14 and 2 Timothy 4:7, but it also a metaphor for his ministry among others (cf. also 2 Timothy 2:5).

Paul wanted to run the race in a way that he would win the prize, the crown, the imperishable stephanos, “in the day of Christ,” or at the judgment seat of Christ.  Winning requires agonizing training (1 Corinthians 9:25), straining towards the finish line (Philippians 2:14) and playing by all the rules (2 Timothy 2:5).

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 the potential of winning is dependent primarily upon one’s own diligent efforts.  But here in Philippians the potential of winning is tied to whether others were running well.  It’s like a relay race which is won through the combined efforts of several.  Paul had run well, but he was passing the baton to the Philippians and wasn’t sure they were going to run well.

In 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul says, “So I do not run aimlessly…”  He did not run recreationally, but with a clear purpose.  He wanted to win!  But what did a win look like as far as his ministry?  His goal is declared in such passages as Colossians 1:28, “to present everyone mature in Christ” and Galatians 4:19, “until Christ is formed in you.”

Paul’s aim for the Philippians and all his converts is that they would display greater and greater likeness to Jesus Christ.  For the Philippians that particularly meant living with humble, other-centered attitudes, as illustrated in the example of Jesus in vv. 5-8.

It would be possible for Paul to “run in vain,” not so much with regard to his own personal life, but with regard to the Philippians’ lack of imitation of Christ in this way.  If they persisted in conflict, entrenched in their own ways, allowing that conflict to divide them, then Paul feels like his race among them would have been for nothing, that all his efforts would have been ultimately useless.

The idea that his work might somehow end up to be in vain was a troublesome thought to him, as it would be to any serious pastor.

This is the true heart of a shepherd: to have few burdens for one’s self, but many for others; to not be content with one’s own relationship with God, but also longing to see others walking with the Lord.

Paul enriches this metaphor with one drawn from Isaiah.  In Isaiah 49:4 the Servant of the Lord expresses dismay that he appears to “have labored to no purpose,” to “have spent [his] strength in vain for nothing”; but he also expresses his confidence that his reward is in the Lord’s hands.  Later the prophet promises that in the final day, when God creates new heavens and a new earth, his people “will not toil in vain (Isa. 65:23).

This second metaphor of laboring may call to mind that we labor like a farmer, faithfully planting the seed of God’s Word into people’s hearts through preaching and teaching, hoping that it will be fruitful.

Jesus told His disciples that fruitfulness depended upon the condition of the soil, or the condition of a person’s heart.  Some hearts are hard and will not receive the Word of God; others are shallow and while they show initial excitement, eventually wither away under persecution; then there are those who could have borne fruit but their lives were so filled with cares and comforts of this world.  Only a few, Jesus said, would hear the Word and bear fruit in their lives.

Paul draws upon this imagery in Galatians 6 when he says…

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Sowing seeds and harvesting crops require a lot of hard work.  It is easy to get discouraged.  It is easy to grow weary of doing good and give up.  But God wants us to realize that although we may not reap today, we will eventually reap and we will only reap what we sow.  So we have to be careful what we sow.

It is also possible that the laboring metaphor came from Paul’s experience as a tent weaver.  In that context, hard work, resulting in being able to hand over a finished product, meant what we would call a “paycheck.”

Laboring in vain would be like putting all your effort into a superior or artistic product and having it rejected as badly woven.

Both metaphors stress not so much the honor and dignity of the apostolic calling, but rather the need to toil and take pains to reach full potential.  Paul was putting his heart and soul, his energy and endurance, into making sure they would fully work out their corporate salvation and be a loving, united congregation.

Was all of that in vain?

Paul had sown the seeds of gospel joy into the hearts of the Philippians.  Many of them had come to faith in Christ, but the full fruitfulness of the gospel—expressed in humility and others-centeredness—was in danger of not appearing and Paul felt that his labor might have been in vain.

Paul wanted to hear a “well done” with regard to his ministry among the Philippians when he stood before God’s tribunal.  So he is expressing his desire by reminding them just how much energy and hard labor he had poured into their growth.

The third image that Paul uses is the pouring out of a drink offering as a sacrifice to God.

17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

This may be a reference to his own death, which would turn out to be a few years later, but he did not know that at this time.  Or it could simply point out his sufferings.

Paul uses the exact phrase again in 2 Timothy 4:6, where he says, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”

It was possible that Paul’s trial would go against him and he would be executed.  But this did not rob Paul of his joy.  His death would be a willing sacrifice, a priestly ministry, on behalf of Christ and His church, and this would give him joy.

The grammar of I am being poured out is in the present tense.  With this Paul indicated either the possibility that his execution may be imminent, or that his sufferings for them were ongoing.

Here Paul compares his present life to the pouring out of a “drink offering” in Israel’s worship (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6; Num. 15:1-10; Num. 28:4-7).  After the priest offered a lamb, a ram, or a bull as a burnt offering, he poured wine beside the altar.

This was the last act in the sacrificial ceremony, all of which symbolized the dedication of the believer to God in worship.  The pouring out of the wine pictured the gradual ebbing away of Paul’s life, that had been a living sacrifice (cf. Rom. 12:1) to God since his conversion.

The ancient Greek word translated service is leutrogia.  It meant, “Service to God or His cause… any priestly action or sacred performance” (Muller).  Therefore, in this verse we have a sacrifice, a priest, and an accompanying libation that makes the sacrifice even more precious.

Since the sacrifice and service were connected with the faith of the Philippians, it is best to see Paul’s picture describing them as the “priests” and their faith as the “sacrifice,” to which Paul added (and thereby enriched) his martyrdom as a drink offering.

Gerald Hawthorne writes:

“To the degree that his sufferings are for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the church in general, and for the sake of the church at Philippi in particular, they act as a seal on whatever sacrificial service the Philippians may make, just as a libation completes the offering made to God.”

The purpose of all Paul did among them and all his sufferings was for their “faith.”  He wanted them to fully trust God and His promises so that they would fully experience the spiritual blessings and empowerments available to them.

Paul wasn’t suffering for himself.  He was suffering for their sake, to help their faith develop.

So Paul is expressing his confidence in the Philippians, that they would offer their bodies as living sacrifices through faith, and his sufferings would seal theirs.  He was also confident that whatever he (and they) suffered now, would result in greater reward in heaven.

Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4:8-18

8 We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. 11 For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. 12 As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, I believed; therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. 14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:8-18, emphasis mine).

And that is what leads Paul to express his joy.  Literally he said, “I rejoice and co-rejoice with you all.”  Could his ministry among them be in vain?  Yes.  But Paul expresses an even greater confidence that the Philippians would respond to his exhortations to humility and unity and that ultimately his ministry would not have been in vain.

Notice that Paul said in verse 17, “I am glad and rejoice with you all.”  This means they were already rejoicing, at least somewhat.  Paul wants to encourage more.

John Piper notes:

What are they rejoicing in?  He just said, he “poured out” his life for their “faith.”  How does Paul think about the relationship of their faith and their joy?

Here is what he said in Philippians 1:25.  Though he is in prison, he expects there to be a season of life to minister to the Philippians, and he describes it like this: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith [literally: joy of faith].”  For Paul, joy and faith are inseparable.  When you have saving faith, you have tasted the joy that belongs to faith — the joy of faith.

The sacrifices and sufferings that Paul expresses in these three metaphors are marks of the submissive mind that was present in Christ’s example back in vv. 7-8 and it will be present in the examples of Timothy (vv. 21-22) and Epaphroditus (v. 30) as well.  Through these consistent examples of the same humble, other-centered, self-giving love Paul was encouraging the Philippians to adopt the same.

And God was working in the Philippians to give them the same desire and then the power to live that way in their relationships with each other.

So Paul invites them to join his double-dose of joy with a double-dip of their own: “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (v. 18).

The Philippians would not “rejoice” over the prospect of Paul’s death, of course, but over the knowledge that they, as Paul, had offered themselves as acceptable sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1).  The apostle urged them not to sorrow over their own trials and his, but to rejoice as they worked out their own salvation, adopting his attitude toward their situation in life and believing in God’s present and future grace.

Paul has just said that his joy was the joy of being poured out for the sake of their faith — the joy of dying so that they could have the joy of faith.  And now Paul says, rejoice with me as I die for your joy of faith.

Piper again says:

Ten verses later, Paul is going to say that his precious friend Epaphroditus almost died for Paul.  And he said, “But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Philippians 2:27).  Paul would have wept if Epaphroditus had died.  But he would not have stopped rejoicing in Epaphroditus’s joy in dying for Paul.  We know this because in 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul says he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

So there are three facets of the diamond of Christian joy in Philippians 2:17–18.  Let me name them in the order that they actually occur in life:

    1. The joy of faith (verse 17, at the end).
    2. The joy of pouring out your life for the sake of the joy of faith (verse 17, at the beginning).  There is no Christian mission without the surrender of safety.
    3. The rejoicing with those who joyfully die for the sake of other people’s joy (verse 18).

This threefold joy is an invincible force in global missions.

Conquering Complaining: From Whining to Shining, part 2 (Philippians 2:14-16a)

Philippians is an epistle which emphasizes joy.  One of the things that brought Paul great joy was his relationship with the Philippians.  However, at least some of the people in the church there were fighting.

Conflict is a very common problem in any relationship.  Whenever you get two people together, there is friction.  Add more people, and you get more conflict.  Every family is a testimony to that.

Paul, throughout this short epistle, directs the attention of the Philippian congregation to those mindsets and attitudes that lead to unity and thus “work out their common salvation.”  He takes great lengths to help them see the presence and value of humility in the life of Jesus, and then will later point out the same in himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus.  On the other hand, Paul also points out that the inner attitude of “grumbling” and its verbal cohort “arguing” will only lead to deeper conflicts.

In Philippians 2:14-18 Paul wrote:

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Today we’re going to focus on verse 15.  All that Paul has been saying from v. 27 of chapter 1 has been leading up to verse 15.  It is the goal or purpose of living a life of humility and unity…

15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

All that Paul has been commanding in this chapter (2:3-4, 12-14) all lead up to this one purpose—that (hina) they might become (genesthe) better people than they are—that they might grow up.

Whereas what was characterizing their lives was assertiveness (“rivalry,” eritheia, v. 3), conceit (kenodoxia, v. 3), grumbling and argumentativeness (v. 14), it was still possible for them to become “blameless,” “innocent” and “without blemish.”

How?  How is that possible?

Well, it is because they were “children of God.”  Yes, everything else around them was “crooked and twisted,” but that is not what formed them or secured their ultimate destiny.  Instead, God was working in them “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

As they cooperated with God’s work within them,  instead of being conformed to the “crooked and twisted generation” around them, they would be transformed into people whose lives were blameless, innocent and without blemish, shining as lights in a dark world.

That word “blameless” comes from the verb memphesthai, along with a negative prefixed to it, so it means to “stand above accusation or blame.”  The word could apply to standing before God or men.  It means that people have no grounds upon which to incriminate or criticize us.

That’s a pretty high standard.

The word “innocent” here comes from the verb kerannumi, along with the negative prefixed to it, meaning, “unnmixed.”  It was used to describe undiluted wine or unalloyed metal; in other words something that was pure through and through without impurities, or something that was simple rather than fragmented.

This word occurs only three times in New Testament.  In Matt 10:16 Jesus wants the disciples to be as wise as serpents and as “innocent” as doves.  In Romans 16:19 Paul says that he wants the Romans to be wise about what is good and “innocent” about what is evil.

Taken together, these two words would describe a person against whom no criticism or blame could stick.

Both of them call them away from the selfish behaviors of rivalry, conceit, grumbling and arguing.

If the Philippians continue to grumble and complain they will give occasion for outsiders to find fault with them and their gospel.

The “purity” that Paul has in mind in Philippians is broad and covers every area of their lives, but it specifically has in focus the need to refrain from in-fighting and divisive behavior.

Paul’s final descriptive phrase here is “faultless.”  This was a word used to describe the perfect sacrifice, that had nothing broken and no blemish.  Only such unblemished animals were used for sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19).  Thus, when “spotless” or “holy” (Romans 12:1), we can present ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to God.

The phrase “faultless children of God surrounded by a crooked and perverse people” (v. 15b) actually comes from Deuteronomy 32:5, but in that case it was Israel, the children of God, who were in fact “blemished” and “crooked and perverse.”

Paul meant that modern Christians should not be like rebellious Israel, who were constantly complaining and disputing with God during the wilderness sojourn.

In Deuteronomy 32:5, in the song of Moses, in referring to the grumbling and unbelief of the children of Israel in the wilderness, Moses says, “They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation.”

Paul turns that around and says that we are God’s children, living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and thus we must be careful not to grumble and dispute, as Israel did in the wilderness, because as God’s people we are supposed to shine forth in this dark world as lights, holding forth to people the word of life, the gospel of Christ.

Paul adds here that these things are to be true even in the difficult environment of living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

But how is this even possible?  All of us know we are far from blameless, pure and spotless.  All of us know how difficult it is to live above the pull of the world around us.

What chance do we, in this life at least, have of being blameless, pure and spotless?

The key is found in the words “children of God.”  Because we are born of God as His children, we will exhibit His character more and more throughout life, just like a young child begins to show the physical characteristics of its mother and father.

Through regeneration God gifts us with a new nature, a nature aligned with his.  1 John 3:9 says…

9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

John is not saying that Christians never sin again, but that they don’t “make a practice of sinning.”  They keep short accounts with God.  Whenever we sin, we confess our sins and renew our repentance.

This new nature within us inclines us towards righteousness.  The old nature inclined us towards sin.  It was exceedingly hard to keep from sinning then.  But now we have a new nature and that new nature is inclined towards righteousness.  When Christ lives His perfectly righteous life through us, then we will be blameless, pure and spotless.

Notice that 1 John 3:9 emphasizes that the reason we don’t go on sinning is because “God’s seed abides in him” and “he has been born of God.”  Just like children take on the physical characteristics of their parents, so we will begin more and more to take on the spiritual and moral characteristics of our heavenly Father.

When we live in that new nature we will “shine as lights in the world,” in that “crooked and twisted generation.”  The concept here is not merely “light,” the shining luminescence which projects from a star, but the “lights” themselves, the heavenly bodies.

God isn’t calling us to give, or do, something that we are not equipped for.  Our very nature now is “light,” and He is merely calling us to live up to what we already are.

Jesus, who came as the Light of the World (John 8:12), told His disciples that they were the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  We shine because Jesus, the light, lives in us.

Impure lives will shade, or hide, the light.  Paul wanted his readers to bear a strong witness, rather than having their light shaded by sin or uncleanness (cf. Matt. 5:15-16).

Back in Matthew 5 Jesus had said:

14 “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Light is our new nature, where once darkness reigned.

Paul may also have had Daniel 12:3 in mind…

3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Thomas Constable relates:

I read about a woman who felt very much alone at her place of employment because she was the only Christian.  To make matters worse, she was often ridiculed for her faith and accused of being narrow-minded.  Finally, she became so discouraged that she considered quitting her job.  Before doing that, however, she sought the counsel of her pastor.  After listening to her complaints, the minister asked, “Where do people usually put lights?”

“In dark places,” she replied.  No sooner had the words passed her lips than she realized how her answer applied to her own life.  She quickly recognized that her place of work was indeed a “dark place” where “light” was vitally needed, so she decided to stay where she was and become a stronger influence for Christ.  It was not long before a number of her fellow employees—13 of them, in fact—came to know Christ as their Savior.

God has placed you in a dark place, in a crooked and twisted generation, where indecency, immorality and inhumanity rule the day, or the night.  The words crooked and twisted speak of being perverse and deformed, as we know this world to be.

But He has made you to be a light, to shine in the darkness.  When we live out what God is working in us, we will shine in a darkened world.

There are typically four ways that we can respond to the dark, twisted, perverted world around us:

  • We can isolate ourselves into little holy huddles and have very little contact with the world.
  • We can indulge ourselves in the world and become just like those around us.
  • We can incinerate lost people with our judgmental words and behaviors.
  • Or we can illuminate the darkness by shining with righteous lives and sharing God’s Word.

Have you ever seen the Northern lights?

It is a stunning display of beauty made from highly charged particles of energy in a cloud known as a solar wind.  As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth’s magnetic field, some particles collide with the gases of the ionosphere and begin to glow.

According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, “These particles then collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere, thereby exciting the molecules and causing them to emit electromagnetic radiation in the visible portion of the spectrum.”

In order to have a positive impact upon the culture around us and shine our light, we have to “collide” with citizens of the earth, bump into them and excite them about the truth.  As Joe Aldrich liked to say, “Evangelism is what spills over when you bump into someone.”

According to Isaiah 42:6-7 and 49:6, this is what ancient Israel was supposed to do, to be a light among the Gentiles so that God’s salvation might be brought “to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).

But they failed in the task, becoming like the crooked and twisted peoples around them.

The Philippians, and now you and me, have inherited this vocation.  And we live up to it by living out of our new nature, rather than in indulging our old selfish nature.

Grumbling and arguing is not attractive.  Neither are being judgmental and uncaring about people whose behavior we don’t agree with.

1 Peter 2:12 says,

12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Not only are we to work on our speech and our shining, but we are to work from the Scriptures.

Verse 16 says…

16 holding fast to the word of life,

The “word of life” is the objective truth.  While our subjective lives give some light, it is the Scriptures themselves that have the greater potential to open blinded eyes.

“Holding fast” translates a word that means hold your position or hold your gaze.  In 1 Timothy 4:16, it’s translated, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.”  In Acts 3:5, it’s translated, “He fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.”  In Acts 19:22, it’s translated, “Paul himself stayed (held his place) in Asia for a while.”

So the idea is holding fast with your attention or with your person. Holding your gaze, or holding your position. So now back to Philippians 2:15: “you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”  Holding your gaze on the word of life. Holding your position with the word of life.  Not leaving the word of life.  Staying with the word of life.  Fixing your mind on the word of life.  Giving yourself to the word of life.

We grow tired too quickly.  We grow weary in doing good.  We read God’s Word and truthfully sometimes we get nothing out of it.  But we have to stay with it.  We have to abide in truth.

Along with our nature as being lights, the Word of God provides light which in turn gives life.

The way you shine as lights in a dark culture is by holding fast to the word.  Hold your gaze on it.   Stay with it.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  We’re not leaving your word.  We’re staying with you and your words.  We’re holding our position here.  We’re holding our attention on your word.  This is life.

We cannot shine in this dark world unless we hold fast to the truth of God’s word.  His word brings life in a dead world, a dead culture.

Don’t let go of the word of life.  You need it; a lost world needs it.

Conquering Complaining: From Whining to Shining, part 1 (Philippians 2:14)

Grumbling and complaining, isn’t that the order of the day?  We, who live in one of the greatest nations in history, gripe and complain at the slightest inconvenience.

Someone has said…

“Some people are always grumbling; if they had been born in the Garden of Eden, they would have found much to complain of.”

In fact, someone has said:

God created the world in six days.

On the seventh day, He rested.

On the eighth day, He started getting complaints.

There is a poem that starts like this…

I knew a man whose name was Horner
Who used to live in grumble corner;
Grumble corner in crosspatch town
And he never was seen without a frown.

He grumbled at this, and he grumbled at that,
He growled at the dog. He growled at the cat. [sounds like Dr. Seuss wrote this]
He grumbled at morning. He grumbled at night,
And to grumble and growl was his chief delight.

He grumbled so much at his wife that she
Began to grumble as well as he.
And all the children, wherever they went,
Reflected their parents’ discontent.

That’s one thing about grumbling, it spreads.  People have a ready ear for griping and love to pass it on.

Mary Bachelor was that kind of chronic complainer.  She was a minister’s daughter, and a housekeeper and helper to her brother, who also was a clergyman.  Day after day she unloaded her troubles on him.  One evening, as they were talking together, she finally realized what she was doing to him.  Turning to the window in remorse, she saw some tall poplar trees framing the setting sun and casting their shadows across the lawn.  I’m like those trees to my brother, she thought.  I’m always casting shadows.  Why don’t I bury my sorrows by leaving them with Jesus?  She went to her room and found relief in tears, after which she wrote these lines:

Go bury your sorrow, the world has its share;

Go bury it deeply, go hide it with care;

Go think of it calmly, when curtained by night;

Go tell it to Jesus, and all will be right.

That’s what we ought to do…give it to Jesus.

Grumbling is a common problem.  We all do it at times.  Some people do it incessantly.  Sometimes I think it is one of our favorite pastimes.  In fact, in some churches it is the most loved thing to do after the worship services.  There’s always something to complain about.

One of the passages I often read to my hospice patients is Psalm 103.  The first two verses state:

“Bless the Lord O my soul, let all that is within me bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits.”  Then the last verse of that Psalm also says, “Bless the Lord O my soul.”

You will notice there that David is talking to himself.  He’s talking to his own soul and directing his soul what to do—to bless the Lord, to remember what good things God has done and thank Him.

Griping and complaining, they come quite naturally.  We don’t have to remind ourselves to do that.  But we do have to commonly challenge our souls to give thanks to God.

Well, Paul speaks to that issue in our study of the book of Philippians chapter 2.

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

First of all, in v. 14, Paul directs us to work on our speech.  Our speech reflects our heart.

Paul has just told them to “work out your salvation” and that is a corporate command.  He ended the previous section by saying that God works for “good pleasure,” both His and ours.  When God is continually working for our good, what logic is it to complain?

Paul commands us to “do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Which will be stated positively in verse 18, “rejoice and be glad.”

Now Paul’s mention of murmuring and questioning conjures up the pathetic grousing and whining of ancient Israel in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:12).  And his words are intentionally vivid.

The word “grumbling” is goggusmos, which is an onomatopoeic word that sounds like what it means.  This is a word that expresses displeasure either internally through murmuring or externally through whisperings to someone.

Although the word doesn’t occur regularly in the New Testament, it did occur very frequently in the Greek translation of the Hebrew narratives about Israel’s years of wandering in the desert.

This word was used in Acts 6:1, where it is translated with the word “complaint.”

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

Even the idyllic early church had its share of grumblings.

Of course, in that context, the complaints led to something positive being done.  I don’t think Paul is saying that any voice of dissent should be silenced.  There are times (and ways) to disagree and dialogue and ask questions.

I don’t think Paul is trying to stop the free exchange of ideas in love and a spirit of unity. He’s not so much against disagreement as disagreeableness.

It would seem to me that grumbling often begins with one (or just a few) malcontents, who gain a hearing, and whose grumbling multiplies.  This takes place until sufficient “support” has been generated, and then leadership is confronted.

An illustration of this may be seen in the New Testament when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume.  In Mark’s Gospel (14:1-9), we are simply told that “they” murmured against her.  But in John 12:4-6, we are told that it was Judas who first raised the objection.

Putting all the details of the Gospel accounts together, we can see that Judas was the first grumbler, and that he soon had stirred up the others, so that they joined with him in his grumbling.  Grumbling is indeed contagious.

Again, what Paul is speaking to is the attitudes of the Philippians which are leading to disunity.  Jesus was an example of someone to subdued his selfish desires and gave himself for others, without a complaint.

Grumbling is not denying pain or difficulty or suffering or even disagreement, but grumbling is a mindset that focuses almost entirely on the negative.

Two characters in literature that seem to have a problem with grumbling are A. A. Milne’s Eeyore—who thought everything could go wrong and he could count on it.  He could cover the sun with clouds.  Remember his “it’s my birthday, but nobody noticed”?

Then there is C. S. Lewis’ Marshwiggle in his story, The Silver Chair.  When he sets out with the two children to rescue the lost prince, he says, “We can count on it.  We will get lost.  We will start to attack each other.  We will probably end up killing each other.  There is no way we can succeed in this venture anyway.”

Grumbling stays focused on the negative and isn’t willing to look at the positive.  It believes the bad news even when others are trying to open their eyes to good news.

When we look back at ancient Israel, we find that grumbling not only sabotaged their future (they died in the wilderness), but it tends to falsify the past.  Israel actually told themselves that they had had better days in Egypt!

The other word here, translated “questioning” in the English Standard Version, is dialogismos.  While we get the word “dialogue” from this word, in this context it means “disputings” or “arguings.”

The first of these words (“grumbling”) looks at the initial activity, and the second (“disputing”), what results from the first (cf. 1 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:2; 4:2).

While grumbling can be kept internal (to ourselves), disputations are definitely between two people.

Arguing happens when grumbling spills over into our conversations.  We first look at things negatively, then we want to argue about it with others.  In our misery we want others to comply to our complaints.

Max Lucado tells of a man who came home one day and immediately his wife started complaining which led to an intense argument.  Arriving at 6:30 in the evening, he spent an hour trying to make things right.  Nothing worked.  Finally, he said, “Let’s start over and pretend I’m just getting home.”  He stepped outside and when he opened the door, she said, “It’s 7:30 and you’re just now getting home!”

She found something new to gripe about.

When you have a heart that is focused on the negative, then it is easy to go on the attack.  Grumbling can often be detected by the pronouns we choose to use.  If you are saying, “he” or “she” or “they” more than “we” and us” you are probably a grumbler.

If you are using “you” statements more than “I” statements, then you are arguing.

Throughout this epistle Paul has been emphasizing humility, which puts others needs ahead of our own.  Notice in these passages how pride leads to arguing.

Proverbs 13:10 says “By insolence [pride] comes nothing but strife…

Galatians 5:26 warns us, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another…”

If grumbling is discontent over not getting what we want; arguing is the attempt to get what we want.

Both are poison to community—to any relationship, the marriage relationship, churches.

Whenever two people get close enough, there will be friction, there will be conflict.  It is a given.  But if we operate from a position of believing the best in others, like 1 Corinthians 13:7 says) and a position of humility—putting others first, then we can deal with our needs and our differences in a more positive way.

Now the first word of verse 14 is “do all things” or “do everything.”  First, notice that the word “do” means that this is work; it will take effort.

Like I said earlier, we don’t have to work at grumbling and arguing, they come quite naturally.  We do have to make a conscious effort to live a life of trust and gratitude that produces better responses than grumbling and arguing.

And secondly, notice the word “all.”  The word order is literally, “all things do without” these two attitudes.  This inclusive word means there really is no place for grumbling and arguing in Christian community.  There are no situations in which grumblings and arguings are commendable.

So how do we stop griping and complaining?  How do we stop arguing with one another?

First, admit that complaining and arguing are sins.  They are not just “bad habits,” but a sin that needs to be put to death.  Oftentimes the most difficult part in learning how to change our complaining is to recognize it and admit it within ourselves.  It’s easy to see in others, but we are often blind to it in ourselves.

Second, accept personal responsibility for your tendency to complain and argue.

Third, work on the attitude of gratitude (1 Thess. 5:18).  Make it a habit of thanking God and others for what they have done and are doing for you.  Look for the positives.

Fourth, identity God’s hand of providence in your negative circumstances.  He is working all things for your good.  When you gripe and complain, you are saying challenging God’s wisdom, doubting God’s grace and forgetting God’s goodness to you.

Fifth, develop a habit of speaking positively, staying focused on the positive.  Just like complaining can be a bad habit, speaking positive, encouraging words can be a new habit.  Be kind and positive, even if you have to force yourself at first.

But what do we do in a circumstance where we have been truly wronged?  Here is where Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15 apply:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

This passage assumes that someone has wronged you or hurt you in some way.

First, we are to keep it to ourselves.  We are not to murmur to others.

Second, we should approach the offender with an attitude of trying to find a positive solution.  We are not aiming to win, but to find a mutually agreeable solution, just like the early church did in Acts 6.

Galatians 6:2 tells us we should go with a meek and humble spirit.

Also, fourth, we should give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe we misinterpreted his or her words or actions.

Fifth, make sure you are quick to hear, meaning that you are willing to listen to their side as well.

Sixth, the next two verses in Matthew tell us not to give up on the other person.  If they don’t respond to your initial confrontation, then bring a witness and try again.

Paul’s prohibition against “complaining or arguing” should be interpreted primarily in light of the interpersonal conflicts that were going on at Philippi.  Paul knew that the unity of the church was a precious and fragile thing and we all have to work at it to keep it.  Christ prayed for it and the Spirit provides it, but we have to maintain it.

Unfortunately, the Philippians, like you and me, were doing those things that generated unfriendliness towards each other.  They were focusing on the negative in their situation and each other and they were more than willing to argue with each other.  These attitudes were stoking the flames of the tensions they already felt towards one another.

Critical, complaining spirits are the historic bane of the church from Philippi to Peoria, Illinois to Philadelphia.  They are found in every culture, like the nineteenth-century Scots who went to church to see if the gospel was preached.  Or today’s McChurch worshippers who leave their church to go down the street to find a church more to their liking.

If we are reading Paul correctly, “do[ing] all things without grumbling or disputing” is a watershed state of the soul.  Those who persist in such murmuring are not obedient to Christ and his gospel and are rejecting the divine call to “work out your own salvation” (v. 12).  They impede their own souls and the souls of their brothers and sisters in this matter.  They are undertows to the Body of Christ.  So if you are one of these people, understand that when you finally stand before your Savior, you will answer with shame.

Our unity is what makes the world sit up and take notice.  When they can see us loving one another despite our differences and forgiving sins committed against one another, it is by far the best example, the shining example, as Paul will say in verse 15, of Christ living in us.

Unfortunately, what the world usually takes notice of is our fighting.  And that grieves the heart of our Lord who prayed for, and died for, our unity.

Spiritual Formation, part 2 (Philippians 2:12-13)

Last week we began looking at this wonderful expression of how we are sanctified—that it is a synergistic cooperation between God’s grace and our determined effort.  We find it in Philippians 2:12-13

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We saw last week that Paul is encouraging them to obey his commands to fight for unity and to live selflessly like Jesus did.  He tells them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” and we saw that this is a determined and continuous action on our part.  We also noted that this is a corporate action.

But what does Paul mean here?

Well, to be clear, Paul is not talking about working for our salvation.  Our justification is complete and secure.  We cannot lose it or improve upon it.  Paul is not telling them to work for their salvation, as if it depended at all upon them.

We should not even consider this as an option, because we know how dogmatic Paul is about the fact that men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works (Romans 3:19-30; Galatians 2:20-21; 3:1-29; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-7).  Paul expects his readers to understand that while we are not saved “by our works,” we are saved “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Rather, Paul is telling them to work out the practical implications of being saved.  He is not saying that there is something deficient with their justification, but that they needed to keep working on their sanctification.  Salvation can be compared to a huge gift that needs to be unwrapped for one’s thorough enjoyment.

We are justified by God entirely as an act of His grace, with absolutely no effort or earning on our part.

Again, this command is plural.  They were not told to work for their salvation but to work out the salvation God had already given them.  Because of the apparent problems of disunity and pride among those believers, this interpretation seems correct.  Some were not doing their work selflessly and with the interests of others ahead of their own (cf. 2:3–4).

A fourth comment on this statement is that it should be done “with fear and trembling,” indicating just how seriously we should take this command.  It is not optional.

Now, we don’t usually associate “fear and trembling” with God’s gracious provision of salvation.  Usually, we consider these words to be more appropriate to the old covenant and God’s wrath against sin.

“Fear and trembling” are words that speak of being “exceedingly afraid” and “quaking with fear.”  These are not tame words!  But then, our God is not a tame God.

The Scriptures call us to love God and to trust God.  But the call to fear God occurs more times in the Scriptures than both of these put together.  Even the New Testament calls us to fear God in passages like 1 Peter 1:15-17; Hebrews 12:28-29; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

But I don’t think Paul is calling us to “work out our salvation” because we are afraid we might lose it.  Rather, we are to fear the possibility that we might lose out on opportunities for growth, on the opportunity to gain rewards, on the possibility we might lose ground spiritually or lose our testimony.

It seems to refer to the idea that we should be afraid that we might miss out on all that God has for us.

I think that basically what Paul is trying to do here is to get us to take our spiritual lives and spiritual growth more seriously than we do.  We need to realize that there is a spiritual battle going on, that people’s eternal destinies are at stake, that every day we are faced with opportunities to sow to the flesh or to the spirit, and every day we have only so many opportunities to make an impact on the lives of those around us.

We can waste our lives away, or be serious about spiritual growth.  Paul is telling us to work at it as though it was the most important thing in your life, as though your life depending upon it.

This seriousness is expressed in such passages as 2 Peter 1:10-11,

10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Do you want a rich entrance into the kingdom?  Do you want to keep from falling?  Then “be all the more diligent” in your spiritual life.

Too many people would rather have a rich now than a rich forever.

Tragically, we in the church in America are very lazy when it comes to fulfilling God’s desires for our lives.  When we examine the lives of the men and women of Scripture and throughout church history we fall tragically short of their legacies.

Will you run with all your might, stretching towards the finish line?

Now, in verse 13, we see that we are to work out what God is working in us.

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We work out what God is working in us.

Believe me, spiritual formation is only possible because God is at work prior to us doing anything.  The word “for” at the beginning of verse 13 indicates that the very possibility of us “working out our salvation” depends upon God first working “in us.”

Every act of spiritual formation we take finds its initiative in the fact that God is already at work in us.

The good news is that we are not left to ourselves to accomplish higher spiritual goals, but God is working ahead of us and within us to make this possible.

Notice first of all that it is God who is working in us.  Paul emphasizes this by the way he puts it:  “it is God who works in you” rather than merely “God works in you.”

Most of the pagan gods were impersonal and removed from human interaction.  But the God of Christianity is involved with us…each of us…on a personal level as if we were the only person on earth.

And God has unlimited power and resources to give to us.  We should never attempt to excuse ourselves from pushing ahead spiritually.

Peter says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Second, the word “work” in verse 13 is different from the word that Paul used in v. 12.  Here Paul uses energeo, from which we get energy.  Literally, “God is the Energizing One in you.”

This word means to “work effectively,” to bring an action to an effective end.

He grants energy for the work we need to do.  He is our power supply—not an impersonal thing, but a loving supplier of all we need for life and godliness.

Third, this word is a present participle, indicating that God is always, in every instance, working in you.  You may not always feel it, but it is always present.

Fourth, notice where God is working…it is “in you.”  That is where the Spirit is present in our lives.  God always works from the inside out.  True spiritual formation is not first about our adopting spiritual practices, but about the working of God in us.

Charles Spurgeon says…

In a certain sense, the salvation of every person who believes in Christ is complete, and complete without any working out on his part, seeing that “it is finished,” and we are complete in Jesus.  Observe that there are two parts of our salvation, the one complete, the other as yet incomplete, though guaranteed to be brought to perfection. The first part of our salvation consists of a work for us; the second, of a work in us…

Fifth, note what God is working in us—“both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

In other words, God puts the desire in us to say “no” to temptation and to move towards godliness.  And, he provides the enablement to do this.

Desires are, in many ways, the most important thing about us. “Desire is the powerful subtext of our lives.  It determines our decisions.  This is why we need to pay attention to it.  If we are to change, desire must change” (Jen Pollock Michel).

Without God putting the desire for godliness in our hearts, we would not naturally desire it.  Unless he gives us the power, we would be unable to do it.

We know from common experience that there are two aspects to every conscious action: the hidden will and the outward work.  But God does more than merely strengthen our willing and doing.  Paul’s explanation goes deeper.  “God himself is working in us both to will and to act: he works in us at the level of our wills and at the level of our doing” (Carson).  God works in us, not merely with us.

Pascal’s approving quotation of Augustine will help our thinking along.  Augustine wrote, “Our deeds are our own, because of the free will producing them, and they are also God’s, because of his grace causing our free will to produce them.”

And he says elsewhere, “God makes us do what he pleases by making us desire what we might not desire.”  The work that God does in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (emphasis added) is expansive and complete.

Every time you desire to do something good and loving, guess who put that there…God!

Every time you successfully overcome temptation or accomplish a ministry that you wouldn’t have believed you could do, guess who gave you the strength….God!

Charles Williams says…

“The believer could not even desire the higher life of conquest over self and sin, and the sanctification of character and conduct, except as God through the Spirit works and helps him both to will and to work, to desire and do” (Charles B. Williams, A Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, p. 336).

Thomas Constable adds:

This verse is one of the most comforting in the New Testament.  Sometimes we want to do right, but seem to lack the energy or ability.  This verse assures us that God will help us.  At other times, we cannot even seem to want to do right.  Here we learn that God can also provide the desire to do His will when we do not have it.  If we find that we do not want to do right, we can ask God to work in us to create a desire to do His will. This verse gives us confidence that God desires both to motivate and to enable us.

Are you glad that God is working in your will?  Some people are uncomfortable with that thought.  Some would rather we keep our wills “free” and uninfluenced by anyone.

But the reality is, our will is never absolutely free.  It is always being influenced by someone or something.  Before we came to Christ our wills were heavily influenced by the world, the flesh and Satan’s forces (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:1-3).

So I am glad that God is working in me, giving me new, holy desires and giving me the strength to be able to carry out those desires.

So notice how these two verses argue against both quietism (being totally passive, “let go and let God”) and pietism (doing all the work ourselves).  Philippians 2:12-13 argues that our sanctification depends upon diligent effort on our part, but the only possible way that happens is precisely because God has already been, and always is, working in us giving us the desire and the ability to put in diligent effort.

If we had only verse 12, we would conclude that spiritual maturity is all up to us.  If we only had verse 13, we would assume that it is all up to God.

But both verses together indicates that our sanctification involves our effort, but that it is God who initiates it and ultimately accomplishes it.

So how do we stay balanced?  We work hard at our sanctification with a conscious dependence upon God to provide both the desire and power to accomplish it.  It is a dependent discipline, not simply a dogged discipline on our part, but a discipline that depends upon God every moment, every step of the way.

The motivation for all this—for our sanctification—is “God’s good pleasure.”

Just like the exaltation of Christ is for the glory of God, so our sanctification and eventual glorification serves “God’s good pleasure.”

One might very well get the impression that God does everything to suit Himself, whether we like it or not.  There is a certain measure of truth here, which I do not in any way wish to deny. He is sovereign, and that means God can do what He wishes.  No one has said it any better than Nebuchadnezzar:

31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;

My concern is that we may get the impression that God pleases Himself at our expense.  Surely Philippians 2:5-11 would challenge this.  God does glorify Himself at the expense of His enemies.  But I am convinced that when God acts to please Himself, He is also acting in a way that is for our benefit, as believers in Him.  Is this not the point of Romans 8:28?  God causes all things to work together for our good and for His glory.  Our good (that is, the “good” of Christians) is what glorifies God.  This is part of the reason we do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

He works in us for sanctification because it brings him joy.

It is all for the pleasure of our God.  Not just pleasure, but good pleasure.

At the very least, I believe Paul is saying that we should be humbled to realize that God is the One at work in us to will and to work His benevolent purposes for us. It may even be that Paul has structured this verse in a way that implies that the goal of God’s working is for His pleasure and ours.

Further, his “good pleasure” is, by virtue of his love for us, our great good.  And here, in respect to the Philippian church, what pleases God is an end to the dissensions among them, which would also be for their good.

Paul’s magnificent “therefore” sentence of verses 12, 13 is meant to be sweetly motivational: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

What an incentive this was to this beloved church to carry on!

How do we grow?  We grow when God works in us.  And we grow when we work out what God is working in us.

John Ortberg compares it to crossing the ocean.  If we set out in a rowboat by ourselves, we’ll never cross that ocean.  We don’t have what it takes.  But if we just drift, expecting God to blow us across the ocean, that won’t work either.

Neither trying nor drifting are effective in bringing about spiritual transformation.  A better image is the sailboat, which if it moves at all, it’s a gift of the wind.  We can’t control the wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts the sails accordingly.

God works, and then we work out what God is working in us.

Spiritual Formation, part 1 (Philippians 2:12)

This morning we’re going to talk about spiritual formation, or sanctification.  I know that the term “spiritual formation” is falling out of favor these days because it is linked to eastern mystical practices.

What I mean by spiritual formation is the process of becoming transformed into the likeness of Christ, that is initiated and sustained through a variety of experiences and relationships so that one might better glorify God and serve others.

Now, we could spend a whole morning unpacking that definition.  What we’re talking about is spiritual growth, growing in godliness, living in the Spirit.

The theological term for it is sanctification.

Now, when we think of sanctification, there are three phases of sanctification: definitive or positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and final sanctification.

Definitive sanctification happens the moment I accept Christ as my Savior.  The Holy Spirit places me into Christ and God now sees me as having Christ’s complete righteousness instead of my unrighteousness.  This is why Paul called even the Corinthians saints.  They weren’t acting saintly but in God’s eyes, because they were united to Christ, they were holy and perfectly righteous.

Progressive sanctification is the moment-by-moment, step-by-step attempts we make to become more like Christ in our desires, our attitudes, our motives, our thoughts, our speech and our behavior.

Whereas nothing can happen to change our definitive sanctification—we will always be saints in God’s eyes, our progressive sanctification will face times of failure.  When we sin, we have to repent and confess our sins and get back on the right track.

Then there is our ultimate sanctification.  The moment we die or when Christ returns, we shall see Him and be changed into His purity.

Also, there are a variety of theories about progressive sanctification—how it occurs.  There are two unbiblical extremes—quietism and pietism.

Quietists believe that the will of the Christian is quiet, or passive in sanctification.  Concerning Quietism, John MacArthur writes, “Quietism tends to be mystical and subjective, focusing on personal feelings and experiences. A person who is utterly submitted to and dependent on God, they say, will be divinely protected from sin and led into faithful living. Trying to strive against sin or to discipline oneself to produce good works is considered to be not only futile but unspiritual and counterproductive” (John MacArthur, Philippians, p. 152).

A second extreme is Pietism.  Advocates of this approach to spiritual growth are “aggressive in their pursuit of correct doctrine and moral purity. Historically, this movement originated in seventeenth-century Germany as a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of many Protestant churches.  To their credit, most pietists place strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, self-discipline, and practical Christianity….Yet they often stress self-effort to the virtual exclusion of dependence on divine power” (John MacArthur, Philippians, pp. 152-153).

Both Quietism and Pietism fail for the same reason: They place importance upon only one side of the process of sanctification.

  • Quietism places more emphasis upon resting in God by faith.
  • Pietism places more emphasis upon the diligent, unrelenting pursuit of holiness.

But growing in Christ requires both personal responsibility and dependence upon God in faith.  Jerry Bridges, who passed away just a couple of years ago, helps us understand the importance of keeping these two equally-true priorities in tension with one another.

In his first book, The Pursuit of Holiness (1978), he emphasized every Christian’s personal responsibility to be diligent in godliness.  God expects us to wage war against the remaining sin in our lives and run the Christian race with great effort.  We are not to flirt with sin, but fight against it.

In a later book, Transformed by Grace (1991), he wrote of the energizing power of God’s grace to transform us into Christlikeness.  In that book, he warned believers to beware of the “Performance Treadmill,” the never-ending tendency to base our relationship with God upon our personal, spiritual performance.

Then, in 1993, he wrote The Discipline of Grace, which combined personal responsibility and divine empowerment into one. The book’s subtitle says it all: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. It’s these two truths which the apostle Paul lays, side by side, before us:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Now remember, this passage is part of the section that begin in Philippians 1:27, which said:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Then Paul began to explain what a life “worthy of the gospel” was like by showing the example of Jesus Christ denying Himself and living for others.  Paul will go on to show through his own example (2:16-18), Timothy’s example (2:19-22) and Epaphroditus’ example (2:23-25) that our aim should be to live for the sake of others.  That is true love.

Thus, in order to become more and more like Jesus Christ, we have to put more and more of ourselves to death and live for His glory and the service of others.

So let’s take apart these two verses to see what they have to say about spiritual formation.

  1. We are to “work out our salvation” both corporately and personally.

Notice that Paul begins verse 12 with the word “therefore,” and we should always ask, “What’s is there for?”  It is pointing us back to the previous section about the self-giving example of Jesus Christ.

We are to model our spiritual path after Christ Jesus.  He is our model, not some other Christian, no matter how spiritual or popular.

You are not to become like me (thank God!) but like Jesus Christ.

And our goal is not to accomplish some spiritual milestone (like fast for 40 days or memorize the entire New Testament), but rather being fully satisfied with Christ and committed to becoming more like Him in our attitudes, motives, feelings, affections, thoughts, words and behaviors.

We are to follow His leadership and His example.

Others can help us.  Paul says “Imitate me” (1 Corinthians 11:1) but the ultimate goal is to become like Christ.  Even Paul says “follow me as I follow Christ.”

Not only does the “therefore” refer us back to Christ’s example, but it also refers us back to the reason why Paul used Christ’s example in the first place—because it is the best example of self-denying humility and love, which in turn is the best antidote to conflict in the church.

You see, most of us believe that the ultimate end of spiritual formation is our own growth, and our own feelings of security and satisfaction in that growth.  But in reality, spiritual formation does not end with us and our feelings, but rather we become spiritually mature SO THAT we might serve others.  Otherwise, our efforts are spiritual formation become self-serving and self-promoting, leading to pride.

Notice that Paul addresses the Philippians as “my beloved.”  He is drawing upon the deep love relationship that they shared.  He is appealing to them as a friend, not as a military drill sergeant.

This should also remind them that they are God’s “beloved,” that He loves them deeply (as illustrated by Christ’s willingness to humble himself and die for them) and it is that love that motivates them to obedience.

Nothing motivates us to obedience like knowing that we are deeply and passionately loved by the one asking us for our obedience.

The first part of verse 12 reminds us that “working out our salvation” is largely an issue of obeying what God has asked of us.

Remember that Jesus is now and will one day be universally proclaimed as “Lord,” therefore He has the right to ask for our submission to Him.  No one makes Jesus, Lord.  He is Lord.  The response of saving faith is to recognize this reality and submit to His rightful rule over our lives.

And notice that future obedience becomes easier because of past obedience.  Paul reminds them that they had initially responded positively to God’s commands (cf. Acts 16:14, 32-33).  So he uses the “as then, so now” formula to say, “As you obeyed before, so continue to obey now.”

“Past action becomes a model and a motivating force for present and future conduct.” (Gerald Hawthorne, “Philippians” in Word Biblical Commentary, p. 98).  In other words, the capacity to obey God builds up over time.  Initially, it may seem difficult to obey God, but like most other activities, the more we do it the easier it gets.  So, don’t give up trying to obey God.

Spiritual formation happens best in community, when someone takes the responsibility to mentor us, encouraging us and challenging us to obedience, just like Paul had with the Philippians when he had spent time with them.

We will also see this corporate emphasis in the works “work out your salvation,” for the pronoun “your” there is plural.  Here in the South we would say, “work out ya’lls salvation.”

But, spiritual formation is also a personal issue (not so much private as personal), meaning that we ultimately have to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth.  We cannot delegate that to someone else.  And we don’t really have to depend on their continual encouragement or accountability.

Ultimately we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

Paul is telling them, “You need to learn to do this on your own.  You don’t need me to be there—just keep growing, keep maturing.”  It was even more important that they purpose to obey in Paul’s absence, since his “presence” among them provided a measure of external motivation for them.

Lutheran commentator R. C. H. Lenski notes:

“There is always a tendency to relax obedience when the spiritual leader is absent.”

It is possible to lose our momentum when we don’t have others checking on us.  It is also possible to blame others for not being there to encourage us and support us.

Yes, community is important to spiritual growth and it is vital that we have people in our lives to pray for us, encourage us, challenge us and hold us accountable.  But, we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual lives.

We should look for mentors, we should look for teachers.  But ultimately we have to learn to feed ourselves and hold ourselves accountable.

  1. We are to “work out our salvation” with seriousness

The rest of verse 12 indicates our responsibility in sanctification: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”

Let’s note several things about this statement…

First, it calls for determined action on our part.  The word for “work out” is katergazomai, a word that means “to put energy into an activity until you get it done.”  It focuses not merely upon the process, but the accomplishment of the intended goal.  “Work out this math problem” means to work at it until you solve it.

In Paul’s day, it was also used for “working a mine,” that is, getting out of the mine all the valuable ore possible; or “working a field” to get the greatest harvest possible.

Sophocles used katergazomai in the sense of overcoming all opposition, to accomplish something despite obstacles and difficulty.  It is a command for sustained effort, diligence and hard work, until the goal is achieved.

Other passages indicate this sense of using all our energies to accomplish our goal of becoming like Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul told them…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

And also in 1 Timothy 4:7 Paul says “train yourself for godliness…”

In both of these passages the emphasis is placed upon our personal responsibility to do everything we can for godliness.  It doesn’t happen without effort.  It requires discipline.  Discipline is very much a part of becoming more like Jesus Christ.

There is no such thing as drifting into godliness.  You can drift into sin.  Without effort we will just flow with the current of our culture.  We will be inclined to worldliness.  It will be easy for us to sin.

We need discipline.  We need to train ourselves.  We need to exercise ourselves toward personal holiness.  This is personal responsibility.

We tend to be lazy when it comes to our spiritual lives.  We don’t see the stress fractures right away.  That’s why Paul tells us not to be deceived, in Galatians 6, we will eventually reap what we sow.  But since we don’t reap immediately, we get discouraged that our discipline is not paying off.

But just like physical exercise doesn’t immediately make us healthier and stronger, so spiritual exercise takes awhile to show visible results.

In the context, the Philippians as a body are to work out their problems and come to unity.   They are to produce the fruit of their salvation, that is, peace, love, and harmony in the Spirit.

Another thing to notice about this command is that it is a continuous action.  We have to keep at it and never let up until our “salvation” is achieved.

Paul will express it this way in Philippians 3:12-14

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Too often we misunderstand that to live by grace means that we put no effort into the Christian life.  But grace doesn’t oppose effort, it opposes earning.  Grace means that we cannot possibly earn God’s favor, it has been freely given.

Rather, grace is the best motivation for passionate effort.  When we’ve seen God gracious God has been to us, we want to respond to Him and become like Him.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul keeps that balance—he worked harder, but it was the grace of God with him that motivated him and enabled him to work hard.

Descending into Greatness, part 2 (Philippians 2:10-11)

Last week we were looking at Philippians 2:9-11, where Paul expresses the explosive result of Christ humbling himself by taking on humanity and dying the cruel, shameful, painful death on the cross.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The name that God bestowed on Jesus is “Lord,” but more fully is “Lord Jesus Christ.”

The clue lies in the fact that it is “above every name.”  It is greater than any other name  conferred on Jesus.  In fact, it is God’s own name kyrios (Lord), which was used in the Greek Old Testament to represent Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel.  The name given to Jesus that is above every name is indeed Yahweh, God’s name, which fills so much of the Old Testament.

How can we be sure?  Verse 11 identifies Jesus as “Lord” (kyrios), Yahweh —“every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Giving Jesus the name “Lord” (Yahweh) is the ultimate of all honors because he says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD [Yahweh]; that is my name.”  It is no one else’s name.  Yahweh is the name that trumps all other titles — the awesome covenant name of the God of Israel — “the name that is above every name.”

What a moment it must have been those 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered Heaven and Paradise — to super-exaltation and a new name!

That is the name we bow before and worship and adore.  We pray, “hallowed be Thy name” and we pray in the name of Jesus.

Notice that this name is “bestowed” upon Jesus by the Father.  It was not exactly earned through obedience and sacrifice, but was “freely given” as an act of grace from the Father.

It reminds us that even the rewards we get for our obedience are not earned, but rather given to us as gifts.  We can never earn or “pay back” God for the grace He has given us.

Now, look at vv. 10-11.  Here we find out why God has so highly exalted His Son Jesus Christ.

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice that v. 10 begins with the words “so that,” indicating that these verses indicate the purpose for which God highly exalted Jesus.

First of all, God highly exalted Jesus and gave Him the name “Lord” to promote universal submission to His Son’s sovereign authority.  God wants “every knee to bow” to His Son’s authority.

The interesting thing about this statement in vv. 10 and 11 is that it is attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 45:23 records Yahweh as saying, “

23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

Of course, here in Philippians it is being applied to Jesus, another indication that God the Father and God the Son are equal in authority.

It is quite significant that this Old Testament quotation is taken from one of the Old Testament passages that emphasized so strongly the sole authority of Yahweh.  The verse immediately before this, verse 22, says, “I am God and there is no other.”

Kent Hughes emphasizes this:

As to how dynamic Paul’s application is, we must understand that the forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is the Old Testament’s most forthright and forceful statement of God’s sovereign rule in history and salvation.  Four times in Isaiah 45 the Lord declares his absolute sovereignty.  Three times he says, “‘I am the LORD [Yahweh], and there is no other’” (vv. 5, 6, 18), and once he says, “‘For I am God ( El ), and there is no other’” (v. 22).  And it is with this fourth declaration of sovereignty that we have Yahweh’s call for utter allegiance: “‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance”’” (vv. 22, 23).

In the earthly, millennial sense, this was promised the Son in Psalm 2

7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

But the universality of this “change in status” is that even now every knee bows, literally “pertaining to heaven, pertaining to earth, pertaining to the underworld.”  Thus, every single member of the angelic, human and demonic realms, will ultimately join together in worshipping the one true God—Jesus Christ our Lord!

This high regard for the authority of Jesus Christ was once expressed by Charles Lamb in conversation with some friends: “If Shakespeare was to come into this room, we would applaud him; if Abraham Lincoln entered this world, we should all rise to honor him; but if Jesus Christ was to come into it, we should all fall down upon our faces.”

Notice that even unbelievers will bow down before the authority of Jesus Christ at that time.  While the Lake of Fire is not yet inhabited and the spirits of deceased unbelievers go to Sheol-Hades, it was still considered part of the “underworld.”  So not only every believer and every good angel, but the demons and unbelievers will bow before Jesus Christ.

No knee in the universe is excluded, be it human, angelic, or demonic.  This means that some will bow with spontaneous ecstasy, and others with grudging mourning and shame.  But bow they will!

The certainty of this was sealed with Yahweh’s oath in Isaiah 45:23: “‘By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”’”  So, regardless of your spiritual state, regardless of your might and power, regardless of your will, however steely and proud it may be, you will bow your knee to Jesus.  The only question is, when?  How much better to do it now!

Brian Doerksen has captured this important choice in his song, “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.”  In one chorus we sing:

One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God
One day ev’ry knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those,
Who gladly choose you now

Willingly we choose to surrender our lives
Willingly our knees will bow
With all our hearts, oh, mind and strength
We gladly choose you now

Don Richardson, who wrote Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts, a Canadian missionary to Western New Guinea, came to Citadel Bible College, where I went to school.

Don had an interesting theory about hell.

He said that often hell is pictured as the demons and the damned blaspheming and cursing God.  But, Don said, God isn’t going to allow that to go on throughout eternity.  Rather, those in hell will forever acknowledge the lordship of Jesus.

He explained by using the analogy of the threshold of pain.  Some people can endure only a small amount of pain before they will submit to anyone torturing them.  Others can endure much more pain before they are broken.  As a boy, you may have wrestled with a bigger boy who got you in a painful hold and increased your pain until you would agree to do or say what he wanted.  If he let up on the pain, you would defy him and say, “I’m not going to do it.”  So, he would increase your pain until you said, “Okay, I’ll do what you want!”

Don speculates that in hell, God is going to inflict on every person or demon the amount of pain necessary to bring that being into submission, where under duress he cries out, “Jesus is Lord.”  If God were to lessen the pain, the person would defy God.  So God increases the pain to the point where they submit and then holds them at that level throughout eternity.

I don’t know that you can prove his theory from Scripture, but it does make sense. However God does it, there isn’t a rebellious creature on earth or in hell who will not acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. It will be a forced confession, but every knee shall bow before Jesus. (from the sermon “Every Knee Shall Bow” by Steve Coles)

There are many other passages in the NT that affirm Christ’s universal right to rule.  In Matthew 28:18 Jesus claims to have received all authority in heaven and earth.  In Ephesians 1:20-21 Paul says that Christ was seated in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be named not only in the present age, but also in the age to come.

The early preaching of the church recognized that Christ was exalted to the status of Lord (Acts 2:33, 36) and upon the basis of his universal Lordship offered the gospel to all men (Acts 10:34-36).  Thus, Christ’s lordship is viewed as universal and eternal.  But he got there by humble obedience—that is the message proper of Philippians 2:6-11.

A second reason God has highly exalted Jesus and given him the name “Lord” is to promote personal acceptance of Christ’s sovereign authority.

Paul says that “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”

Confession with the tongue is the spoken counterpart to bowing the knee.  The verb “confess” is exhomologeo.  The word homologeo is found in 1 John 1:9 where we “confess” our sins—we agree with God or say what He would say about our sins.

With the preposition attached, it means to “speak out fully, openly, loudly and joyfully” or to “speak out plainly and publicly in the presence of others.”

What the bended knee indicates, the open tongue now openly and clearly expresses.

Romans 10 teaches us that this is part of the response to the gospel.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

It is vital that the heart and mouth are working together for salvation.  There are those who speaks the words, but their heart has not believed.  That’s why Jesus uttered those chilling words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount…

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

The confession is that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  This threefold confession was the earliest baptismal formula of the church (Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

But this confession is not limited to the church, to true believers, but “every tongue will confess.”

Of course, this is not a call for universalism, the idea that everyone, in the end, is saved.  Rather, every one will confess this, but only those who do so before death are saved.  The others are compelled to do so, but it doesn’t save them.

To break it down: “Jesus ” (meaning “the Lord saves”), the name given to the Son of God at his incarnation, signifies that the Lord’s salvation came when Jesus was born.  This is why Simeon swept baby Jesus into his arms and declared, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29, 30).

Second, the title “ Christ ” (meaning “the Anointed,” “the Messiah” in the Old Testament) speaks of his being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy — “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

Third, “ Lord ” is here understood to represent the divine name Yahweh, which is a public declaration of his sovereignty — “I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5, 6, 18; cf. 45:14, 22).

“He has always (in Paul’s view) shared in the Divine nature.  But it is only as the result of His Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection and Exaltation that He appears to men as on an equality with God, that He is worshipped by them in the way in which Jehovah is worshipped.” (Kennedy)

We also should not miss the significance that at a later time in the Roman Empire, all residents of the Empire were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Emperor, declaring that Caesar is Lord, and burning a pinch of incense to an image of the emperor. Though the Roman state saw this only as a display of political allegiance, Christians rightly interpreted it as idolatry – and refused to participate, often paying with their lives.

Paul has no doubt who is really Lord – not the Caesar whom he will stand trial before; Caesar may be a high name, but it is not the name above all names, the name which belongs to Jesus Christ!

Ultimately, and thirdly, all of this is for one purpose—“for the glory of God the Father.”

The end-all of all of God’s plans and actions, and all of Christ’s work on earth and now in heaven, and the Spirit’s work here on earth, is that God would receive all the glory.

God created us for His glory.  Everything He has done has been for His glory.

But as George Lawlor says…

“It must not be thought that God has been selfish in arranging all things for His own glory.  When it is analyzed, we find that what might seem to superficial minds as a selfish arrangement really is absolute unselfishness.  God has all along looked upon the things and interests of others, and has laid himself out for their good.  This has characterized the plan of God throughout its entire history; and when eventually the universe recognizes, acknowledges and confesses the mighty self-forgetfulness of the eternal God, and this is hailed as the real glory, we cannot desire it otherwise.” (When God Became Man, pp. 138-139).

Jesus does not rival God, despite the exalted status He occupies.  Jesus’ authority, though great, was given to Him.

Therefore, whenever and by whomever the confession is made that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” God suffers no embarrassment; rather He is being glorified for what He planned and gave and worked out that it would be so.

Descending into Greatness, part 1 (Philippians 2:9)

Over the last two weeks we’ve been examining Paul’s illustration of extreme selflessness in Christ’s example in His seven steps downward in voluntary humiliation from the incarnation to the crucifixion.  That was in Philippians 2:6-8:

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And it was all his own doing.  No one humbled him!  Herod did not humble him.  Pilate did not humble him.  The high priest did not humble him.  The Romans did not humble him.  Jesus “humbled himself.”  The humblest man who ever lived is Christ himself, the God-man.  No other man or woman has even come close!

But at this point, there is a radical reversal in the hymn.  Kent Hughes asks us to picture it like this:

So the down, down, down of Christ’s humiliation is followed by his soaring exaltation.  To get the feel of this, picture the gears of a catapult being ratcheted down ever tighter with the three movements of his self-humiliation, so that the final groaning click of the gears creates an explosive tension, and then the gear is tripped, launching indescribable exaltation.

Whereas in these three verses Christ is the active subject, humbling himself; in the second part (vv. 9-11) it is God who acts and Christ is the object of the divine action.  Whereas the first “verse” of the hymn focuses on Christ’s self-humiliation, the second “verse” describes His super-exaltation by God.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This part open with the double conjunctions dio kai, indicating that this act of God is the logical outcome of what Christ did in humbling himself…it is the direct result.  It was precisely Jesus’ humiliation that became the grounds for his exaltation. By humbling himself on the cross out of love, he demonstrated that he truly shared the divine nature of God, who is love (1 John 4:8).

Jesus had consistently taught His disciples that we must humble ourselves, and when we do God will exalt us.

In Matthew 23:12 we read:

12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 14:11 says the same.

When we get it all backwards and we exalt ourselves, then God is forced to step in and humble us.

Proverbs 18:12 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

You remember what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, right?  He was the mighty king of Babylon, and worse of all, He knew it.  He believed that it was His might and knowledge that had built Babylon into a worldwide power.

And because of that pride, God humbled him.

Jesus, of course, illustrates the principle of humility in John 13:13-17 and here in Philippians 2:5-8.

1 Peter 5:6 also says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…”

God is committed to exalting those who humble themselves.  We just have to trust God for the “proper time.”

The exaltation of Jesus, which is now the theme of this second part of the Christ-hymn, is not described in stages as the descent into humiliation was.  Rather, it is presented as one dramatic act, lifting Christ from the depths of humiliation to the heights of glory.

“He humbled himself as no other could ever humble himself.  He is exalted as no other is exalted” (When God Became Man, George Lawlor, p. 120).

Hebrews 2:9 confirms this move:

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned [now] with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

2 Corinthians 8:9 also shows us the purpose of this move:

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

It was all for us.  All for you and me that He humbled Himself.

But now For this reason (“therefore”) God raised him to life and highly exalted him, entrusting him with the rule of the cosmos and giving him the name that is above every name.

This compound verb “highly exalted” is found only here in the New Testament and it means to “super-exalt,” to “raise something or someone to the very highest of heights.”

It is not comparative, that Jesus is just higher than any other being, or even higher than He was prior to the incarnation, but it is a superlative expression—He is the highest.  There can be no other higher.

He made Himself the lowliest of the low, now God make Him the highest of the high.  No one compares.

Interestingly, this verb is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament and it describes Yahweh as the one who is “exalted far above all gods” (Psalm 96:9; cf. Daniel 3:52, 53, 57-58).  So Jesus shares that with His Father as well.

Though Christ’s exaltation was a once-and-for-all event, it was the culmination of a process that began with the resurrection.  He had gone down, down, down through his incarnation and passion and death (which wrought such infinite spiritual compression), but then in a final, explosive upsurge the grave could no longer hold him.

Thus we have that brilliant moment on Sunday morning when Jesus came right through his grave clothes in the sacred body of his humiliation, glorious and radiant.

Rick Renner tells of coming across an old document in an antique shop in Russia.  It turned to be the birth announcement by a Russian Tsar.

The imperial insignia was still pressed into the broken wax seal, and on the back of the letter was an inscription with all the names and titles of this particular Russian Tsar. The beautiful handwriting described him as:

Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Tauric Chersonesos, Tsar of Georgia, Lord of Pskov, and Grand Duke of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, Finland, Jerusalem, [and so forth, and so forth, and so forth].

The point of these titles was clear: There was no higher name and no greater power than the Tsar of Russia in the realms of his rule.  But that is nothing compared to Jesus Christ.

His glory is now “21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:21-22).

There, in Ephesians 1, Paul says that Jesus is “far above.”  In the context of this verse, it means quite simply that no one in the universe has a higher rank, name, or position than Jesus Christ!

Furthermore, to affirm Jesus’ highest position, Paul added the word “all,” which is a translation of the Greek word pas, meaning anything and everything.  By using these two words together, huperano and pas, he left no room for misunderstanding or doubt regarding his message — that Jesus Christ holds the highest and most exalted position in the entire universe. He is literally “above all.”

Paul went on to describe the specific categories that Christ is above. First, he stated that Christ is “above all principalities….”  The word “principalities” is from the Greek word arche, and it denotes rulers of the highest level.  This encompassing term refers to all human rulers, including kings and politicians.

However, it must be noted that the word arche is also used in Scripture to refer to angelic beings.  This means Paul was declaring that Christ’s exalted rank is far above all human rulers and angelic beings.  The natural and the spiritual realms are both under the dominion of Jesus Christ, and there is absolutely no one in any realm more highly exalted than Him.

Paul then mentioned Christ’s superiority over “powers.”  The word “powers” is the Greek word exousias.  This word describes people who have received delegated power, and therefore is often translated authorities.

In the context of Ephesians 1:21, this word exousias refers to people who hold public office and wield authority entrusted to them by their superiors or through an election. Paul was teaching that although these individuals yield substantial power and influence in the affairs of the world, their authority pales in comparison to that of Jesus Christ.

At the time Paul penned these words in the First Century AD, this was a very dangerous and powerful statement to make, because Roman political powers were actively persecuting the Church and attempting to suppress the message of the Gospel.  However, Paul wanted his readers to know that no matter what authority a politician might try to exert over the Church, Jesus had a rank that was even higher than most powerful human authorities.

Next Paul wrote of “might,” which comes from the Greek word dunamis. The word dunamis denotes explosive power, but it also was regularly used to describe the full strength of a military force.  By using this word, Paul declared that Jesus is exalted in His authority and power even above all the military forces in the world today.

As if this list is not already complete enough, Paul added one more word.  He stated that Christ is supreme above all “dominions.”  This is the Greek word kuriotes, which means lordships.  It could refer to any world system, political, financial, or any system of any type.  There simply is no system more high-ranking that the Lord Jesus Christ!  Jesus is the Lord of lords.

Finally, to make sure he has included everyone and everything on his list, Paul added “…and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come….” In one sweeping statement, Paul declared that Jesus is Lord over all.  He is literally superior to rulers (arche), elected leaders (exousias), military powers (dunamis), and constitutional authorities (kuriotes).  He is literally Lord over all!

Christ is now in Heaven with myriads of angels singing, “‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:12)—and you could probably add a few hundred more attributes as well.

Now back to Philippians 2.

It is difficult to imagine here that Jesus could be actually moved to a higher place than “being in very nature God” and “equality with God” (v. 6).  So I think what Paul means here is that God is making Jesus’ great superiority more fully evident to all humanity and all angelic beings.

I find this similar to the meaning of Romans 1:4,

4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

This doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God until after the resurrection, but that the resurrection made it patently clear that Jesus was the Son of God.  It removed all doubt.  At least, it presented convincing evidence that He was the Son of God.

The resurrection did not “make” Jesus the Son of God.  That has been His nature since before time began; but it was the resurrection in particular that so powerfully demonstrated the reality of that divine nature.

Jesus’ place now is at God’s right hand, the place of supreme authority and honor.  Stephen saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  The writer of Hebrews makes a point of having Christ sitting at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

And verse 13 says, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13)

Sitting (cf. Hebrews 10:12) indicates that Christ’s atoning work is finished.  His humiliation is over and now He sits in glory.

And this act of “super-exaltation” is accompanied by the parallel statement that God “bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”

This is a little harder to picture than the idea of Christ being exalted far above all earthly and heavenly authorities.

What does it mean that He has a “name that is above every name” and what is that name?

In comparison with the Tsar of Russia, Jesus has these names:

King of kings, Lord of lords, The Blessed and Only Potentate, The King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, The Anointed One, The Christ, The Messiah, The Chosen One, The Lamb of God, The Glory of God, The Word of God, The Only Begotten of the Father, Emmanuel, Son of Man, Son of God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, The Power of God, The Wisdom of God, The Only Wise God, Prince of Peace, Redeemer, Chief Shepherd, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, Great High Priest, Universal and Supreme Head of the Church — God in the Flesh!

Those names are definitely superior to any earthly name.

But what is that name?  The option which seems to fit best is that it is “Lord Jesus.”  The name Jesus, of course, means Savior.  He is Lord and Savior.

The clue lies in the fact that it is “above every name.”  It is greater than any other name  conferred on Jesus.  In fact, it is God’s own name kyrios (Lord), which was used in the Greek Old Testament to represent Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel.  The name given to Jesus that is above every name is indeed Yahweh, God’s name, which fills so much of the Old Testament.

How can we be sure?  Verse 11 identifies Jesus as “Lord” (kyrios), Yahweh —“every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Giving Jesus the name “Lord” (Yahweh) is the ultimate of all honors because he says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD [Yahweh]; that is my name.”  It is no one else’s name.  Yahweh is the name that trumps all other titles — the awesome covenant name of the God of Israel — “the name that is above every name.”

What a moment it must have been those 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered Heaven and Paradise — to super-exaltation and a new name!

That is the name we bow before and worship and adore.  We pray, “hallowed be Thy name” and we pray in the name of Jesus.

Notice that this name is “bestowed” upon Jesus by the Father.  It was not exactly earned through obedience and sacrifice, but was “freely given” as an act of grace from the Father.

It reminds us that even the rewards we get for our obedience are not earned, but rather given to us as gifts.  We can never earn or “pay back” God for the grace He has given us.