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John F MacArthurOne of the things I have found most irritating over the years is the indirect encouragement of emotion by pastors, particularly famous Baptist ones, by using the word ‘heart’ with a tear in their eye.

However, John MacArthur tells us that heart in the Bible has nothing to do with emotion. Heart as used in Scripture refers to the mind. Mention of the gut — or bowels — in the Bible refers to emotion.

MacArthur’s sermon, ‘Strengthen Your Heart’, dated May 16, 1976, is about Colossians 2. It explains this distinction and tells us why we should not be ruled by our emotions.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Let me begin by citing the first three verses of Colossians 2:

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

‘Encouraged’ appears as ‘strengthened’ in some translations, which encompasses ‘comforted’. In our world, we see them as three separate concepts, but where Scripture is concerned, the three words go together.

Some reading this will find it hard to stomach the word ‘bowels’. They might do better to think of ‘gut’ instead, as in ‘gut instinct’.

MacArthur begins by giving us our definition of ‘heart’, i.e. linked to emotion, then the biblical one for the word, which means ‘mind’. That is how the Apostle Paul used the word:

Now when we talk about the heart, what do we mean? We have to make that clear, because otherwise we will not understand what he’s saying; because in the English language, the heart is the seat of – what? – emotion. “My heart cries for you,” we say. “I love you with all my heart.” The heart is the symbol of emotion. To the Hebrew it was not the symbol of emotion. Did you get that? In the English language heart represents emotion. To the Hebrew, it did not.

Now the Hebrews referred to two organs of the body, and I want to talk about these two. The two organs that they referred to many, many times in the Scripture are the bowels and the heart. Now we’ll take the bowels first. Don’t panic. There are many references in the Bible to the term “bowels.” They have been fairly well erased in the later translations, but the pure translation of the Hebrew indicates that that is the word.

Now it is used in the Bible to speak of the womb, of the stomach, of the intestines, and of several other abdominal organs; so it becomes a general term for the gut, if you will. When a Hebrew says, “My bowels such and such,” he means, “I feel it in the gut.” That’s what he’s saying. Now watch this. The Hebrews did not know anything of speculative thinking, and they did not know anything of interpreting things in abstraction. Everything to them was a concrete, experiential physical reality.

Turn with me to Psalm 22:14. And here is a description of Jesus on the cross; and this is a prophetic picture of Him on the cross. But I want you to notice how the psalmist expresses what Jesus feels. He’s dying on the cross. “I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint;” – a perfect picture of crucifixion; listen now – “my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” And here he means, “My whole abdominal area is in upheaval. I feel it in the gut,” is what He is saying. “I feel it, and my stomach is in knots.” A very experiential concept, not abstract at all …

I’ll show you another one. This is very interesting. Song of Solomon chapter 5 – and I know you’re all racing there. Song of Solomon chapter 5, verse 4. Now this is very interesting; just to give you an idea of how the Hebrew expressed his feelings. Now you’ve got to have the picture. The bride is waiting for the bridegroom. It is time to consummate the marriage. This is a great hour.

Now listen, the Hebrew says in verse 4: “My beloved put his hand to the latch of the door, and my bowels are moved for him.” Now you say, “Wait a minute. That’s in the Bible?” That’s in the Bible. You say, “What does that mean, John?” That means is that the bowels include that whole area, including the arousal of sexual desire in the human body. All of that area, even feeling in the genital area, was expressed by the Hebrews in that terminology. You see, they didn’t say, “And I began to sense great overwhelming passion.” That’s an abstraction. The Hebrew defined it in its lowest level of experiential feeling.

MacArthur says that the ancient Jews considered emotions — feelings from the gut — the lowest form of human experience:

Lamentations chapter 2, verse 11. Now Jeremiah, he was a patriot. I mean he was a real patriot, Jeremiah. But he wasn’t a blind patriot. He loved his country when his country loved God. In Lamentations 2:11, he says, “My country’s falling apart,” in essence. He’s seeing the death of his country. That’s why Lamentations is called Lamentations; it’s the weeping of Jeremiah over the death of his country. He says, “My eyes do fail with tears,” – and here it comes – “my bowels are troubled. I feel it in the gut again. The pain in my stomach is – I’m in knots.”

Now you’ve experienced that. He is having psychosomatic responses in his body to anxiety in his mind, but the Hebrew expresses it in terms of the psychosomatic symptom, not in terms of the abstraction. So emotions biblically, in the Old Testament particularly, are not experienced as abstractions, but at the lowest level of experience. And so now, watch this, in the cases of the bowels being used in the Scripture, they have reference to emotional responses, so that to the Hebrew mind, the heart is not the seat of emotion. What is? The stomach. The bowels

… it says in 1 John 3:17, “Whosoever hath this world’s good, and sees his brother hath need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how dwells the love of God in him?”

Boy, that is strange. That is strange. What is he saying? He is simply expressing what, in the Hebrew mind, is an obvious thing. He is saying, “Look, when you see somebody have a need, that need ought to cause a gut feeling in you. It ought to stir you up, and tighten up your stomach, and make you feel some real anxiety”.

Now notice, in every one of those passages that I showed you, the bowels are always responding. They responded to pain, in the first one I told you about; they responded to sex, in Song of Solomon; they responded to disaster, in the case of Jeremiah; and they respond to human need, in the case of 1 John 3. So that that in the Hebrew mind, the bowel is always that which responds. It is emotion. They felt it inside.

That isn’t to say that there is no reference to ‘mind’ in the Bible. Occasionally there is, Revelation 2:23 being a case in point, when the Lord says:

I will search the minds and the heart.

However, overall, the heart is used alone in Scripture. I have read the following passages that MacArthur cites and wondered why the authors did not use ‘mind’ instead.

He tells us why the authors used ‘heart’:

What is the heart? Listen to me. First of all, we see from that passage [Revelation 2:23] the heart is the place of responsibility. It’s the place of responsibility. “The heart is that which is wicked,” in Jeremiah 17. “The heart of man is” – what? – “deceitful above all things, and” – what? – “desperately wicked.” It is the seat of responsibility. It is that which God is going to judge. And He will try men’s – what? – hearts. It is that which is righteous or wicked. When God redeems Israel, He will take away their stony heart, and give them a new – what? – heart. It is the seat of responsibility; it is that which is judged.

I’ll take you a step further. It can’t be emotion then. It can’t be emotion. What is it? Let’s look at Revelation 18, verse 7. And here he’s talking about Babylon the Great, the destruction of the final world system in the tribulation. “How much she hath glorified” – Revelation 18:7 – “glorified herself, and lived luxuriously, so much torment and sorrow give her;” – listen – “for she saith in her heart, ‘I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.’”

Now notice something. To say “in her heart” is a metaphor for doing what? Thinking. “She said in her heart.” What does that mean? She thought in her mind. What then does the heart picture? Not the emotions, but the mind. The intellect and the mind is made up of two things: the intellect and the will. That’s the heart in biblical terminology.

In ancient times, you don’t find them referring to the brain. Listen to this one: “The fool hath said in his brain.” No. “The fool hath said in his” – what? – “heart.” Why? Because the heart was the seat of thought. It was the seat of thinking. And so that the heart represents the mind that sets the pace, and the bowels represent the responding emotion.

You say, “Well how did they get to this discovery?” Well, it’s easy to know how they got to the bowels being connected with emotion, because when they got emotional they began to have what we have today: upset stomachs, colitis, and all those symptoms that we get, ulcers – right? – all right here.

But how did they get the heart out of the brain? Well, some have surmised that because when the brain is really functioning, the heart is really working, and they could feel it throbbing and pulsing. But that’s the way they did it. Real serious thinking, says a Hebrew, can be felt in the beat of the heart. So the heart thinks, and the bowels respond with emotion. That’s the way you are.

Now remember this. In the mind of the Hebrew, and in the Revelation of God, emotions never initiate, they always respond. The heart thinks, and the emotions respond. That is the divine pattern.

MacArthur says that it is important for us to be able to control our emotions, whereas the Baptist pastors I mentioned earlier seem to favour emotions running riot.

MacArthur says:

“I can’t control my emotions.” You know why? Because your emotions will only be controlled by your mind, because emotion is a responder. The key to controlling your emotions is filling your mind with divine truth. That’s the key to controlling your emotions. You see, the emotions respond to what the mind perceives as true. Did you get that? Your emotions will respond to what your mind perceives is true, even if it isn’t true. That’s right.

Have you ever been lying in bed, and all of a sudden you woke up with a jolt when you landed after falling off that forty-story building? You weren’t falling, but your mind perceived it, and your emotions responded to it. You know what that teaches me about emotions? Don’t ever” – what – “trust them.” Don’t trust them, because you can make your emotions do anything if you can just make your mind think it perceives that. And the only way to control your emotions is to make sure that your mind is filled with divine truth. Emotions are like bad little children, they’ll run amuck if you don’t control them. And you say, “How do you control them?” You control them indirectly by feeding the mind.

Let me take you to 2 Corinthians chapter 6 … And here’s what he says, 2 Corinthians 6:11, “O ye Corinthians, our speech to you is candid, our heart is wide open.” Now listen. “Corinthians, listen to me. My speech to you is straightforward, candid, pulling no punches; and my heart” – or my mind – “is wide open.”

“Listen, I’ve got all kind of truth to tell you. It’s in my brain, and my brain’s open. It’s in my mouth, and my speech is wide open and straightforward.” Now watch this. “But on our part, there is no constraint. But there is constraint in your affections.” You know what the literal Greek is there? “You are tightened in your bowels.” That’s the literal translation. “I would certainly like to impart truth from my mind to your mind, but you are all tightened up emotionally. You are straightened emotionally.”

Listen to this. The Corinthians had put an emotional attitude against Paul in the way, and they couldn’t receive the truth. Listen to me. When emotions get ahead of the mind, you’ve got a lot of problems. Paul says, “I can’t even tell you the truth.”

… Just think about the person who comes to church and has something against me. They can’t learn, can they, because they put their emotions in front of the truth. The emotions have stopped being a responder, and the emotions are running the show.

Here the Corinthians were putting emotions first. They wouldn’t accept Paul. They were emotionally upset at him, so they were all tightened, uptight, and they couldn’t perceive truth; they had it all backwards. When people start putting emotions first, then they really get into problems.

MacArthur cites a contemporary example of emotions running the show in church:

One classic illustration of that today is the Charismatic Movement, Pentecostalism. You know what they attempt to do? They attempt to start the emotions without the mind. And they get you there, and you’ve got enough hallelujahs going, and enough running around and waving going, you can bypass the mind and you can really get the emotions flying. The only problem is, the emotions are responding to something they perceive that isn’t the truth, because there hasn’t even been the introduction to the truth. What they attempt to do is short-circuit the truth, and let the emotions run wild; and that’s the opposite of the biblical pattern.

You see, emotions should always respond to the truth. The key then to behavior, and the key to the control of emotion is the heart, the heart as seen as the mind. We need to plant the truth in the mind, and it will control the emotional responses.

Therefore, when we read of the heart in the Bible, we should be thinking of the mind rather than of our emotions:

Proverbs 4:23 says – and this is good: “Guard your heart.” What does it mean? “Guard your mind, your brain, with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” You see? You want to control life; guard your mind, and don’t let anybody short‑circuit it. That’s 4:23.

Proverbs 22:5 further, says, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; but he that doth guard his soul shall be far from them.” The same basic terminology: the guarding of the mind, the Hebrew.

You find it in Proverbs 23:19: “Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart in the way.” Guide your heart: guard it, and guide it, that it might hear and perceive the truth, and that your emotion might respond to the truth.

A beautiful passage, Deuteronomy 4:9. I can’t resist reading it to you. “Take heed to yourself; keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your” – listen – “heart.” I’ll read it again. Listen to this: “Take heed to yourself. Guard your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which you have seen, and they depart from out of your heart.” Don’t forget the truth. Guard your heart.

In Psalm 139, a beautiful portion of Scripture, in verses 23 and 24: “Search me, O God, and know my” – what? – “my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts.” You see, the heart equated with thinking. “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Guard the heart. Guide the heart. Ask God to protect the heart – that’s your brain, your mind.

“A good man” – said Jesus in Matthew 12:35 – “out of the good treasure of the” – what? – “heart brings forth good things.” All the goodness will come out of the mind. The mind must guide the pattern of behavior.

One other passage, Matthew 15:19. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” Jesus said in Matthew 12, “All the good things come out of the thinking process.” Jesus said in Matthew 15, “All the bad things come out of the thinking processes.” So the Bible says, “God, guard my thinking processes.”

Earlier, I mentioned the commonality between ‘encouraged’, ‘strengthened’ and ‘comforted’. Readers thinking that these sound like gifts from the Holy Spirit — the Paraclete — are correct.

MacArthur explains how the meanings tie together:

Now let’s go back to Colossians, and watch what this means to you now. “I wish you knew how great a conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their” – what? – “hearts might be strengthened.” What do hearts mean? Minds. Paul says, “Number one thing I want out of you is to be strong in heart.”

What about the word “comforted”? You say, “It’s comfort in my Bible.” Sure, parakaleō, parakaleō, a very beautiful word; a word used repeatedly in the New Testament, and a word that always contains the idea of strengthening.

In Ephesians 6:22 it says, “that He might strengthen your hearts.” In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, “Strengthen your hearts.” The word parakaleō includes in it the idea of comfort. It includes in it the idea of courage, it includes in it the idea of being strengthened, and it always carries all those aspects. In fact, we can look backwards into etymology and we can find the use of this word to mean specifically “strengthened.”

It means to provide a strong, courageous inner man; an intellect, and a will that will act heroically for God. A strong heart means a firm mind: a mind that has courage, a mind that has conviction, a mind that believes, a mind that has principle

He tells us how essential the Holy Spirit is in giving us a strong mind in all the right ways:

You say, “But how do you get strong like that?” I’ll show you. Ephesians chapter 3, verse 16 tells you in one verse. How do you get that mind, that inner part of me strong? Verse 16: “He prays to the Father that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power by His” – what? – “Spirit.”

Who is the strengthener of the heart? Who is it? It’s the Holy Spirit. And we need it. We live in a world with a weak heart. People don’t have convictions. People don’t believe in things. People don’t know the truth. People don’t learn the truth: they don’t pursue the truth, they don’t mine the truth. And he says, “I want you to be strong in it. I want you to be courageous. I want you to be comforted, encouraged, and strengthened by it.” All of that’s in the word parakaleō. And the Holy Spirit is the one that can do it.

You say, “How does it happen, John?” I believe as you yield to the power of the Spirit of God, as you walk in the Spirit, He strengthens the inner man. I think that’s what he’s saying here. You give the Spirit of God control of your life on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis, and the Spirit of God will feed that inner man. The Spirit of God, by the revelation of God, will feed your mind, and strengthen your mind.

As we yield moment-by-moment to the presence of the Spirit of God, we’re strengthened. Paul is a perfect illustration of that. In Acts 9 he tells us that he was converted, and immediately one of the things that began to happen after he was converted was that he began to be strengthened. Acts 9:19 says, “He was strengthened.” Acts 9:22, “But Saul increased the more in strength.”

He became stronger, and stronger. It wasn’t that he was lifting weights, and it wasn’t that he was eating a lot of food. It was that he was being equipped by the Spirit of God, and he became so strong in his heart, he became so solid in his confidence, he became so unflinching in his ministry, that in chapter 20, verse 22, he said, “I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem. I don’t know what’s going to happen, except I hear that bonds and afflictions await me. But none of these things” – what? – “move me”

If the word parakaleō means to strengthen, it is the very same word that is used in John 14, 15, and 16 as the name of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember the Holy Spirit being called Paraklētos, the Paraclete? That’s the identical word. You could just as well translate those verses this way.

John 14:16, this would be accurate according to the meaning of the word. John 14:16, Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Strengthener.” Verse 26, “But the Strengthener, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things.” John 15:26, “But when the Strengthener is come.” John 16:7 “If I go not away, the Strengthener will not come.” It’s the same word.

MacArthur brings us the methods of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in practical applications:

If you’re going to be strong in heart, then you’re going to be strengthened by the Strengthener, and that’s the Holy Spirit. And I’ll tell you what makes a weak Christian: that’s a Christian who walks all the time in the flesh. Right? Listen. Every step you take walking in the Spirit is a step like spiritual weightlifting, just that much stronger in your mind, in your convictions, in the things you know and believe about God.

Now I want to go a step further. Although the Holy Spirit is the Strengthener, He uses human instruments. He uses people like me to strengthen you, people like you to strengthen each other. Listen to Acts 18:23, “And after he had spent some time there,” – that’s Paul – “he departed and went over the country of Galatia and Phrygia” – now listen – “strengthening all the disciples.”

What was he doing? What was Paul doing? What did he do to them? He went in there and he poured into their minds divine truth, and that strengthened them. God uses human instruments empowered by His Spirit to strengthen.

Did you ever read 1 Timothy 6:2 this way? Paul says to Timothy at the end of the verse, “These things teach and strengthen.” Same verb. You know what strengthens people? Teaching. “These things teach and strengthen.” It is the Word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God, whether it’s directly as he ministers to you, or through a teacher that strengthens you.

… “Beloved, when I gave all diligence” – Jude 3 – “to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful of me to write unto you, and strengthen you that you should earnestly fight for the faith once delivered to the saints.” He says, “I had to write you to strengthen you.” “What do you mean?” “I had to impart to your brain knowledge to make you strong.”

MacArthur says that emotions are a sign of weakness. May our minds prevail in God’s truth via the Holy Spirit:

Listen. People don’t get strong by exercising their emotions. Do you understand that? You must understand what it says. “I want you to have strong hearts. It doesn’t mean I want you to have over exercised emotions. What it means is that I want you to have the input of the Spirit of God and the truth of God in your mind.” And so it will come from the Holy Spirit who is the Strengthener; and it will come from other instruments, such as Paul, such as Jude, such as me, such as anybody. And you know something, it will come from you; because if you’re strong, you’ll be able to pass that truth on.

I can think of a world-famous couple who have done a lot of damage — and continue to do so — by relying on their emotions rather than cool-headed, rational thinking.

They caused rifts within a tightly-knit family, rifts which might never be mended. They also caused ongoing anxiety in the matriarch of the family, who was already ill and grieving. She died this month and was buried exactly one week ago.

They did it by putting their emotions first and foremost.

We mustn’t be like that couple.

Instead, let us pray for increased knowledge of the eternal truth via the Holy Spirit, as the matriarch did during her long life of service and devotion.

May our minds be ever strengthened and at peace in Christ Jesus via the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Colossians 2:1-5

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

———————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded my study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

This week, we begin looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This was another letter that the Apostle wrote as a prisoner in Rome. It is dated AD 62.

As Matthew Henry says:

He was not idle in his confinement, and the word of God was not bound.

Paul never met the Colossians. Epaphras founded the church in Colossae (pron. ‘Co-loss-see’). Epaphras learned about Christ and the doctrine of the faith from Paul in Ephesus and took those truths back to his home city. It is likely that Timothy also ministered there.

Although Paul did not know the Colossians, he felt every ounce of love for them that he did for the congregations he knew personally.

The illustration of Colossae’s location in Asia Minor — today’s Turkey — comes from Bible Map, along with this description (emphases mine):

ko-los’-e (Kolossai, “punishment”; the King James Version Colosse): A city of Phrygia on the Lycus River, one of the branches of the Meander, and 3 miles from Mt. Cadmus, 8,013 ft. high. It stood at the head of a gorge where the two streams unite, and on the great highway traversing the country from Ephesus to the Euphrates valley, 13 miles from Hierapolis and 10 from Laodicea. Its history is chiefly associated with that of these two cities. Early, according to both Herodotus and Xenophon, it was a place of great importance. There Xerxes stopped 481 B.C. (Herodotus vii.30) and Cyrus the Younger marched 401 B.C. (Xen. Anab. i.2, 6). From Colossians 2:1 it is not likely that Paul visited the place in person; but its Christianization was due to the efforts of Epaphras and Timothy (Colossians 1:1, 7), and it was the home of Philemon and Epaphras. That a church was established there early is evident from Colossians 4:12, 13 Revelation 1:11; Revelation 3:14. As the neighboring cities, Hierapolis and Laodicea, increased in importance, Colosse declined. There were many Jews living there, and a chief article of commerce, for which the place was renowned, was the collossinus, a peculiar wool, probably of a purple color. In religion the people were specially lax, worshipping angels. Of them, Michael was the chief, and the protecting saint of the city. It is said that once he appeared to the people, saving the city in time of a flood. It was this belief in angels which called forth Paul’s epistle (Colossians 2:18). During the 7th and 8th centuries the place was overrun by the Saracens; in the 12th century the church was destroyed by the Turks and the city disappeared.The ruins of the church, the stone foundation of a large theater, and a necropolis with stones of a peculiar shape are still to be seen. During the Middle Ages the place bore the name of Chonae; it is now called Chonas.

Wikipedia has more information, excerpted below:

Despite a treacherously ambiguous cartography and history, Colossae has been clearly distinguished in modern research from nearby Chonai (Χῶναι), now called Honaz, with what remains of the buried ruins of Colossae (“the mound”) lying 3 km (1.9 mi) to the north of Honaz.[6][7][8]

The medieval poet Manuel Philes, incorrectly, imagined that the name “Colossae” was connected to the Colossus of Rhodes.[9] More recently, in an interpretation which ties Colossae to an Indo-European root that happens to be shared with the word kolossos, Jean-Pierre Vernant has connected the name to the idea of setting up a sacred space or shrine.[10] Another proposal relates the name to the Greek kolazo, “to punish”.[9] Others believe the name derives from the manufacture of its famous dyed wool, or colossinus.[11]

the wool of Colossae gave its name to colour colossinus.[14]

The town was known for its fusion of religious influences (syncretism), which included Jewish, Gnostic, and pagan influences that, in the first century AD, were described as an angel-cult.[17] This unorthodox cult venerated the archangel Michael, who is said to have caused a curative spring to gush from a fissure in the earth.[4] The worship of angels showed analogies with the cult of pre-Christian pagan deities like Zeus.[18][19] Saint Theodoret of Cyrrhus told about their surviving in Phrygia during the fourth century.[20]

… in the Epistle to Philemon Paul tells Philemon of his hope to visit Colossae upon being freed from prison.[26] Tradition also gives Philemon as the second bishop of the see.

The city was decimated by an earthquake in the 60s AD, and was rebuilt independent of the support of Rome.[27]

The Apostolic Constitutions list Philemon as a bishop of Colossae.[28] On the other hand, the Catholic Encyclopedia considers Philemon doubtful.[29]

The first historically documented bishop is Epiphanius,[when?] who was not personally at the Council of Chalcedon, but whose metropolitan bishop Nunechius of Laodicea, the capital of the Roman province of Phrygia Pacatiana, signed the acts on his behalf.[citation needed]

The city’s fame and renowned status continued into the Byzantine period, and in 858, it was distinguished as a Metropolitan See. The Byzantines also built the church of St. Michael in the vicinity of Colossae, one of the largest church buildings in the Middle East. Nevertheless, sources suggest that the town may have decreased in size or may even been completely abandoned due to Arab invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries, forcing the population to flee to resettle in the nearby city of Chonai (modern day Honaz).[11]

Colossae’s famous church was destroyed in 1192/3 during the Byzantine civil wars. It was a suffragan diocese of Laodicea in Phyrigia Pacatiane but was replaced in the Byzantine period by the Chonae settlement on higher ground.[4]

As of 2019, Colossae has never been excavated, as most archeological attention has been focused on nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis,[30] though plans are reported for an Australian-led expedition to the site. The present site exhibits a biconical acropolis almost 100 feet (30 m) high, and encompasses an area of almost 22 acres (8.9 ha). On the eastern slope there sits a theater which probably seated around 5,000 people, suggesting a total population of 25,000–30,000 people. The theater was probably built during the Roman period, and may be near an agora that abuts the cardo maximus, or the city’s main north-south road. Ceramic finds around the theater confirm the city’s early occupation in the third and second millennia BC.

The holiness and healing properties associated with the waters of Colossae during the Byzantine era continue to this day, particularly at a pool fed by the Lycus River at the Göz picnic grounds west of Colossae at the foot of Mt. Cadmus. Locals consider the water to be therapeutic.[32]

John MacArthur has more on the city’s topography, which was beneficial for raising sheep and producing wool:

from the Lycus River there were chalk deposits that were left. And some historians have said that they left amazing configurations all over the area where the water would spill out, and it would rise at flood time, and it would leave this chalk, and all kinds of strange formations that looked like monuments would result. Now, on the land where there wasn’t any chalk, the land was super fertile and they grew pasture there and had excellent, excellent pasture land for sheep, and it became the wool center of the ancient world. And they used the chalk, also, for making dyes. They would raise the sheep, get the wool, and then dye the wool right there.

MacArthur’s estimation of Colossae’s population is higher than those mentioned above:

It was a Gentile city, but there are estimates that in those three cities there could be as many as fifty thousand Jews, and the reason they estimate that is they found some papers about a tax that the Jewish community there was sending back to Jerusalem. And by the amount of the tax they can deduct how many Jews there would have been in order to give that amount, and they estimate about fifty thousand Jews. So, there would be a large Gentile population and a rather large Jewish population.

He gives us a timeline of Paul’s ministry and the founding of various churches in Asia Minor:

On Paul’s third missionary journey, he went to Ephesus. Ephesus was a great center of Asia Minor. And Paul went there on his third journey, and he stayed there for three years. Remember? During the three years that he was in Ephesus, he never visited Colossae, as far as we know, but people started coming to him from all over Asia Minor. And do you know that during those three years the church at Ephesus was founded, and all seven churches of Revelation 2-3 were founded. You have Ephesus, Laodicea, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Pergamum – all of those – Thyatira; all of those churches were founded during that time, and so was the church in Colossae, and so was the church in Hierapolis. They were all outgrowths of Paul’s ministry on his third missionary journey as he ministered there.

In Acts chapter 19, verse 10, it says – and this is part of his ministry there in Ephesus – “And this continued for the space of two years.” This was the first part of it, “so that all they who dwelt in Asia” – that’s Asia Minor, a province – “all that dwelt in Asia Minor heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Verse 26, when they wanted to throw him out, they said, “Morever you see and hear, that not alone in Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia Minor, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying they are no gods which are made with hands.” So, it is the comment of Luke in verse 10, and it is the comment of his persecutors in verse 26 that his gospel had filled the whole of Asia Minor. From the vantage point of Ephesus people would come hear the gospel and go back. From Colossae came a group of people – Epaphras, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus. From Laodicea came Nymphas. All of them received Christ under the ministry of Paul. All of them went back to be used of God to begin churches. The most influential person in the beginning of those three churches in those cities was Epaphras.

Epaphras founded the churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Hieropolis. Today, we would call them a ‘tri-city area’.

After Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus ended:

He spent a winter in Greece writing, and then he started back to Jerusalem. He gathered the collections to take to the poor saints – went all the way back to Jerusalem.

He arrived at Jerusalem, and you remember the terrible trouble that happened? They threw him in jail. The next thing you knew he wound up in Caesarea in jail. He pleaded his case to Caesar and  they shipped him to Rome.

Epaphras went to Rome to seek Paul’s spiritual counsel about the Colossians, who were pure of heart but prone to heresy:

Here is a congregation of Gentiles, and they’ve got a smattering probably of Jewish believers, maybe, just a very little, and they’ve got a problem. There’s a heresy that’s beginning to creep into the congregation and Epaphras, their pastor, is really concerned. He makes a trip of a thousand to thirteen hundred miles, depending upon which way he took, to go to Rome and see Paul – and he pours his heart out to Paul. He says, in effect, “the people are super, Paul, but there’s an imminent danger; there’s a peril.” And Paul writes to them and says, “Hey, you are super people, but let me warn you about something.” Further on you’ll hear him say, “Don’t let anybody beguile you.” It wasn’t that they’d already been, it was that they were in danger of being beguiled. This is prevention.

You say, “Well, what is the heresy?” Well, it was a twofold heresy. First of all, it was coming from paganism. Those people were living on the verge of paganism all the time. You know, in that one region historians tell us that the deities such as Cybele, Men, Issus, Serapis, Helios, Selene, Demeter, and Artimus dominated the worship of the people. I mean, there were gods – you know, ad nauseam, plenty of them. And the basic evil that faced that church was a relapse into paganism. For the most part they were new Christians, and the pull of the darkness and the sensuality of the old life was strong.

… I call it sometimes, as I think it’s Hendriksen uses the term (William Hendriksen), “the cable of the past.” Life is like a cable; habit makes cables. A person weaves a thread every day until it becomes an unbreakable cable – and then you can’t cut it, and the cable of the past tends to pull. And there was the environment of the present that they were living in. It was hard to row against the current. And then they had their own undertow of passion pulling them. And so, Paul’s telling them, “Don’t go back, don’t go back.”

… And this false doctrine – let me give it to you very simply – this false doctrine basically had two features. We don’t know what brand it is. We don’t have any title for it. It really isn’t any particular system that we know about historically, but I’ll define it for you. This false doctrine that Satan was beginning to spread, or at least was going to try to spread in Colossae, had two basic features.

Number one: it included a false philosophy. Chapter 2, verse 8, “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy.” Boy, a lot of people have been spoiled through philosophy. “And empty deceit.” Hmmm. This is interesting.

… Here’s what they were saying: the Greeks loved knowledge; oh did they love it. They literally gloated over what they knew, and the higher you got in knowledge, and the more difficult you were to understand, and the further you got spaced out with strange, weird understanding, the more snobbish you became. The heretics were saying this, they were saying: “The simplicity of the gospel is not adequate.” Now listen. “The simplicity of the gospel is not adequate.” Jesus Christ is not enough; you must have elaborate knowledge in addition to having Him. Salvation is – watch – Christ plus knowledge equals salvation. They claimed secret visions This guy’s pretending to see a vision, and he comes and says, “I have seen a vision. I have seen the supernatural.” And he assumes an air of deep insight into divinely revealed mysteries. And he prides himself on his superior knowledge, and this is what became later Gnosticism. From gnosis, “to know” – superior knowledge. It isn’t Gnosticism yet because Gnosticism isn’t really defined for many years after this. But here are the seeds of it, intellectual snobbery. Somebody was saying, “It isn’t enough to know Jesus. You can’t defeat the powers of the emanating demons, you can’t crack the barriers to get to the divine realm by Jesus alone – you’ve got to have superior knowledge.” And so, they were talking about weird philosophies, and they were intruding, verse 18 says, “into things they had seen and their fleshly mind was being puffed up.” Jesus isn’t adequate. You see Jesus, they believed, was one of the emanations

There’s a second factor in this heresy. The first one was false philosophy. The second was Judaistic ceremony, legalism. Now, you say, “Well, that’s a strange bedfellow for Greek philosophy.” You’re right, but it was there. Somehow this strange heresy was a combination of Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, or legalism. Look at chapter 2, verse 11. Some of them were saying you had to be circumcised to be saved. “In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands,” he says. You don’t need a circumcision. What was this part of the heresy saying? Watch. Christ-plus-works-equals-salvation. The philosophy said, “Christ plus knowledge equals salvation.” This is Christ plus works. And God says, “Christ plus nothing equals salvation.” That’s the message of Colossians. Chapter 3 tells us a little more about – chapter 3, he says, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision.” Don’t get into that. That’s not an issue. There’s no need to even be concerned about that.

And so, they were concerned with things that there was no reason to be concerned with – none whatsoever. It even went so far as, for example, in chapter 2, verse 20, “If you’re dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not…).” This is like asceticism, you know. They couldn’t do anything. “(Which are all to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men. These things have indeed a shew of wisdom or self-imposed worship.” And so, he really says, “You don’t need those things – touch not; taste not; handle not” and all that. It’s pointless …

So, here they were, wrapped up in Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, these false teachers. And they were just beginning to attack the church at Colossae.

You say, “What a weird mixture. Where did it come from?” We don’t know. We don’t even know who these people were, but there is a, there’s precedent for this. There was a group of people in Israel called the Essenes. Have you ever heard of them? The three major groups among the Jews, the three major religious sects in Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The Essenes were ascetics, and by that I mean they were far out. In fact, they believed that you shouldn’t have anything, that you should be totally deprived of everything. I mean, they were really far out. They were Gnostics. That’s interesting. They believed that the body was corruptible, that matter was corruptible, and spirit was good and imperishable.

So, they had that same philosophical strain. They saw the soul in the prison of the body, which was a Greek concept. It was their concept, and the reason the Greeks had it and they had it was the devil – the same devil, whether he’s working with the Greeks or with anybody else. They were super-strict legalists. They went way beyond the Pharisees. They were celibate. And they adopted children in order to propagate their theology. Some of them married, but if they did marry they gave their wife a three year probation period. I don’t know on what criteria they decided whether they should continue it after that or not. They hated riches. You know what Josephus says about them? Josephus says they worshiped angels. Isn’t that interesting? It’s amazing, but all of the things that this strange group of people did affecting the Colossian church are also characteristic of these people, the Essenes. The Essenes were vegetarians, super legalistic. That may well be that the influencing group behind the picture at Colossae was this group of Essenes, but whatever. They were saying, “Christ plus rules and laws equal salvation” – “Christ plus knowledge equals salvation.” Paul wants to say in Colossians, “Christ plus” – What? – “nothing equals salvation.”

They talked about Christ, but it was Christ plus some super-knowledge. They had not only all of the philosophy that was into their heresy in Colossae, but they had all of the Jewish legalism. What a mess. But the one attack was this: Satan had concerted all of this hodgepodge to attack – What? the sufficiency of – Whom? Christ. And that’s always where he attacks. And listen to Paul’s response in Colossians 2:9, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Listen to me, “and you are” – What? – “complete in him.” Isn’t that beautiful? There’s the answer. You want to know God? Christ is the image of God. You want knowledge? In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You want to be accepted by God? Worship Christ not angels or celestial intercessors. You want to fulfill God’s will? Don’t fool with the shadow. The substance is Christ. You want holiness? It doesn’t come from abusing your body. It comes from setting your affections on Him

Paul has one thing in mind in Colossians: Christ-sufficient.

MacArthur points out that things are very much the same today. New Age philosophy mixes with Christianity and produces syncretism. There are many different types of syncretism, vaudou being yet another, mixing the veneration of canonised saints with animal sacrifices and evil spells.

We also have the personal beliefs of celebrities and media personalities which we can read on a daily basis.

He says:

Let me take you to verse 8. “See to it that no one takes you captive” – chapter 2“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy.” This is human opinion, the mind of man. There are no human solutions to spiritual problems. There are no human insights that take us places the Bible doesn’t or can’t. That is to say there is nothing necessary for life and godliness that is not delivered to us by the Word through the Spirit. We don’t need Christ plus insights into human wisdom, spiritual intuition. You can take all the philosophers the world has ever known, in ancient and modern times, all the authors, all the writers, all the playwrights, all the movie producers, all the talk show hosts, all the psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders, and you can take all their endless verbosity about truth and life and morality, and all their solutions to human problems and dilemmas, and they add nothing to what is already in Christ.

We don’t even have much classic philosophy anymore. New Age philosophy is not about thinking; it’s about feeling. Philosophy used to be a rational exercise. Now, in a postmodern world, it is an irrational exercise.

With that in mind, let’s look at Colossians 1, which is included in the Lectionary:

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers[a] in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.[b] He is a faithful minister of Christ on your[c] behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Preeminence of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation[g] under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Paul’s Ministry to the Church

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

In Colossians 2, Paul says he has a great struggle for the congregations in Colossae and Laodicea and for those he does not know personally (verse 1).

Henry says Paul’s struggle is one of agony:

Observe, 1. Paul’s care of the church was such as amounted to a conflict. He was in a sort of agony, and had a constant fear respecting what would become of them. Herein he was a follower of his Master, who was in an agony for us, and was heard in that he feared.

MacArthur says that Paul would have had to truly love the Lord to get to this point in feeling for strangers:

… a man of God must have that basic commitment that he really loves the church, that he first loves the Lord, and then that he loves the Lord’s people.

He, too, points to Paul’s agony:

Now because of his great love for the saints, he says, in verse 1 of chapter 2, “I would that you knew what great agōn, agony I have for you, and for them at Laodicea and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. Not just you, but anybody else. It’s obvious I love the people I’ve been with, but I love even the people who’ve never even seen me, those people who make up the church. And because of that, when I see the difficulty that you’re in, when I see the attack that you’re under in terms of false teaching, when I know the anxieties of living the Christian life and walking the walk, I have a great sense of agony and struggle and striving on your behalf.” And that comes because he loved them.

Paul truly wants their hearts to be encouraged, to be knit together in love, to reach those riches of full assurance in understanding and knowing the mystery of God in Jesus Christ (verse 2).

MacArthur’s translation uses ‘strengthened’ instead of ‘encouraged’, but he explains how both words can tie together and include ‘comforted’:

Now we translated that term “strengthened” rather than “comforted,” because we think that that is the more particular emphasis that the apostle is making here. The word means to comfort, to console, or to strengthen. It embodies all of that idea. It even means to grant endurance. So it’s a lot of things. But it seems to me that the sum of it all, and what Paul is really working on, is that their hearts would be strengthened

Now what he’s saying is, “I want your mind to be strengthened. I want strong minds.” Why? Because the mind is the first thing that Satan assails. You understand that? Satan assails the mind with lies. He is the father of – what? – of lies. He brings around false truth and false information, and assaults the mind with it; and that directs the behavior that responds. And so it is necessary to have a strong mind.

Now the term in the Bible “heart” generally is used to refer to the mind or the intellect. That’s its technical meaning. I would add though that there are times when heart is used in a general non-technical sense to refer to the totality of man’s inner being. But when it is used in its technical sense, it has reference to the mind, or the seat of knowledge, which is basically the beginner of action.

So it is necessary to have a powerful, fruitful Christian life to have a strong mind. And the way your mind is strengthened is by filling it with divine truth that can trigger a positive behavior pattern in your will; and then your emotions will be responding.

MacArthur has more on the biblical use of ‘heart’ as ‘mind’ in another sermon, which I’ll discuss more in tomorrow’s post:

What then does the heart picture? Not the emotions, but the mind. The intellect and the mind is made up of two things: the intellect and the will. That’s the heart in biblical terminology.

… the heart was the seat of thought. It was the seat of thinking. And so that the heart represents the mind that sets the pace, and the bowels [gut, as in instinct] represent the responding emotion …

But how did they get the heart out of the brain? Well, some have surmised that because when the brain is really functioning, the heart is really working, and they could feel it throbbing and pulsing. But that’s the way they did it. Real serious thinking, says a Hebrew, can be felt in the beat of the heart. So the heart thinks, and the bowels respond with emotion. That’s the way you are.

Now remember this. In the mind of the Hebrew, and in the Revelation of God, emotions never initiate, they always respond. The heart thinks, and the emotions respond. That is the divine pattern.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s notion of hearts being knit together in love:

… all of that theology, and all of that knowledge, and all of that brain power is balanced off by love. And so hastily, Paul says, “I pray that their hearts might be comforted,” – now watch the next line – “being knit together in love, being knit together in love.” He wants a one-mindedness of hearts, that are knit together in love. And as I said, this is the balancer to doctrine.

The word “knit,” or “knit together,” simply means to unite. But it really is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ, all of us being knit together in an indivisible kind of oneness. Your body is a combination of billions of cells, all knit together. You can’t pick any one of them apart, because they blend indiscriminately together. And that’s the thing that the apostle Paul is after. “As the cells of a body are indistinguishable because they’re lost in the mass, so should you be indistinguishable as you’re lost in the unity of love that exists among the brethren.”

The sense of the word here as it appears – and also it appears later on in chapter 2, verse 19, you’ll see it, “knit together again;” they’re talking about the body again being joined together and knit together – is the idea of all the parts being put together in a way that leaves them almost without any personal identity. And they’re held together, like atoms are held together in your body by, what we called a few weeks ago, nuclear glue, which is nothing more than a funny name for God. God holds it all together. So in the spiritual sense, we are to be united; and the nuclear glue, if you will, that holds us together, is being knit together in – what? – love. Love is the thing that ties believers together

We do not have to create unity, the Spirit has already created it. We just have to – what? – guard it. We have to guard that unity. You say, “How do you guard it?” By being a peacemaker. It is the unity of the Spirit that is guarded by the bond of peace, that is that you and I have a covenant that we will be at peace with each other. That’s the bond of peace, that you and I agree that we will not argue, that we will not fight, that we will not hassle, but that we will be at peace. We’re peacemakers; and we will keep, we will guard the unity the Spirit has already put there positionally. We will guard it, and allow its practical manifestation by being peacemakers.

Paul says that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (verse 3).

This verse relates to the end of verse 2. The more we understand the more we appreciate the riches (verse 2) and the treasures (verse 3) of the eternal truth in Christ.

MacArthur says that we arrive at this point through regular prayer and study of Scripture:

The unregenerate man does not have truth connected to conduct. His mind is a blank. Paul says, “I want you to have settled understanding. I want you to understand.” “Paul,” – you say – “what do you want me to understand?” “I want you to understand the will of God and all that’s involved in it”

What does God want you to understand? The revelation of God’s will.

And I’ll tell you; the more you study, the more your mind is filled; the more it begins to flow through you, in terms of operation, in terms of behavior; the more you understand how really rich you are. And you can enjoy the Christian life. And the things of the world mean less, and less, and less; and you find that the things you initially couldn’t let go of, you finally can let go, because you know where the true riches are.

And you can begin to do what Jesus says with confidence, “Lay up for yourselves” – what? – “treasure in heaven,” because you know now that’s where your confidence is. Because where your heart is, that’s where your treasure’s going to be. And until you have a heart that is settled, and assured, and confident in God, you’re going to hang on to some things in the world. But when your mind is confident, and your behavior roots that confidence, you’re going to have the kind of assurance that let’s you let go and trust the true riches.

You say, “How do you get that assurance? How do you get that confidence?” Well, you need to pray for it, I think. Praying just keeps you acknowledging the source of it.

MacArthur says that Paul is urging them to have convictions — strong principles — about their faith that they can articulate to themselves and to others. This is something we need as Christians even today:

He says, “All of this stuff comes from one source, so you’ve got to have a settled conviction about one thing,” – verse 2, he says – “the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement” – I’m going to read this the way it is in the Greek – “to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ; to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Now listen to me. Paul says, “I want you to have a basic, settled, assured conviction; and the place that that thing has to start is that you have to be convinced that the mystery of God is Christ. Now listen. “What do you mean, Paul?” “You have to be convinced of the deity and all-sufficiency of Christ,” – is what he’s saying – “that the hidden God has manifested Himself in the revealed Christ.”

You see what he’s saying? “I want you to have absolute, unwavering assurance, and acknowledge that the mystery of God, that is, the hidden God, is revealed as Christ;” – what is that saying? That Christ is deity – “and that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” That is sufficiency. And why does he say this? Because those are the two things that the false teachers in Colossae were attacking: the deity of Christ, and His sufficiency to save.

And he says, “You have to start there. You have to have a settled conviction about the deity of Christ and His sufficiency.” And these people would come into Colossae attacking the deity of Jesus Christ. They were saying that Jesus was just one of those emanations … just a sort of an angelic being down the line, a good emanation, a good spirit, like many others. And they were saying, “It isn’t enough to come to Christ for salvation; He’s just one step on the ladder. You’ve got to have super wisdom, and you’ve got to go for some mysterious knowledge, and et cetera, et cetera.”

And Paul is saying, “Look, I don’t want you to fuss with that. I want you to have an absolute, settled assurance about the riches that you have. And the first thing that you have to be sure of is that this Christ is none other than the hidden God revealed. He is deity,” – number 2 in verse 3 – “that in Him is all sufficiency.” That’s his point: a settled conviction about Christ

Over the years, a lot of people have said to me, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe in Jesus.’

It seems to me that, in stopping church early in their teenage years, they never really came to a true understanding of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they got bored. However, anyone truly paying attention in church and in Sunday School learns that there is nothing boring or ambivalent about our Lord and Saviour.

Paul then makes a reference to the heretical philosophy the Colossians have been hearing. He says that he wants them to understand the mysteries of God in Christ in order not to be ‘deluded’ by ‘plausible arguments’ (verse 4).

The heretics were peddling plausible arguments. That is how heresy works. It is the work of the devil and, as such, seductive.

MacArthur says:

The heretics and the false teachers believed there was a great mass of divine knowledge necessary for salvation, and it was hidden in secret books; and the secret books were called apokruphos, and only those super-intellects could open them. And Paul says, “Baloney.” The only apokruphos where all of this stuff is hidden is Jesus Christ. And the day you opened your heart to Christ, God took the lid off the diamond mine, and just said, “Go ahead; take what you need. It’s all there.”

You don’t need the special books of the secret intellect …

… in verse 4, “And I’m saying this, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.” Lightfoot translates it, “I wish to warn you against anyone who would lead you astray by specious arguments and persuasive rhetoric.” He’s saying, “I don’t want you to exchange proven riches for speculation.”

Boy, it’s sad when a Christian would come to a place where he’d listen to some of that garbage about Christ. “Well, I don’t know. I’ve always believed the other way.” See? Paul is saying, “Look, have a settled conviction. And I’m telling you this, lest anybody is going to beguile you with enticing words, clever phrases – and they’re clever, and their arguments are good.”

This is the basic attack of all false systems. They’ll deny two things. They’ll deny the deity of Christ – now mark it in your mind – they’ll all do it. They’ll deny the deity of Christ, and they’ll deny His sufficiency to save; one or the other, or both. They’ll come and say, “Oh, yes. Yeah, Christ saves, plus works.” Right? Or, “Oh, yes, Christ isn’t God.”

But these are the two things around which all that false stuff revolves. It is a denial of the deity of Christ and/or His sufficiency to save alone. And the cults are all brought to the bar of God right here and condemned, folks, all of them. Anything that reduces Christ to less than deity, or anything that adds anything to His saving sufficiency belongs in the beguiling activity of Satan.

Paul ends this section by saying that, although he isn’t with them in body, he is with them in spirit, rejoicing to see their good order — personal conduct — and the firmness of their faith in Christ (verse 5).

In MacArthur’s translation the final words are ‘your order and steadfastness’.

He says that Paul was using military terms:

Both of those words are military terms. The word “order,” taxis, is an interesting word. It means rank, and it means a single-file line of soldiers. “You’re still holding rank.” You know what happens when an army begins to lose the battle? The ranks begin to become depleted. They begin to shoot them down. This comes from way back. The army would do out in a phalanx, and they’d start shooting them down, and they’d be falling …

And then he uses another term, “steadfast,” stereōma. This again speaks of a solid front of soldiers, ready to stand the shock of attack. And it speaks of more of not the unbroken rank, but the solidarity. “Not only are you unbroken in your rank, but, man, you are standing firm. And when the shock of battle hits, boom, you’re going to stop it; and I rejoice. You’re obedient, you’re disciplined, you’re holding rank, and you’re going to stand the attack; and that makes me happy. Yet I warn.”

Next week’s post will look at Paul’s warning about asceticism, another system of works which cannot save.

Next time — Colossians 2:20-23

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 4:21-23

Final Greetings

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

———————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s gratitude to the Philippians for their gifts to him over the years.

We have now reached the conclusion of Philippians and Paul’s benediction.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us (emphases mine):

So as the dear Apostle Paul watches the candle flicker, probably at night, and realizes that the darkness of night is soon to fall and waits the morning dawn when he hands the scroll, as it were, to Epaphroditus and he says, “Epaphroditus, the letter is done, you can now return to Philippi and give it to the leaders of the church,” as he waits to send off that dictated letter which an amanuensis or secretary has taken down, just before he is finished in the flickering of that last evening, he picks the stylus up himself and with his own hand it is very likely that verses 20, 21, 22 and 23 were written.

You say, “Well what makes you think that? The word of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul in writing the final words of 2 Thessalonians said this, “I, Paul,” chapter 3 verse 17, “write this greeting with my own hand and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter, this is the way I write.” You wouldn’t write a letter without signing it to authenticate it, neither would Paul. And he says in that verse, “In all the letters I write, I always take up the pen and authenticate this.” You can understand how important that would be, right? People could be sending all kinds of letters and saying they were from Paul, it was vital that the true Word of God through that instrument be validated by his own inimitable inscription. And we know from Galatians 6:11 that he wrote with large letters. There’s reason to assume a rather large clumsy letters were his common way to sign off which would be very difficult to counterfeit. And so he picks up the stylus from his secretary, or amanuensis, and pens this final word. And as he does he introduces to us this lovely theme of sainthood.

Paul tells the Philippians to greet every saint in Christ Jesus and says that the brothers with him greet them also (verse 21).

The greeting Paul speaks of is more than saying ‘hello’. It suggests affectionate fellowship.

MacArthur says:

The simple verb translated “greet” or “salute,” although that has so many military connotations we don’t use it anymore, the simple verb means to say “hello” but not just in a vacuum, it implies a note of affection and a desire for one’s well being. And here we could assume that Paul is saying affectionately, “I want you to express to all the saints how much I desire their spiritual well being. Share my love and passion for their spiritual development.” That’s really what’s on his heart. It says I care, I care about you.

Would you notice he says “greet every saint.” He doesn’t say greet all the saints in sort of the collective way. Instead of using the collective “all” he uses the individualistic word “every.” And here he is noting for us that every saint is worthy of Paul’s concern, Paul’s care, Paul’s affection and Paul’s wishes for spiritual well being. Now this is a monumental and unique element of the Christian faith that we are to love one another the same. We are to consider others better than ourselves. There is no stratification in the body of Christ. There are to be no favorites. God is not a respecter of…what?…of persons. We are not to elevate some over the other. And what Paul shows us here that is…in his affectionate desire for the spiritual well being of the saints he included everybody. This is his heart. This is what he was after in chapter 2 when he said to them, “If there’s any encouragement in Christ, any comfort of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, please make my joy complete.” Why? “By having the same mind, loving everyone the same way, being united in Spirit, having one purpose, not being proud but humble, regarding one another as more important than yourself and not looking on your own things but the things of other,” namely, having the mind of Christ, the mind of humility. That’s fellowship.

That is not always how fellowship works in reality, but that is how it should work and what we should strive for.

MacArthur says that this instruction of greeting is meant for the church leaders:

Now the injunction here in verse 21 is directed at the church leaders who will get the letter. And when he says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus,” he is telling the pastors and elders and deacons to go greet the people on his behalf individually, assuring them of his love and his desire for their spiritual well being. This is the way it is with Christ. He had a heart for the individual. I remember Mark 5:31 where out of the midst of the multitude He felt the little lady who touched His garment. He always had that sense of being touchable. So it is in the church. There’s no stratification, there’s no elevation. We’re all commonly saints. None of us is superior to or inferior to the other, we are what we are by the grace of God, 1 Corinthians 15:10 says, and only because of His grace.

MacArthur explains who the brothers are in that verse:

Now I want you to know that while he was a prisoner in Rome for this time writing this letter, he had some pretty formidable folks coming to see him. He calls them the brethren who are with me and they send you the same desire for spiritual well being and affection and they’re the ones with me. These are his specific coworkers, as opposed to all the rest that he mentions in verse 22. And doing a little bit of background on this you find out who they were…quite an amazing group of people.

For example, we know that during his imprisonment Timothy was with him because he refers to him in the letter clear back in chapter 1 verse 1, then in chapter 2 verse 19. Timothy was his protege, his son in the faith, a very gifted, great, godly man, thirty years the junior of Paul but nonetheless a very unique and gifted man. There was also Epaphroditus, that godly saint who had come from Philippi, he too was with Paul, and you know the character of that man, it’s mentioned at the end of chapter 2. He was such a devout Christian that he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his own life just to serve Paul. That is a sacrificial man.

So Timothy was there, and Epaphroditus was there. Chapter 1 and verse 14 also indicates to us that there were some other brethren who were courageously preaching the Word of God without fear, so there were a group of other preachers there, evangelizers. In addition to that it’s very likely that Tychicus and Aristarchus were there, well known and noble Christians. There are many who would tell us that Luke was there and Mark was there. If we compare all the data we have, and that’s a formidable duo, namely the two who wrote the two gospels, Mark and Luke. And some have suggested it’s very likely Onesimus was there, the runaway slave who ran into Paul and was converted to Christ, who went back then to serve Philemon. Others would say a man named Jesus Justus was there. And then there are some unnamed brethren who were there with him.

The point that I want you to see is very interesting, it’s this. That as high up the ladders of stratification as they might be, these gentlemen are only described as the brethren. And again we pull them down from any supposed rank and we talk again about the commonality of sainthood. Timothy may have been unusually gifted, and certainly was. Epaphroditus may have been a noble Christian soul, and certainly he was. And among the preachers at Rome, there were unquestionably some extremely gifted men. And no one would argue about the spiritual qualifications of Tychicus and Aristarchus, given that they had spent a lot of time with Paul. And who would question Mark and Luke’s character? But as formidable as they were, they need only be associated with such sort of non-descript and troublesome characters as Onesimus. And they are all pulled together in one term “brethren.” You see, the fellowship of saints is a common bond without strata ... There isn’t any stratification here. This is the common identity, the brethren who are saints, those others who love Christ. The fact that they were gifted in different ways doesn’t make them any superior at all. In fact, Paul when identifying himself said, “I am the least of all Apostles,” and in another epistle he said, “I am the chief of sinners.”

Paul goes on to say that all the saints greet the Philippians, especially those in Caesar’s household (verse 22).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He sends salutations from those who were at Rome: “The brethren who are with me salute you; the ministers, and all the saints here, send their affectionate remembrances to you. Chiefly those who are of Cæsar’s household; the Christian converts who belonged to the emperor’s court.” Observe, (1.) There were saints in Cæsar’s household. Though Paul was imprisoned at Rome, for preaching the gospel, by the emperor’s command, yet there were some Christians in his own family. The gospel early obtained among some of the rich and great. Perhaps the apostle fared the better, and received some favour, by means of his friends at court. (2.) Chiefly those, etc. Observe, They, being bred at court, were more complaisant than the rest. See what an ornament to religion sanctified civility is.

MacArthur points out the unifying nature of the greeting:

further opening up to us the window on fellowship, in verse 22 he says, “All the saints greet you,” and he just wraps his arms around the whole Roman church, all the people in Rome that were Christians…the wider circle of Christians, they send their love and their affection and their wishes for spiritual well being and growth.

Beloved, that’s the heart of Christian fellowship. We’re all saints, none superior to the other, though differently gifted and at points in our life differently faithful. But we are all one brotherhood, we are all one fellowship, we are all one body in Christ. And the less comely members, Paul says to the Corinthians, are not less significant, but are perhaps in many cases more significant, as the less beautiful members of your body are more significant than those ones which receive all the kudos. And so we find here that the fellowship of saints is a very simple thing, it is the sharing of common love and the desire for spiritual well being. The Christian singer is not a soloist, he’s a member of a choir. The Christian soldier is not solitary figure, he’s a member of an army. The Christian scholar is not a privately tutored leaner, he’s a part of a class and a school. The Christian son is not just a lonely child, he’s a member of a family. The Christian runner is not an individual performer, he is a part of a team. That’s the fellowship.

Catholics and Anglicans do not normally refer to each other as saints. That is something we leave to other denominations.

MacArthur defines what a saint is in Paul’s context, one which many Protestant denominations use:

Saints are not some group of people exist in isolation, as cold as the stone that marks them out. They’re common possessors of the eternal life of God who share their love with each other.

So sainthood is characterized then by being separated from sin unto God for holy purposes through faith in Christ. The worship of saints is godward praise in response to truth and blessing. The fellowship of saints is a loving and non-discriminating mutual care.

Number four, the joy of saints. Paul opens a window to that for us in verse 22 and I think he must have had a gleam in his eye as he penned this with his own stylus. He says in verse 22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” And I just think he loved to say that. Why? Well this is the joy of the saints. You say, “What is the joy of the saints?” I’ll tell you what the joy of the saints is. In Luke 15 Jesus told a story about a lady who lost a coin, looked all day, found the coin, called her friends and rejoiced.

Then He told a story about a man who had sheep, lost a sheep, found the sheep, called his friends and they rejoiced. Then He told a story about a man who lost a son, found the son, called his friends, had a feast, they rejoiced. And through that fifteenth chapter of Luke the Scripture says that when a soul is saved there is joy in heaven. The theme of Luke 15 is the joy of heaven over the salvation of a soul. And may I say to you that that’s not the only place where there’s joy when a soul is saved. What is the joy of the saints on earth? The greatest, highest joy we have, isn’t it, is to see someone come to Christ.

We had the first two of those parables in the Gospel from Luke 15 in the Year C readings on September 10, 2022, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.

The final element of sainthood is realising, as Paul did, that — even though we still sin — we still live in Christ:

Listen, He’s the theme of this whole letter, did you get that? The name of Christ is mentioned 40 times in these four chapters, one every couple of verses, He’s the heart of the whole thing. He is central to it. Paul began by describing himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. He addresses the Christians as saints in Jesus Christ. When referring to his imprisonment he says my bonds are in Jesus Christ. When he speaks about life he says for to me to live is Christ. When he speaks about death he says for me to die is Christ. When he exhorts people to godly conduct, it is to be like Christ. When he calls for proper attitudes, it is to have the mind of Christ. When he speaks of choices and desires and hopes, he says they are to be built on trust in Christ. When he speaks about joy it is the joy of Christ. When he speaks about strength it is the strength of Christ. When he calls for power and knowledge and fellowship, it is the knowledge of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings that he longs for. And when he looks for eternal hope and glory, he says I am looking for Christ. And when it’s spiritual steadfastness he needs, it is in Christ. And when it is sufficiency he wants, it is in Christ. It is Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ

Our whole life is Christ, beloved. If you get nothing else, get that out of Philippians. Called by Christ, saved by Christ, to have the mind of Christ, to serve the way Christ served, to become like Christ. That’s the message. To be like the beloved Redeemer. We are saints, not yet all we should be, but moving to become like the one who called us saints.

MacArthur tells us of Paul’s mention of Caesar’s household in verse 22, which would have included a lot of employees, just as the British Royal Family has. By contrast, the Caesar at that time was the perverse Nero, who hated Christians:

Paul knows what joy this will bring when he says, “Especially those of Caesar’s household.” Why so? Because Nero was the Caesar and everybody knows what Nero thought about Christ and Christians. Nero had fancied himself a god, a competing deity, a competing lord and demanded that the people in the Roman Empire worship him. Now the household of Caesar would not just have been his own family, the household of Caesar is a word to indicate all who were in his direct employ. And if you study history you find it’s a very interesting group. You can do reading on it yourself. You will find it included courtiers, princes and higher ups in his personal court, judges. It included cooks, food preparers, tasters who tasted the food to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. Musicians, custodians, builders, people who attended to his stables, it included soldiers and those who led them, it included people who managed his financial affairs. All of those people who were in any sense a part of the direct system, they would have been by our definition today government workers, a large group of people. And I believe that because Caesar and his whole enterprise was the direct counterpart to Christ, that there was some special exhilaration in the heart of Paul when somebody in Caesar’s household became a Christian…when they turned their backs on emperor worship and embraced the true Christ.

Now to whom is he referring? Who are these who got saved? Well, two groups. First of all, those who had come to Christ in Caesar’s household since Paul had become a prisoner. Paul being the instrument of God that he was, you can be sure that the Roman soldiers who had been chained to him heard the gospel. In fact, if you have any question about it, I remind you of chapter 1 verse 13 which says that since his imprisonment, the gospel of Christ had become known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard and to everybody else. The Praetorian Guard or the Roman soldiers were exposed to Paul…it’s one thing to be chained to Paul, to guard him, it’s something else to have Paul chained to you. Talk about not being able to get away. And the result was people were coming to Christ in the Praetorian Guard. So some of those in Caesar’s household that you can rejoice over are converted soldiers and others who heard the Word, too, who were part of serving the Caesar.

But there’s something else here as well. There’s no reason to assume that it doesn’t also include people who were Christians before Paul’s imprisonment. The gospel had already come to Rome and many had come to know Christ.

MacArthur gives us a list of names we have already seen in our studies of Paul’s letters. These come thanks to the Victorian New Testament scholar, the Revd J B Lightfoot, not to be confused with the Revd Dr John Lightfoot whom Matthew Henry cites. I have not read that they were related:

J.B. Lightfoot, that great New Testament scholar, has a marvelous treatment of this whole idea of the Christians in Caesar’s household. And studying all kinds of lists that have been discovered archaeologically that give us names of Caesar’s household, and they’ve found them in archaeological digs, he has taken all the names on all those lists that have been discovered, gone over those names to see if he can recognize any of them, and found amazingly many parallels on the list of government workers with the list of names in Romans chapter 16. You remember when Paul was writing the epistle to the Romans and the sixteenth chapter he commends many, many people who helped him. Many of those names appear on the lists of Caesar’s household. In fact, Lightfoot concludes that Romans 16 should studied that way and that it’s pretty clear that people like Ampliatus, Apelles, Stachys, Rufus, Hermes, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, at least, and maybe others, were very, very much a part of Caesar’s household. So you have some people being converted out of Caesar’s household while Paul was a prisoner. You have some who were already Christians before that. And now Paul just loves to say, gathering up both groups, all the Christians in Caesar’s house send their love. How wonderful, how thrilling that the household of Caesar, the enemy of Christ had yielded up many souls to the conquering Christ. The crucified Galilean had already begun to rule the governments of the world spiritually. Surprising joy, surprising joy.

You can read more about them and others in my posts on Romans 16:

Romans 16:7-10 – Andronicus and Junia (Junias), Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, those of the household of Aristobulus

Romans 16:11-13 – Herodion, those ‘in the Lord’ in the household of Narcissus, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and Rufus’s mother

Romans 16:14-16Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, and the brothers who are with them; also, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas

Paul concludes by commending the grace of Jesus Christ to the Philippians’ spirit (verse 23).

We need divine grace daily, the way we need water and food. We cannot live in Christ without His grace.

MacArthur elaborates:

You want to hear something, you didn’t deserve to be saved and you don’t deserve to be kept saved. Do you understand that? You are no more worthy of your salvation now than you were then. And so you are sustained by grace just as you were saved by grace. It is grace by which our whole life exists. That’s why Paul says in Romans 5:2, “This grace in which we stand.” We live in it. Our life is governed by grace, guided by grace, kept by grace, strengthened by grace, sanctified by grace, enabled by grace. Listen, if God only gave us now that we’re Christians what we deserve, we’d still be damned to hell. It is the constant grace of forgiveness, the grace of enabling strength, the grace of comfort, the grace of peace, the grace of joy, the grace of boldness, the grace of revelation and instruction. We are dependent on all of it all the time.

He started out in chapter 1 verse 2 wishing them grace. He ends up wishing them grace and again comes full circle. He says the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. What do you mean by that? Your spirit, your person, your inner man, the real you…may you know the fullness of grace, that purifying, beautifying, sanctifying grace.

What an uplifting note on which to end this study of Philippians.

Next week, I will introduce Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It, too, is a short letter, and most of it is in the Lectionary. We will see some familiar themes and names over the next few weeks.

Next time — Colossians 2:1-5

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 18, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

As Queen Elizabeth II will be buried on Monday, September 19, and as Charles III is our new King, today’s exegesis will be on the Epistle, which is relevant to monarchs and others in authority.

May our beloved monarch rest in peace and rise in glory.

Long live the King.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

1 Timothy 2:1-7

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,

2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,

2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.

2:7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to help him come to grips with the issues besetting the church in Ephesus.

John MacArthur explains that the attitude of the congregation was becoming rather exclusive:

If we read through the epistle and if we examine it as we have in the past for the errors that are here, we will be reminded that there were Jews apparently in the church at Ephesus who were claiming that only law-keeping Jews or those who were sort of proselytes to the keeping of the law could be accepted by God. There was a Judaizing element, and that’s apparent in chapter 1 from verse 7 through 11. There were those who were advocating law keeping as the means of salvation. And that was an exclusiveness that said salvation isn’t for everybody. It’s for those who come within the framework of maintaining the Jewish law.

Also, we note that in this Ephesian assembly there was the Gentile exclusivism that grew out of that old philosophy that later became known as gnosticism, which philosophy said salvation only belongs to the elite initiated exclusive people who have reached a level of knowledge, who have tuned in to the various mediators and sub-gods and eons and angelic beings that line up between man and God. So the Jewish people would be saying salvation’s only for those who keep the Jewish law. And the Gentiles might be saying salvation’s only for those who are in the know, who are the gnostics, the ones who know – it’s from the Greek verb to know – who are in the know, that elite group of people who have ascended to another level in some mystical experience with spirits which they believe to be good spirits, which Paul points out to be demons.

So there was an exclusivism that had come to be in the church at Ephesus. Because of this, there was severe error in the doctrine of salvation which becomes the final note of the whole epistle, where he closes out in verse 21 of chapter 6 by saying they have erred concerning the faith. The greatest error was an error in the matter of the extent of salvation. One group saying it’s only for those Jews who are in the know in terms of the Jewish law. The others, it’s only for that one small group of people who are in the know in terms of mystical understanding. Everybody else is left out.

Therefore, Paul urges Timothy to make sure, as a priority, that the Ephesians’ prayers are for everyone — including those outside the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Timothy must take care that this be done. Paul does not send him any prescribed form of prayer, as we have reason to think he would if he had intended that ministers should be tied to that way of praying; but, in general, that they should make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks: supplications for the averting of evil, prayers for the obtaining of good, intercessions for others, and thanksgivings for mercies already received. Paul thought it enough to give them general heads; they, having the scripture to direct them in prayer and the Spirit of prayer poured out upon them, needed not any further directions … There must be prayers for ourselves in the first place; this is implied here. We must also pray for all men, for the world of mankind in general, for particular persons who need or desire our prayers. See how far the Christian religion was from being a sect, when it taught men this diffusive charity, to pray, not only for those of their own way, but for all men.

MacArthur has more about what Paul is urging Timothy to do:

Because you have a charge, because you have a commission, because all of this has been confirmed in the church through the prophets as we saw, because all of this is set on your shoulders, therefore, Timothy, get at it. And here’s what I urge you, and then he uses this phrase “first of all.” Here’s what I urge you first of all. And you might ask the question I asked, why is this first? I’ll tell you why. What is the primary objective of the church? What are we in the world for? Listen, if the primary objective of the church is fellowship, where would we be? In heaven cause we’d have perfect fellowship there and none of you could mess it up. If the primary objective of the church was knowledge of the Word of God, we might as well go to heaven. We’ll have perfect knowledge there, and I won’t be able to mess it up with anything that I might say that isn’t quite accurate.

No, see, the purpose of the church in the world today is to reach the lost. And so the priority begins at that point.

Paul includes as ‘everyone’ kings and all who are in positions of authority so that people may lead quiet and peacable lives in all godliness and dignity (verse 2).

Henry explains:

Pray for kings (v. 2); though the kings at this time were heathens, enemies to Christianity, and persecutors of Christians, yet they must pray for them, because it is for the public good that there should be civil government, and proper persons entrusted with the administration of it, for whom therefore we ought to pray, yea, though we ourselves suffer under them. For kings, and all that are in authority, that is, inferior magistrates: we must pray for them, and we must give thanks for them, pray for their welfare and for the welfare of their kingdoms, and therefore must not plot against them, that in the peace thereof we may have peace, and give thanks for them and for the benefit we have under their government, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Here see what we must desire for kings, that God will so turn their hearts, and direct them and make use of them, that we under them may lead a quiet and peaceable life. He does not say, “that we may get preferments under them, grow rich, and be in honour and power under them;” no, the summit of the ambition of a good Christian is to lead a quiet and peaceable life, to get through the world unmolested in a low private station. We should desire that we and others may lead a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, implying that we cannot expect to be kept quiet and peaceable unless we keep in all godliness and honesty. Let us mind our duty, and then we may expect to be taken under the protection both of God and the government. In all godliness and honesty. Here we have our duty as Christians summed up in two words: godliness, that is, the right worshipping of God; and honesty, that is, a good conduct towards all men. These two must go together; we are not truly honest if we are not godly, and do not render to God his due; and we are not truly godly if we are not honest, for God hates robbery for burnt-offering … 4. All men, yea, kings themselves, and those who are in authority, are to be prayed for. They want our prayers, for they have many difficulties to encounter, many snares to which their exalted stations expose them. 5. In praying for our governors, we take the most likely course to lead a peaceable and quiet life. The Jews at Babylon were commanded to seek the peace of the city whither the Lord had caused them to be carried captives, and to pray to the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof they should have peace, Jer 29 7. 6. If we would lead a peaceable and quiet life, we must live in all godliness and honesty; we must do our duty to God and man.

MacArthur also lays importance on leading quiet Christian lives for everyone’s benefit:

Now I want to expand on this because I don’t think this is a well understood thought. In 1 Thessalonians we have a similar word, chapter 4 verse 11, where Paul says, “That we are to study” – that is to be diligent – “to be quiet.” We are not to be rabble rousers. If we are known for anything, we are known for our quiet demeanor. We do not make disturbances. We do not disrupt society as such, that is not our intent, that is not our overt effort. “We are to be quiet,” he says, “do your own business, work with your own hands as we commanded you in order that you may walk honestly toward them that are outside” – the unbelievers. They ought to see us as quiet diligent faithful people. Second Thessalonians 3 also speaks to the same matter. We hear, he says in verse 11 that, “There are some who walk among you disorderly, working not at all.” They’re indigent; they are unemployed; they don’t do as they ought. “They’re busybodies. Command them and exhort them by the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they work and eat their own bread.”

Now listen, beloved, the church, Paul is saying, is never to be the political agitator. It is never to be seen as the perceivable enemy to national security or national peace. That is not our role. We are to seek to make all the people around us whatever their viewpoint politically, whatever their viewpoint philosophically, we are to seek to make them friends by praying for them rather than enemies by hating them and rejecting them. And sometimes that’s difficult, because when we’re raised in a very clearly defined Christian environment, we tend not only to hate the evil system, but we tend to see all the people in it as our enemies. And so we grow bitter against those who deny the life that we believe is so right. The church even today, I’m sure, in the United States is seen by many as an agitating political force endeavoring to disrupt things in our country.

Now I want you to understand what the Scripture is saying in light of that. Christians are to be model citizens. That doesn’t mean we’re indifferent or apathetic or don’t have an opinion. But we are to be model citizens in every way. We are to be a blessing and a benediction to everyone around us. We are to pray for the salvation of everyone. And if they know us, they should know the church not as a strong political lobby group, not as a powerful group with money moving through society for its own ends. They are to know us as quiet peace-loving people who are constantly committed to praying for the salvation of those who are outside.

We are to submit to the authority over us and more than just submit to it, we are to pray for the salvation of those very people. If we do that, if the church in this country was just banded together in spirit, covenanting together to pray for the lost in our nation and to pray for our rulers and pray for our leaders and not engage in power kind of efforts and power kind of moves and power kind of politics to overturn things and eliminate people and get rid of people, but rather pray for their salvation, we would never be accused or even suspected of disloyalty. Nor would anybody miss the point of our existence. And we would be more likely to be allowed to worship and evangelize without fear or restriction and thus to live our lives in a quiet and tranquil way.

Paul tells Timothy that God finds this exhortation right and acceptable (verse 3) because He wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

MacArthur gives us his analysis of verse 3, referring to the Greek manuscript:

This is a powerful, powerful truth. We are to pray for the lost, one, because it’s good; it’s right; it’s morally excellent. Two, it is consistent with God’s will. We are to pray for the lost because it is consistent with God’s will. Notice verse 3, “This is good and” – here it comes – “acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who wills all men to be saved. It is the will of God that men be saved. It’s consistent with His will.

The word acceptable, which is also used in a similar phrase in chapter 5 verse 4, has the idea – it’s a very rich word. It’s not just to receive – dechomai. It’s apodechomai. It means to applaud, it means to gladly receive, to accept with satisfaction, to heartily welcome. It’s a very warm word. It is to say the Lord gladly anxiously eagerly with applause and satisfaction and joy receives this. This is what He wants, the salvation of the world. So praying for all the world is really gladly received by God. He applauds that kind of praying. He accepts it heartily because it is consistent with His character.

And what do you mean by that? Well notice it in verse 3, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our” – creator. Is that what it says? No, “God our” – what? – “Savior.” It’s consistent with who He is. It’s consistent with His nature, with His character.

MacArthur wisely clarifies the diference between these verses and John 17, where Jesus did not pray for the world. He did pray for the world but not for the sinful world’s success:

Let’s look at John 17:9, and I thought of this and I brought it in because I didn’t want anybody finding that verse and saying, “Wait, this confuses me.” Why in John 17:9 does Jesus say to the Father in His high priestly prayer, “I pray for them” – that is for the disciples, those who You have given to Me, My own disciples – “I pray not for the world, but for them whom Thou hast given Me, for they are Thine”? And somebody would say, well Jesus didn’t pray for the whole world. He says right here I don’t pray for the world. And you know something? That’s right – in this particular case, He said, “I don’t pray for the world.”

What did He mean by that? Well that’s the whole point. Does that mean God doesn’t love the world? Well in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Now the whole point of the verse is He gave His only begotten Son to fulfill His love, so God loves the whole world. First John 2:2 says He is the covering for our sin and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world. So God loves the whole world, gave a Savior to the whole world, a covering for sin is offered to the whole world, why does He say, “I pray not for the world?” And isn’t Jesus’ mission to go to the whole world? Didn’t He say preach the gospel to every creature? Yes. Why in verse 9 does He say, “I pray not for the world?”

That’s very simple. What He is saying here is I’m not praying for the world’s success as the world. You understand that? The cosmos, the evil Satanic system. What He means is, I’m not praying that the world succeed. I’m praying for the disciples to succeed in winning the world, not for the world to succeed in stopping them. He can’t pray for His own and pray for the world which is the enemy.

MacArthur discusses God’s desire to save and mankind’s coming to the knowledge of the truth in verse 4:

The word knowledge here is epignōsis. It means a deep full rich and complete knowledge and that is the knowledge of true salvation. It is used four times in these pastoral epistles. In 2 Timothy 3:7 it talks about people who have a form of godliness but no reality who are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth – same word. And in Titus 1:1, comparing faith and knowledge, both elements of salvation, again he refers to the knowledge of the truth. So what he is saying here is, it is God’s will that all men be saved and salvation comes through the true deep knowledge of saving truth, the gospel, the work of Christ.

And this may be an answer to some Jews who were saying God willed the damnation of heretics. There were Jews who believed that God willed the damnation of Gentiles in general. And then there was that gnostic/pre-gnostic view that God must have willed the damnation of all the non-elite, the people who never attained mystical knowledge. And he takes issue with that. And he says, “Listen, God wills because He is by nature a Savior that all men would be saved through coming to the full knowledge of saving truth in Jesus Christ.”

And I want to close by talking about the word will and I want you to listen carefully. What kind of will is this? Because somebody looks at this verse and says, oh, God will have all men to be saved. I’ll tell you one thing, God gets what He wants. He’s in charge. Therefore universalism is taught. That is that ultimately everybody will be saved because that’s God’s will. It says so right here. Other people say, no, no, no, no. The Bible teaches hell and the Bible teaches that people are going to be there forever, so some people aren’t going to go to heaven. Therefore when it says God will have all men to be saved. It doesn’t mean all men, just means some men. Because after all, God’s got to get what He wants and He can’t save everybody because hell’s there and some people are there. So He’s got to save all the people that He wants to save. Therefore He doesn’t want to save all people. All doesn’t mean all; it must means some.

Paul says that there is one God and also one mediator between God and mankind: Christ Jesus, Himself human (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

… here we get into a profound argument on the part of Paul, the third element in his reason for evangelistic praying is that it is reflective of God’s nature as one God. It is reflective of God’s nature as one God. Notice verse 5, “For there is one God” – or, “For God is one.” There’s only one God … As it says in 1 Corinthians 8, an idol is zero. An idol is nothing. If you want to spend your life worshiping nothing, that’s your privilege. But that’s folly. God is one. There’s only one God. In Isaiah 44:6 God said it as clearly as it could be said, “I am the first and I am the last, and beside Me there’s no other.” That covers the ground.

And that’s why you see Mark 12:29 to 31 says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one, therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Why? You can give all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength to God, because there’s nobody else to give it to. There’s only one. So you love that one God with all the capacity you have to love and worship.

Now this unity of God, the Lord our God is one, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6 is the central truth in all the Old Testament Scripture. As over against the polytheism of the nations surrounding Israel – many gods, many God’s – Israel stood for one God. Now this is Paul’s point. There’s only one God. What do you mean by that? What he means is if there were many gods then there would be many ways of salvation. Right? And isn’t that what the people in the world teach today? Sure. I mean, the world says, “Well, there’s a god for these people and these people and as long as you’re sincere, it’s going to be okay. Every god has his way, every god has his means of salvation.” So if there are many gods, then there are many ways of salvation. And if that’s true, there’s no need for evangelism. Right? You don’t need evangelism. Everybody’s got their own way; leave them alone. They’ll come home wagging their tails behind them. It will all work out in the end.

But Paul says since there is only one God and one Savior God, then that one God stands in the same relationship to all men in relationship to Salvation. If there is one God and that one God is the Savior and that one God desires all men to be saved, then He is the God of all in whom all must believe if all are to be saved, therefore we must pray for all. Since the God of all men wants all men to be saved, prayer for all men is consistent with His nature. The foundation then, beloved, of the universality of the gospel is bound up in the oneness of God. Listen to Romans 3 as Paul begins to delineate the gospel in verse 29, he said, “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the nations? Yes, of the nations also. Seeing He is one God” – there’s only one God. Therefore all men must come to the same God, therefore all men must hear the same way, and therefore we must pray for all men. There’s only one God. And it is the unity of God that justifies the universal scope of evangelism.

Of Jesus Christ as Mediator, MacArthur explains:

There is not only one God, but there is “one mediator between God and men.” And the Greek text says “man” – no article – “man Christ Jesus.” A better way to translate that to get the intent of the Greek would be, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus Himself man.” Now here we find the consistency with the person of Christ. How many mediators are there? One. So we can’t say, “Well, there are lots of ways to heaven,” like the Bahai people say, lots of doors; you can go this way, that way; you can follow this leader, that leader, this leader. No, there’s only one. And we’re back to the same thing. One God, one mediator, one way of salvation, therefore we pray for the whole world. God wants the whole world saved and the only way they can be saved is through that one mediator to that one God.

In Job chapter 9 we are introduced to the concept of a mediator as Job cries out in the midst of his distress. And he says in verse 32 in wanting to communicate with God, he says, “For He is not a man as I am that I should answer Him and we should come together in judgment.” He says I don’t know how to get to God. He’s not a man. I can’t just communicate with Him. We can’t sit down and work this thing out. And then in verse 33, “Neither is there any mediator between us.” He uses the word daysman, which is a word for an arbiter or an umpire or a mediator. “There’s no mediator between us” – listen to this – “that might lay his hand on both of us.” And here was Job in the middle of his distress crying out, “Where is somebody who can put his hand on God and his hand on me and bring us together?” Well, that cry is answered in Christ. Isn’t it? Christ is that mesitēs, that mediator, that go between, that one who intervenes between two for the purpose of restoring peace and friendship or of ratifying a covenant, making a promise, forming a compact. And there’s only one mediator. Listen to that, only one.

There is only one mediator, just one that is the daysman who puts His hand on both God and man and brings them together. And it is Christ Jesus, man Himself – or Himself man. And the word for man here is the word anthrōpos. We get anthropology from it. It is the generic word for man. Anēr is the word for male … But here is the generic word. He became man. He was God always. He became man. He is the perfect God-man. As such He takes God and man and brings them together. And so Christ Jesus is that mediator.

The Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer has the following intercession in the liturgy for Holy Communion. It follows the first five verses of today’s reading. Of course, the priest is now praying for King Charles, but, until two Sundays ago, the prayer went as follows:

Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth.

Almighty and everliving God, who by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks, for all men: We humbly beseech thee most mercifully [*to accept our alms and oblations, and] to receive these our prayers, which we offer unto thy Divine Majesty; beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant, that all they that do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity, and godly love. We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue. Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all Bishops and Curates, that they may both by their life and doctrine set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments: And to all thy people give thy heavenly grace; and specially to this congregation here present; that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear, and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. And we most humbly beseech thee of thy goodness, O Lord, to comfort and succour all them, who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom: Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ‘s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

One can see how this prayer fulfils Paul’s instruction to Timothy.

Paul impresses upon Timothy the work of Christ’s crucifixion, a ransom for all, attested at the right time (verse 6).

I prefer the King James Version which says ‘due time’ and makes more sense:

Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Henry says:

As the mercy of God extends itself to all his works, so the mediation of Christ extends itself thus far to all the children of men that he paid a price sufficient for the salvation of all mankind; he brought mankind to stand upon new terms with God, so that they are not now under the law as a covenant of works, but as a rule of life. They are under grace; not under the covenant of innocence, but under a new covenant: He gave himself a ransom. Observe, The death of Christ was a ransom, a counter-price. We deserved to have died. Christ died for us, to save us from death and hell; he gave himself a ransom voluntarily, a ransom for all; so that all mankind are put in a better condition than that of devils. He died to work out a common salvation: in order hereunto, he put himself into the office of Mediator between God and man. A mediator supposes a controversy. Sin had made a quarrel between us and God; Jesus Christ is a Mediator who undertakes to make peace, to bring God and man together, in the nature of an umpire or arbitrator, a days-man who lays his hand upon u both, Job 9 33. He is a ransom that was to be testified in due time; that is, in the Old-Testament times, his sufferings and the glory that should follow were spoken of as things to be revealed in the last times, 1 Pet 1 10, 11.

MacArthur explains substutionary atonement, i.e. Christ dying so that we would not have to endure eternal death:

Go back again to verse 6. Speaking of Christ Jesus who was man as well as God and brought God and man together, it says, “Who gave” – and that word is loaded with content. He gave. John 10:18, Jesus said, “No man takes My life from Me, I” – what? – I lay it down by Myself” – voluntarily. “Who gave” – and what did He give? – “Himself.” Not a portion of Himself, not something He possessed, not something He owned, not something He really didn’t need, He gave everything. That’s the totality of it. Christ Jesus voluntarily gave totally Himself, “as a ransom for all.”

Now the word ransom here is just loaded with meaning. It is not the simple word for ransom, which is lutron. It is antilutron and there’s a huper preposition connected with it in the phrase. And it just fills up the meaning. It’s not a simple word for ransom where somebody’s kidnapped, you go pay a ransom, you get him back. It is the idea of a substitutionary ransom. You put yourself there and free that person by your own enslavement. It is as if a father was receiving a note about a kidnapped child and the note demanded that he go and become the kidnapped person for the freedom of his beloved child. Christ becomes the victim that we might be set free. So it is more than the simple word ransom which means the priced pay for the release of a slave. It is the idea of an exchange. Christ exchanged His life for our lives. He died our death. He bore our sin. He took our place. He gave Himself totally as a substitutionary payment for our sin.

For whom did He do this? He was a ransom for all. Would you just circle that? That’s the point here. Did Christ die for a few? He died for all. That’s what it says. And that’s Paul’s key idea. He is not here, by the way, intending to give a complex treatment on the theology of the atonement. He is not here trying to emphasize all that could be said about the substitutionary ransom of Jesus Christ. His point here is the all. What he wants you to understand is that Christ who is the one mediator came to do a work on the cross in behalf of man and God that would provide a ransom for all men.

Paul puts his stamp of authority on these verses by saying that he was appointed for this work as a herald and apostle, confirming that he is telling the truth and that he is a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and in truth (verse 7).

MacArthur addresses this verse as follows:

In other words, he’s saying what in the world am I doing if this thing isn’t for everybody?

The word preacher is from the verb form kērussō. It has to do with a herald, a proclaimer, a public speaker. In those days they didn’t watch television, didn’t read books, didn’t have newspapers. Basically if you had an announcement, you went into the city square and you made your announcement. It was the time of hot communication. It was a time when you verbalized. The herald went around and made all the announcements the people needed to have and communication was out in the open and people preached in the open and they taught in the open and philosophers spoke in the open and opinions were given in the open. And Paul became one of those open-air preachers, one of those public heralds proclaiming the gospel of Christ. And what he is saying is, why I was ordained by God to go out and publicly proclaim a gospel that if limited belies my very calling. And then I was called not only to be a herald but an apostle. And the word there is – has reference to one being sent as a messenger. Here I am an apostle to the nations, here I am a messenger from city to city and nation to nation, publicly heralding the gospel of Christ. What am I doing if this isn’t applicable to everybody?

He says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not.” You know that I’ve been called as a herald to publicly proclaim. You know I’ve been called as a messenger to extend the truth of saving grace as far and wide as God allows me. As a herald I speak publicly. As a missionary I reach all I can reach. And you know this is the truth and I’m not lying. You know that’s my calling, he’s saying. You know that’s my ordination. And there may be a little bit of rebuttal in his saying that because there might be some in the church that would sort of take issue with the strength of his conclusions here and he reminds them that he’s speaking the truth.

And then he says in the end of verse 7 also, “I am a teacher of the nations in faith” – that is the faith, content – “and verity” – that is sincerity of heart. I’m one who teaches with right content and a right heart of sincerity. And I’m a teacher of the nations. The word the nations is key – ought to underline that. That’s the key idea. I’ve been sent to the nations, to the nations of the world. And I’m supposed to publicly proclaim to all of these people that Jesus saves and that Christ is a ransom for all and call them to salvation. How can I do that if that’s not true? There’s an integrity problem here, he says. I mean, I’ve been ordained for this. In fulfilling the Great Commission, Mark 16:15, to preach the gospel to every creature. Paul says with the faith, the content, and a sincere heart, I go out to speak the truth.

And beloved, I really believe this is a powerful, powerful statement on the mission responsibility of the church for the world. We are called to world missions. Why? Because it is the will of God that all men be saved. Why? Because there’s only one God for them all, and there’s only one mediator for them all who died for them all. And we are called as preachers and missionaries to reach them all. And how could we ever believe for a moment that we were saying something that isn’t true if He did not die for all and if God did not will that all be saved? Then we ought to say that. But we can’t because we know better. And so there is a powerful argument for the universal proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

In closing, MacArthur offers this observation:

I am amazed how readily we pray for physical problems and how hesitantly we pray for salvation. And physical problems are not really the significant issue.

That is so true. Perhaps in our era we find it presumptuous to pray for someone’s salvation. It seems intrusive. On the other hand, praying for someone’s recovery from a malady makes more sense. We can empathise with their physical pain because pain is tangible. We don’t want people to suffer.

Yet, MacArthur is correct in saying that physical problems are not the main issue in our lives. Salvation is. Therefore, we should pray for each other’s salvation, because that lasts for eternity, whereas bodily pain is temporary, disappearing before or at the time we die.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 4:14-20

14 Yet it was kind of you to share[a] my trouble. 15 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. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.[b] 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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In last week’s reading, Paul, in discussing the Philippians’ gift to him, said he had learned how to be content, regardless of the circumstances.

In these verses, he says that their gift is pleasing to God.

Lest he give the impression that he was ungrateful, Paul says that he appreciates their concern for his well being (verse 14).

‘Yet’ appears as ‘Nevertheless’ in some translations.

John MacArthur explains the significance of the verse (emphases mine):

Look at verse 14.  It starts with the word “nevertheless.”  And that’s a very important transition for Paul because what he has said up to now might send the wrong message back to the Philippians Remember the picture?  Paul is a prisoner, incarcerated in some kind of apartment in Rome, chained to a Roman soldier.  He is in a very difficult situation physically.  Must have been enduring meager subsistence.  Has great need.  We don’t know what all of his physical needs were at that time, but we can understand the basic needs of life.  And in the middle of that need, the word comes to the Philippian church that he is in fact having need, and need that is not being met And so, the Philippians out of love send a man by the name of Epaphroditus who takes with him supplies for Paul, food and clothing perhaps, and money.  And Epaphroditus comes all the way to Rome from Philippi to deliver this to Paul.  It is a generous gift.  It is a sacrificial gift.  You can be sure that the Philippians were basically poor.  Keep that in mind.  They were poor.  They were a church in Macedonia.  And Paul, in 2 Corinthians chapter 8, comments on the poverty of the Macedonian churches.  They were a poor people.  They did not have much.  What they did have, they sacrificially sent to the apostle Paul.

And so, he has just received that gift from Epaphroditus in recent days.  Epaphroditus has stayed and ministered to him.  Now, Epaphroditus is going back and with him is going this letter.  And so, they’re going to read things like this.  They’re going to read verse 11, “I don’t have any wants.  I’ve learned to be content.”  They’re going to read verse 12, “I know how to get along with humble means and I know how to learn the secret of going hungry and of suffering need.”  They’re going to read verse 13 that says that he can endure anything because of the strength of the Spirit within him.  And they’re going to conclude, if he stops at that point, “This guy didn’t need anything we sent him.  We made a terrible mistake.  We made this major sacrificial act of giving and he writes back and says, I didn’t need it, I didn’t want it, God would provide in His own time, I’m committed to the sovereign providence of God, I’m satisfied with very little, I live above my circumstances and I’m sustained by divine power.”  And if that was the end of the epistle, they would have felt very bad, and it wouldn’t exactly have been a thank you note.

So, he says, “In spite of all of that, nevertheless,” in spite of the fact that I’m content, in spite of the fact that I’m strengthened by Christ, in spite of the fact that I trust the providence of God, in spite of the fact I live above my circumstances, you have done well.  You did a noble thing.”  Kalos, you did something that was beautiful in its character, something that was good in the noble sense.  You did a right thing.  You did a lovely thing.  You did a beautiful thing.  In what?  “In sharing with me in my affliction,” my thlipsis, my pain, pressure, tribulation, trouble.  And by the way, his stress was no imaginary thing.  This was a real difficult situation he was in, very real.  And he said, “You did a noble thing when you shared with me, when you partnered up along with me, when you joined me in a partnership, by your giving so generously.  You really did a noble thing.”

Even though the Philippians had not sent him anything in ten years, he remembered their first gift once he had left their region of Macedonia, when they were the only church to partner with him in giving and receiving (verse 15).

Matthew Henry points out that the first gift would have been unsolicited, from their hearts:

They not only maintained him comfortably while he was with them, but when he departed from Macedonia they sent tokens of their kindness after him; and this when no other church did so. None besides sent after him of their carnal things, in consideration of what they had reaped of his spiritual things. In works of charity, we are ready to ask what other people do. But the church of the Philippians never considered that. It redounded so much the more to their honour that they were the only church who were thus just and generous.

Paul remembers the other gifts they sent him while he was in Thessalonica (verse 16).

Henry says:

You sent once and again. Many people make it an excuse for their charity that they have given once; why should the charge come upon them again? But the Philippians sent once and again; they often relieved and refreshed him in his necessities. He makes this mention of their former kindness, not only out of gratitude, but for their encouragement.

Then Paul writes about the Philippians storing up treasure in heaven with their gifts.

He says he is not seeking a gift from them but is interested in the fruit that increases to their credit — blessings on earth and in the world to come (verse 17).

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

“I desire fruit that may abound to your account, that is, that you may be enabled to make such a good use of your worldly possessions that you may give an account of them with joy.” It is not with any design to draw more from you, but to encourage you to such an exercise of beneficence as will meet with a glorious reward hereafter.

MacArthur says:

… he is saying, “I’m so glad you gave it not because I want the gift but because I want to see it go on your spiritual account.”

You see, this is what he had been praying for.  I read you chapter 1 verse 9, that their love would abound more and more.  And chapter 2, of course, that they would continue to manifest that attitude of looking not on their own things but on the things of others and considering others more important than themselves.  I want that fruit, that karpon, that profit that goes on your account.  It is what Jesus called treasure in what?  Heaven.  It’s laying up treasure in heaven.  It goes on your spiritual account.

Here was a man who was content because, you see, he wasn’t concerned with consuming.  He wasn’t concerned with what he got.  He was deeply concerned with the spiritual blessings that came to others.  Do you rejoice more in the blessing that comes to others than you do in that which comes to you?  Are you content to be without as long as someone else is blessed?  This is the heart of Paul.  He is interested not in accruing benefits in his own life, but in accruing eternal dividends to the life of the people he loved That’s from the heart.  He was so thrilled because it would benefit them so much.  That was his joy.

Paul then says the Philippians’ latest gift which Epaphroditus delivered has been payment in full and more, comparing it to a fragrant sacrifice which is acceptable and pleasing to God (verse 18).

MacArthur offers this analysis, including the Greek from the original manuscript:

Three verbs in a row here.  And these verbs are all increasingly emphatic And they are all verbs which can be used in a banking context The first one where he says, “I have received everything in full,” is a technical, commercial term meaning to receive a sum and give a receipt for it He is saying, in effect, you have sent me more than I needed, I have a full reception of what you sent, and I am now receipting you for it Then, he says, “Not only have I received everything in full, I have an abundance,” perisseu, it means to abound in a surplus of material things I’m just overflowing with everything you sent me.  And then, he thirdly says, “And I am amply supplied,” plro, I am filled up completely So, he just sort of completely intensifies the idea with the use of those three verbs which all express full complete satisfaction.  So, he says, “Frankly, I’m overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed with what I have received from Epaphroditus in what you sent.  I’m overwhelmed.  I have plenty.  I have everything I could ever ask for.”

So, he’s not without gratitude But his satisfaction comes not because of what he got, but because of the Philippians loving sacrificial generosity, because it accrued to their spiritual account.  And that is what thrilled his heart.  And at the end of verse 18 he says it, “What you gave me was a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice well pleasing to God.”  What he is really saying is: you didn’t give it to me; you gave it to God.  And it was a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice well pleasing to God. 

And that, by the way, is sacrificial language taken out of the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, a sacrifice was to provide a fragrant aroma to God.  It was to be an acceptable and only an acceptable sacrifice and the heart attitude of the one giving it was to be pleasing to God You can go all the way back to Genesis 8:20 and 21, Exodus 29:18, Leviticus chapter 1 verses 9, 13, 17; you can go in to Ezekiel chapter 20 verse 41.  You can go many places in the Old Testament and God will say, “I want an acceptable sacrifice, I want a heart that is well-pleasing to Me, I want a fragrant aroma.”  And He said, “I want you to offer what you offer with Me in mind as a pure act and a true act of worship.”  And here in the New Covenant Paul is saying just as that was required and received in the Old, so it is required and received in the New, only now it’s not an animal.  It is still fragrant, acceptable, pleasing to God.

Then Paul boldly announces that his God will supply every need of the Philippians according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (verse 19).

Now there was a man of faith.

MacArthur says:

I believe that in the context here, “all your needs” means material needs, earthly needs which had been to some degree sacrificed by the Philippians, and would be replenished amply by God in response to the sacrifice.  If you sow bountifully with God, if you put treasure in heaven bountifully, you will reap what?  Bountifully.  If you give, it will be given to you.  If you give to the poor man, Paul, you lend to the Lord, and the Lord will supply.  It’s the same principle.  If you scatter abroad, the Lord will increase you.  Same principle.  The Macedonians had given sacrificially.  The Philippians, a part of that Macedonian group, maybe the ones Paul mostly had in mind, had given sacrificially, and God would not remain in their debt.  Their needs would be met.

Back in Proverbs, another verse comes into my mind, Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce, so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.”  If you want God’s blessing on your earthly enterprise, then put your treasure in His hands

To what extent will He supply?  You say, “What if He gives me back only spiritual blessings and I die of hunger?”  No, no, He’ll supply all your needs.  And to what extent?  According to His riches.  Not out of His riches … When God gives to you He doesn’t give you a pittance out of; He gives you according to His riches, His glorious riches.  The riches in glory that belong to Him, in His eternal kingdom that are yours in Christ Jesus.  What a statement.

If you’re in Christ, the riches of God in glory in Christ are yours.  Great truth.  That’s why we take no thought for what we eat, drink, or wear and seek first His what?  His kingdom and everything else He takes care of.  Glorious.  God is so good and no gift given to God will make a Christian poorer.  Did you hear that?  It can only make you richer.  It cannot make you poorer; it can only make you richer.  That’s where your faith to believe the Word of God is tested.

Paul closes this section with a doxology, giving praise to the glory of God the Father, which will last forever and ever (verse 20).

MacArthur says that Paul would have been thrilled writing that verse after the preceding ones because it ties everything together in eternal truth:

Let me tell you something about doxologies. As in this case, doxologies are responses of praise to great truth. Did you hear that? A doxology is the fitting response to doctrine, to truth. And this outburst of doxology in verse 20, this outburst of praise flows from the Apostle’s exuberant joy over the whole letter which has literally expounded the heretofore unheard truth of God. And I believe though Paul wrote it with his own pen, writing it under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he probably experienced an exhilaration that could exceed any exhilaration that we could even feel. What we learn here is that worship as always is the fitting response to doctrine. Truth should produce joyous praise, glory to God.

Now the heart of the doxology is that little phrase “be the glory…be the glory.” That simply means divine honor, divine praise, divine adoration. That’s what a doxology is. It gives glory to God. It adores Him, honors Him, respects Him, fears Him, worships Him, praises Him. It is a fitting response to truth. And all the marvelous truth that has been flowing through this epistle is culminated in verse 19, isn’t it? “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Just the overwhelming realization that all your needs are met in Christ releases, as it were, the pent up thrill and out comes the exuberant Spirit-inspired praise of verse 20. A similar outburst of doxological praise occurs at another high point in Paul’s letters. Turn with me to Romans chapter 11, Romans chapters 1 through 11 provide for us the greatest doctrinal treatise in all of Scripture, the monumental discussion of the significance of the coming, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And as Paul has gone through 11 chapters of this doctrine, 11 chapters of this profound truth, he can no longer contain himself. And in verse 33 of chapter 11 as he comes to the end of the doctrinal section of Romans, it’s as if the lid blows off and he just exuberantly pours out these words, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways, for who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor, or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

In Episcopal churches, the Doxology — ‘Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow’ — is often sung when the collection plate is taken to the altar. We can better understand why, having read about sacrificial giving.

Returning to contentment, MacArthur gives us its characteristics, by way of an anecdote at the beginning of his sermon. It’s about a man he knew by the name of Thaddeus who had suffered two major heart attacks, a short time apart. He and MacArthur kept in touch by telephone. Throughout, Thaddeus was more concerned for MacArthur’s ministry than he was for his own recovery:

I thought to myself as I looked back on my times with Thaddeus, he always said to me, “John, I am perfectly content.  John, I have perfect peace.  I am not a bit concerned about any of this.  I’m always concerned about you.”  And while I was going through this particular study of the secret of contentment, I was interacting almost daily with a contented man who was content in the midst of the direst circumstances that one could imagine in this life And in the middle of it all, he was at peace and totally satisfied.  He had learned what Paul learned: he had learned to be content.

And one of the manifestations of that contentment in his life was total unselfishness and a preoccupation with the well-being of other people.  Much more concerned about that than anything else.  And that’s the last point in our outline here, fittingly, as we consider the characteristics of spiritual contentment.

You remember we began by looking at verse 10, and we discussed the fact that contentment in life begins when you have confidence in the sovereign providence of God.  In other words, when you believe that God is sovereignly ordering every detail of life, that leads to contentment.  Then, in verse 11, we noticed that to be content you must be satisfied with little.  When basic needs are met, you must be satisfied.  Paul was; that’s the mark of contentment.

The third point we noted was in verse 12: independence from circumstances.  Contentment means that I’m not a victim of my circumstances.  I am comfortable, satisfied, at peace and content in an unalterable and eternal relationship with the living Christ that rises infinitely above the mundane circumstances.  The fourth principle which we dealt with last time was that contentment is marked by being sustained through divine power In other words, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit in the inner man Paul had that kind of contentment.  He expressed it in verse 13 as the contentment that comes when you are enabled in everything by the one in you who strengthens you, namely the Spirit of God.  So, contentment then, comes to one who has confidence in God’s sovereign providence, who has satisfaction with little, who has independence from circumstances, and strength coming from a divine source.

Now, finally, fifthly, contentment belongs to those who are preoccupied with the well-being of others This is absolutely essential to contentment.  If Paul could say, “I’ve learned to be content,” then he must have been a man who was more concerned about others than himself.  I’ll promise you this: if you live for yourself, you will never be content.  Contentment begins to be a reality when you have no concern about how it is with you, but are only concerned with how it is with others.  Then, you can be content in your own situation

And that is the attitude of Christ who didn’t look out for His own interest or He would have stayed in heaven, but looked out for the interest of wicked, sinful, fallen men, thus He left heaven to meet their need.

This has been of grave concern to Paul.  He prayed for this.  He exhorted toward this.  He is concerned that the Philippians understand that they are to live for others rather than for themselves.  I’ll say it again: contentment belongs to a person who is not demanding that everything in life fit their personal agenda, who is more concerned with others than self that’s Paul’s final point.

Next week’s post will be my final one on Philippians. From there, we go to Colossians.

Next time — Philippians 4:21-23

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 4:10-13

God’s Provision

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

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Last week’s post discussed spiritual maturity and standing firm in the truth of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

These are the concluding verses of Philippians 3 (emphases mine):

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Then we have the first nine verses of Philippians 4:

Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Exhortation, Encouragement, and Prayer

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,[b] help these women, who have labored[c] side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As we have seen over the past few weeks, the theme of Philippians is joy in the Lord.

Paul suffered greatly for the Gospel, yet, throughout, he rejoiced in the Lord and put all his trust in Him.

He says he rejoiced upon hearing ‘at length’ about the Philippians’ revived concern for him, understanding that they had no prior opportunity to express their concern (verse 10).

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes issue with their neglect of their teacher but advises that we, too, should show Paul’s generosity in forgiving our friends who neglect us:

How could they lack opportunity, if they had been resolved upon it? They might have sent a messenger on purpose. But the apostle is willing to suppose, in favour of them, that they would have done it if a fair opportunity had offered. How contrary is this to the behaviour of many to their friends, by whom neglects which really are excusable are resented very heinously, when Paul excused that which he had reason enough to resent.

We can understand why Henry takes issue with them when John MacArthur tells us that Paul had left Philippi ten years previously:

Ten years have passed since the last Philippian gift was sent to him, ten years since he arrived in Philippi, ten years since he preached the gospel there, ten years since he was thrown in jail, ten years since the earthquake released all the prisoners, ten years since the Philippian jailer was converted to Christ and all of his household, ten years since he moved from there to Thessalonica and the Philippians gave him some support, ten years since he left Macedonia for Achaia, the cities of Athens and Corinth and the Philippians sent him another gift after he had left.  Ten years since the last expression of their love He was the founder of their church, they had a love bond, but for ten years there had been no support. That was all right with Paul.  He understood that. 

Then Epaphroditus showed up with a gift from the congregation:

And he says I know it wasn’t because you weren’t concerned, it was because you lacked what?  Opportunity, the end of the verse.  You just didn’t have the opportunity The word is kairos, it means the season You never had a time, an opportunity, not chronological time You never had that moment when it could happen.  We don’t know why that is true We don’t know why they hadn’t done it.  We don’t know whether it was their poverty, or whether it was the fact that they didn’t know what Paul’s needs were, or couldn’t locate Paul.  But for some reason they had not sent to him any support for well-nigh ten years and he simply says to them, well, you didn’t have an opportunity to do that.  I don’t hold that against you.  I don’t reprimand you for that.  I understand.  You had no opportunity for that until recently.  And he says, “But I rejoiced,” when?  Well, when Epaphroditus came after ten years with a gift from the Philippians, that was a happy moment.  “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” he says. 

Paul notes they ‘revived’ their concern for them. MacArthur looks at the word in the Greek:

His joy was extensive as this expression of love came, “That now at last after all this long wait,” is implied in the at last, “you have revived your concern for me.” That’s a beautiful word, that word “revived;” it’s a horticultural term that means to bloom again Your love has flowered again Your love has bloomed again.  It’s always been there but it just didn’t have an opportunity to bloom because blooms are seasonal and you haven’t had the season Oh, he says in verse 10, “You were concerned,” and the implication is all along, I know you were concerned about me, I don’t want you to misunderstand me, I know you were concerned.  But you just never had an opportunity.

Henry says the same thing:

… now at the last their care of him flourished again (v. 10), like a tree in the spring, which seemed all the winter to be quite dead.

The next three verses are about Paul’s contentment in all circumstances.

Paul makes it clear that he has not been in need, for he is content in whatever situation in which he finds himself (verse 11).

MacArthur says:

Paul has an amazing contentment.  And it built on the idea that there never was given an opportunity.  In other words, God never providentially made it possible.  There is a quiet calm in that kind of faith.  If I believe that God is sovereign, and He is, if I believe that God orders all circumstances to accomplish His own holy purpose, then I can be content in anything because everything is under control.  Discontent comes when we want to control everything.  That usually is a direct result of a failure to understand that everything is already under control, and somebody better than you is running it.  God.  See, Paul was fully confident that God was in charge and would order the events to meet his needs.

MacArthur defines ‘content’:

By the way, let me comment at least briefly on the word “content.”  It’s a marvelous word.  It goes way back to the Greek term which meant to be self-sufficient, to be satisfied, to have enoughThe term actually indicates a certain independence, a certain lack of necessity for aid or help.  In fact, it was used in some places outside the Scripture to refer to a person who supported himself without anyone’s aid.  Paul is saying, “I have learned to be satisfied, I’ve learned to be sufficient in myself, and yet not in myself as myself, but in myself as indwelt by Christ.”  He had come to spiritual contentment

Paul says that he knows what it is like to be brought low and what it is to abound, or flourish; in any and every circumstance he has learned the secret of facing plenty and also facing hunger and need (verse 12).

MacArthur discusses ‘secret’:

This is a fascinating verb; it is a verb that is used to speak of being initiated into the mystery religions, of being initiated into the pagan cults which held certain secrets for only the initiated to know.  Paul borrows that word and says, “I have been initiated into the secrets of contentment, I have learned the secret of living a contented life.”  Truly the peace of God, in verse 7, was his portion Truly, the God of peace in verse 9 was his portion Truly, he was experiencing verse 6, he was anxious for nothing He was content, he was satisfied, he was adequate, he had enough, he was sufficient. 

MacArthur explains what Paul means by the secret of contentment:

Strand number one, confidence in God’s providence, confidence in God’s providence.  Look at verse 10, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed you were concerned, but you lacked opportunity”

… He could do without and waiting on the Lord be content.  He knew it was all in God’s hands, and if God gave a proper season, and a proper time, and a proper opportunity, then those things that should be expressed would be expressed There was no panic in heart; there was no need to manipulate people.  There was no turning of the screws, as it were, to get what he thought he wanted or needed out of someone.  He was certain that God, in due time, would order the circumstances so that his need would be met.  He knew that there was nothing really between he and the Philippians that was at all negative, and so he didn’t feel any responsibility to resolve conflict.  He just waited patiently until the Lord made it happen …

Let me give you a second principle, a second strand in the fabric of contentment.  Paul was content, number one, because of confidence in the providence of God; number two, because of satisfaction with little, of satisfaction with little.  Look at verse 11 This is a quick kind of disclaimer after verse 10.  He says, “Not that I speak from want,” in other words, “Oh I rejoiced when your gift came, I rejoiced so much when it came,” not that I needed it, “not that I’m speaking out of my own want.  For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” 

Well, what is this telling us?  This is telling us that he was satisfied with little.  He had bare subsistence.  His need was deep and great, but he didn’t acknowledge any discontent.  He was so at peace with the providence of a sovereign God that he was content.  He was so satisfied with very little that it didn’t matter that he was a prisoner, in the sense that it took his contentment, it didn’t.  It didn’t matter that he was chained to a Roman soldier, that he ate with bare subsistence, that he stayed in a place that was greatly lacking in comfort.  That didn’t really touch his contentment; he was satisfied with little …

When he says, “Not that I speak from want,” what he means is, “I really don’t have any needs that aren’t met.”  Maybe they aren’t met as fully as I would want them to be met but they’re met.  He is so sensitive to this that it’s amazing to me.  When he wrote 1 Corinthians, he says in chapter 9 to the Corinthians, he says, “Look,” he says, “I have a right to live of the gospel because I preach the gospel,” which means to make my living off of preaching I should be supported by churches.  He talks about soldiers being supported when they fight wars, and why shouldn’t preachers be supported when they preach messages, and he says I have a right to that.  But he says, “Look, I’m not going to take anything from you ‘cause I don’t want to charge you for what I do.”  So, he says, I work with my own hands, I don’t want to make the gospel chargeable to you; I don’t want to cloud your thinking about my motives, so I work

“I have learned,” emphatic I, “I have learned,” points to the fact that this lesson is in the bag, folks, I’ve got this one down, “to be content, to be satisfied, to be self-sufficient in Christ in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “content,” by the way, is the same word in 2 Corinthians 9:8 translated sufficiency.  I’m sufficient, I’m self-contained, I have no needs that aren’t met.  He’s not denying difficulty.  He’s not denying hard circumstances.  He is simply content in God’s providential care and he is satisfied with very, very little

Paul knew that the chief end of man was not to meet his needs, but the chief end of man was to worship and enjoy God.  Paul knew that it was not the meeting of human need that was the issue, but it was living to the glory of the God who created him that was the issue.  And so, he was content with very little of this earth stuff, only what he really needed.  And that was enough to satisfy him  

Let me give you a third strand A third strand in the fabric of contentment we’ll call independence from circumstances, independence from circumstances.  Now, he already alluded to it in verse 11 when he said, “In whatsoever circumstances I am, I’ve learned to be content.”  Now, he wants to expand on that in verse 12, so he says, “I know how to get along with humble means.  I also know how to live in prosperity, in any and every circumstances.”  That’s the key idea.  “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need, or lack.”

So, what is he saying here?  He’s saying, look, the third element that you see coming out of his heart here in this contentment is that he was independent of circumstances.  He says “in whatever circumstance,” in verse 11, and then in verse 12, “in any and every circumstance, I’m the same.  I’m the same.”  It’s the part of contentment that is utterly indifferent and independent of all circumstances.  Beloved, let me tell you, the one thing that steals our contentment most frequently is bad circumstances.  Right?  And we crumble, and we lose our contentment in the sense of sufficiency, satisfaction and peace because we are victimized by circumstances.

What does Paul say?  “I know how.”  He says it twice in this verse, “I know how,” and a little later, “I also know how.  I know how, I’ve learned it.”  He says, “I’ve got the secret, folks, I’m living it here, I know how.”  What do you know how to do, Paul?  “I know how, one, to get along with humble means.”  What do you mean by that, Paul?  “I mean, I’m talking about physical things.”  He’s talking here about food, clothing, daily necessities.  I know how to get along with humble means, poverty is what he has in mind.  I know how to be poor.  I know how to have very, very little of daily sustenance.  And this is very, very basic, just the basic needs of life.  Then, he says, “Also, I also know how to live in prosperity,” or to overflow, perisseu, to abound, to be filled.  And he’s talking again about earthly goods and earthly supplies.

“Hey, I can get along with poverty; I can get along with prosperity.  In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret.”  And then, he goes on.  What secret?  “The secret of being filled.”  Well, that’s an interesting word, chortaz, it was used of foddering animals It’s used of feeding and fattening animals.  Hey, I know what it is to have a big meal.  I know what it is to eat well.  I know what it is to eat sumptuously.  I know what it is to be well fed.  And I also know what it is to what?  To be going hungry.  He had times of great deprivation.  He had times when he didn’t have enough food to eat.  He knew that.  He experienced that.  And then, he closes verse 12 by saying, “And I know what it’s like to have abundance, and I know what it’s like to suffer lack.  But the point is: in everything I’m content because I live independent from the circumstances.”

However, lest he give the impression that he does it all by himself, he gives ‘him’ — Christ — the credit for getting him through all circumstances (verse 13).

MacArthur introduces Christ as being the fourth — and most important — element in contentment:

Let me take you to a fourth pointThis matter of contentment demands not only a confidence in God’s sovereign providence, a satisfaction with little, and an independence of circumstance; but, fourthly, Paul was content because he was sustained by divine power, he was sustained by divine power.  And he experienced that.  You could even make it, he experienced divine power.  Notice verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Some manuscripts say “Christ;” there are manuscripts on both sides of that issue.  The better manuscripts seem to use the word “Him,” but, of course, it refers to Christ, I’m only saying that because some of your Bibles may say Christ.  Whether it says Christ or Him, it’s referring to Christ.  Paul says I am sustained by Christ who strengthens me.

You see, he had learned that no matter how difficult it was in the material world, there was a spiritual undergirding Our adequacy and our sufficiency comes from being attached to the adequate and the sufficient one.  We are not really self-sufficient, we are Christ-sufficient It is because we are linked to His life and linked to His power in us that we have sufficiency Paul is saying, “Look, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  What does he mean by that?  Well, he means I’m connected to Christ.  And because I’m connected to Christ, that is the life of Christ in the soul of man, He lives in me, the life which I live is His life living in me, Galatians 2:20; because of that, I have a supernatural divine strength for every situation.

Now, he does not mean, and I want you to listen carefully to this, he does not mean that I can go forever without eating.  He does not mean that I can go forever without drinking, or I can forever without sleeping, or I can be battered with 5,000 stripes and still survive.  He does not mean that.  He knows that if he doesn’t have food eventually, he will die.  If he doesn’t have something to drink eventually, he will die.  And if he is continually pummeled, he will die.  There is a limit to the physical extremities which he can endure.  I mean, that would be true in any case, obviously.  But what he is saying is when I have come to the end of my own resources, then I experience the power of Christ to sustain me until a provision is made.

Now, I believe he is talking here about the material world when he says, “I can do all things.”  He could have said, “I can endure all things.”  He uses a Greek verb that means to be strong, or to have strength.  He is saying, “I am strong enough to go through anything because of Him who infuses His strength into me.”  He does not mean that I could live forever with no food.  He’s not talking about a miraculous provision in that sense.  What he is simply saying is in those exigencies of life, those extremities of life where I have no more human resources, I am infused with the strength of Christ.  The Bible says, “To him who has no might, He increases strength.”  And Isaiah says in chapter 40, that great and familiar 31st verse, “That when we would faint and grow weary, we automatically feel the power of God and mount up as wings as eagles.”  He’s talking about coming to the bottom, as it were, of human resources and finding there the strength of Christ. 

Henry has a note on the Greek in the original manuscript:

here he transfers all the praise to Christ. “What do I talk of knowing how to be abased, and how to abound? It is only through Christ who strengthens me that I can do it, not in my own strength.” So we are required to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Eph 6 10), and to be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2 1); and we are strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, Eph 3 16. The word in the original is a participle of the present tense, en to endynamounti me Christo, and denotes a present and continued act; as if he had said, “Through Christ, who is strengthening me, and does continually strengthen me; it is by his constant and renewed strength I am enabled to act in every thing; I wholly depend upon him for all my spiritual power.”

We Europeans are approaching what could be a highly expensive winter with the huge increase in energy prices coming this autumn.

Will we be content with colder homes? One wonders.

Perhaps we can take a leaf out of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and bear it in mind prayerfully as our hour of need approaches.

May we, too, be content thanks to the power of Christ, regardless of circumstances.

Next time — Philippians 4:14-19

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 3:15-16

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warnings to the Philippians about the Judaizers who wanted them to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law. He called the false teachers dogs and evildoers who mutilate the flesh.

John MacArthur recaps the verses that immediately follow (emphases mine):

… so you had then in verses 4 through 11 an insight into the heart attitude of Paul at the time of his conversion when he discounted all of those things once precious, put them all aside to embrace Christ.

In verses 8 through 11 then he began to recite what he gained in Christ. Verses 4 through 7, what was loss, verses 8 through 11 what was gained. And what did he gain in Christ? Remember there were five things. He gained the knowledge of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of Christ and the glory of Christ. Frankly, quite an amazing list of spiritual benedictions.

Then come the verses that precede today’s:

Straining Toward the Goal

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.

Paul is talking about the process of sanctification, the natural urge to become a better Christian by following a holy example.

A lot of us, myself included for many years, think that because we are saved that our Christian walk can go on as it is. I was in a period of spiritual stasis for decades. I went to church, prayed during the week and volunteered now and again. What more did I need to do?

It was only when I started my blog and began doing a deep dive into Scripture that I realised I had much more to achieve spiritually.

Paul, as great an Apostle as he was, viewed himself as spiritually imperfect. So what must we mere mortals be, we who cannot hold a candle to Paul’s lived Christian example.

Paul viewed sanctification as a type of marathon, one that he would run until he took his last breath as a martyr.

MacArthur, who was on his high school’s track team, points out Paul’s metaphors:

I think it is obvious to any student of the New Testament and any student of the letters of the Apostle Paul that he must have loved athletics, as many of us do. And the reason I say that is because he so often uses athletic analogies, or athletic metaphors to illustrate spiritual truth. One of his athletic analogies is that of a runner, running a race. The runner to him is the picture of the Christian, the race is the Christian life. And frequently in his writings he alludes to this running metaphor, this…this picture of maximum effort as the Christian moves along toward the finish line. That is essentially the underlying picture of the passage before us …

Now obviously the heart of this passage is the very familiar fourteenth verse, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The theme here then is pursuing the prize. The analogy is that of a runner who is running to win in order that he might gain the prize. The spiritual point here is the matter of pursuing the spiritual prize. If you will, Paul is talking about Christian effort toward growth. Now he has just given his personal testimony of the experience of his own conversion from his viewpoint from verses 4 to 11.

MacArthur explains why Paul says he is not perfect. It is in order to contrast his spiritual state with that of the Judaizers, who no doubt claimed perfection in this regard:

It is … quite possible that the Judaizers, the Jewish teachers who were plaguing the Philippian church, were telling the Philippians that spiritual perfection was available if they would be circumcized and keep the law. It is also true that there were heretics floating around at that time who believed you could reach a certain level of knowledge in which you attained perfection. So to answer the Gnostics who thought they had reached that level, to answer the Judaizers who thought they had reached that level through circumcision and law keeping and to answer anybody else who might assume that because he had the knowledge, the righteousness, the power, the fellowship and the glory of Christ he was therefore perfect, he quickly in verse 12 launches into a passage which is a total disclaimer of any spiritual perfection. That’s his intent in this passage. He wants us to know that he is not perfect. He has not reached moral perfection, he has not reached spiritual perfection even though he is a new creation, even though he has a new heart and a new disposition which desires strongly holy things, even though he had union with Jesus Christ and a new mind, the mind of Christ, even though he has new standing before God and is accepted by God and entitled to heaven and has the righteousness of Christ covering him, even though he has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the power of God, even though he has promised future glory and indwelling glory in that Spirit, he has not arrived…he is not perfect. He is still temptable. He is still the possessor of his unredeemed flesh. He is still a sinner.

Thus, any thought of perfection must be set aside in favor of pursuing the perfection that every believer must recognize he doesn’t have. That’s the point. He had already been placed in Christ, already accepted by God, already gifted with all of these tremendous things and yet he was not perfect. He had not arrived.

St Peter also recognised that spiritual progress is a process:

Peter understood it when Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:18, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He was saying the same thing Paul is saying here. There’s a growing process. When you’re saved yes you receive the knowledge of Christ, yes you receive the righteousness of Christ positionally imputed to your account, yes you receive the power of Christ in your life, yes you receive the fellowship of Christ in communion with Him, yes you receive the glory of Christ but not in perfection. And so there must be growth. There must be the pursuit of the goal. There must be the running of the race. That’s his point. The pressing toward the mark.

At some point, a Christian realises the need for the process of sanctification:

Having been born into the family of God you are born with a hunger, in fact in many cases an almost insatiable hunger. There is a built-in desire and drive and longing for growth.

But apart from that there are some very important reasons why you should grow, reasons why you should pursue the prize and run the race. First of all, it glorifies God. And that’s what a Christian is supposed to do with his life is bring glory to God. Secondly, it verifies regeneration. It makes demonstrable the fact that you are truly changed because you’re in the progress of making it visible that your life is being changed. Thirdly, it adorns the truth. It lets you literally wear the truth of God so others can see it. Fourthly, it grants you assurance. When there is spiritual progress in your life there is the sense that you belong to God because you can see His work and your calling and election become sure. Not only that it preserves you from the sorrows and the tragedies of spiritual weakness which are not enjoyable to any believer any time.

Furthermore, pursuing the prize, running the race, seeking the goal protects the cause of Christ from reproach because when you live a godly life and you pursue the goal, your life is consistent with the character of Christ and the character He upholds in Scripture and thus you’re not a reproach to Him. Seventh, when you pursue the prize and run the race and grow spiritually it produces joy and usefulness in your life and thus you can minister capably to the church. And finally, it enhances your witness to the lost world

Now, let me add another footnote here. The Apostle Paul is trying to show the readers in Philippi that because he is a Christian does not mean he has attained perfection. But beyond that, I believe he is trying to teach all of us and all generations that perfection in this life is a goal, not an achievement. It is something you pursue but never reach.

Paul exhorts — encourages — the Philippians by saying that those who are mature enough in the faith will think the way he does and God will reveal that way to those who think differently (verse 15).

Paul’s wish is that all the Philippians should hold true to what he and they attained (verse 16) in the Gospel.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry split out verses 15 and 16, so he must have found them important enough to do so.

His commentary says:

The apostle, having proposed himself as an example, urges the Philippians to follow it. Let the same mind be in us which was in blessed Paul. We see here how he was minded; let us be like-minded, and set our hearts upon Christ and heaven, as he did. 1. He shows that this was the thing wherein all good Christians were agreed, to make Christ all in all, and set their hearts upon another world. This is that whereto we have all attained. However good Christians may differ in their sentiments about other things, this is what they are agreed in, that Christ is a Christian’s all, that to win Christ and to be found in him involve our happiness both here and hereafter. And therefore let us walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. Having made Christ our all, to us to live must be Christ. Let us agree to press towards the mark, and make heaven our end. 2. That this is a good reason why Christians who differ in smaller matters should yet bear with one another, because they are agreed in the main matter:If in any thing you be otherwise minded—if you differ from one another, and are not of the same judgment as to meats and days, and other matters of the Jewish law—yet you must not judge one another, while you all meet now in Christ as your centre, and hope to meet shortly in heaven as your home. As for other matters of difference, lay no great stress upon them, God shall reveal even this unto you. Whatever it is wherein you differ, you must wait till God give you a better understanding, which he will do in his due time. In the mean time, as far as you have attained, you must go together in the ways of God, join together in all the great things in which you are agreed, and wait for further light in the minor things wherein you differ.”

MacArthur thinks that verse 15 has some sarcasm in it directed at the Judaizers:

I’m so grateful for this verse, it gets overlooked a lot, verse 15, but it’s very important to me. Verse 15, “Let us therefore as many as are perfect have this attitude and if anything…if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.”

Now follow this thought here, very important. You say, “Why would Paul throw that word perfect in there? That just confuses the clarity of the text.” I’ll tell you why. I think it’s sarcastic. And again I think in this polemic against the Judaizers, he’s dealing with the fact that the Judaizers were talking that they were…talking to the Philippians as if they were perfect, saying, “You know, we’ve reached perfection.” So there’s a sort of sarcasm in there that bites a little bit at the claims of the Judaizers. But he says, “As many of us who are the truly perfect need to have this attitude.”

He feels that and every pastor would. My prayer for you is that you’d have that attitude. That if you’re a true Christian, your desire would be to pursue the prize, that you’d see your own need, that you’d make maximum effort, that you’d have focused concentration, that you be motivated by the great prize and that you would pursue with all your might that prize. By the way, that phrase “have this attitude” literally in the Greek means to think this way, or be intent on this, or set one’s mind on this. On what? Pursuing the prize

But, Paul’s not stupid. So look what else he says. “But if in anything you have a different attitude.” Do you think that’s a remote possibility? Sure. The church is full of people who aren’t interested in pursuing the prize. They’re interested in looking at the past. They’re content with where they are. And so they want to spend the rest of their life justifying the level of their attainment and convincing everybody around them that they’re really very spiritual. Instead of recognizing their need, instead of making a maximum effort with focused concentration and motivation, they just are content with where they are and they want to spend their life justifying where they are. Or they’re so hung up on the past they can’t move. Paul says, “Look, if any of this stuff you have a different attitude, you don’t see the importance of pursuing in this way, or you believe you’ve already arrived wherever you would like to be you’ve settled there, or some of you even believe that now that you’re saved you can live any old wretched way you want like those described in verses 17 to 21 who were supposedly Christians, whose end was destruction and their God was appetite, if you think anything other than what I’ve said about pursuing the prize, and you won’t listen to me,” look what he says, “Then God will reveal that also to you.” He simply says I have to leave you to God. If you’re ever going to get the message and you won’t get it from me, then you’ll have to get it from God.

Every pastor does that, I’ve done that. I do that. “Lord, I’ve poured out my heart, I’ve said all I can say, and I know there are people who continue to live non-committed lives and all I can say is, Lord, I can’t do it, You’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to reveal Yourself.” The word “reveal” is apokalupto, to unveil. You’re going to have to open their minds and unveil reality to them. And you know how the Lord usually does it? Through…what?…trials, suffering, chastening, things like that. Through some special circumstance of life that plunges us instantly back to spiritual reality.

MacArthur looks at the Greek words used in verse 16:

Look at verse 16, “However,” that really means nevertheless, or better, one more thing. It’s often used at the end of a paragraph to express a final thought. “One more thing, by the way, let us keep living by that same to which we have attained.”

In other words, look, keep moving along the path that has brought you to where you are in your spiritual progress. That’s the idea. You’ll be interested to know that the verb here is translated “keep living.” It actually means to follow in line, to line up. It’s what it means. So what he is saying is, spiritually stay in line and keep moving from where you have arrived by the same standard or principle that got you were you are. Fall in step. It’s used of armies marching in battle order, stay in line, stay in step, be consistent, keep moving. Wherever you are spiritually by the same principles that got you there, keep moving ahead. Consistency, conformity, live up to the level of your present understanding and by the principles that brought you there, keep moving ahead, stay in line, hold the principle tightly and move down the track. Stay in your lane, if you will, and move as fast as you can from where you are. Whatever strength and energy got you where you are, use it to move ahead. If we were talking about the runner metaphor, we would say you’ve run this far in your lane with great effort, it’s gotten you so far, keep that same effort up in that same lane until you hit the finish. Pursuing the prize.

MacArthur explains what the process of perfection, or sanctification, involves:

Whatever we achieve spiritually begins with dissatisfaction. I am not pleased with where I am in my spiritual life. I am not content with my spiritual condition. If you are content, you have reached a very dangerous point. It is a point at which you will find yourself insensitive to sin and defending yourself when you ought to be admitting your weakness and pursuing spiritual strength.

I can personally vouch for that.

This is how the sanctification process starts:

And, beloved, that’s where it starts, with an awareness that you’re not there, an awareness that you haven’t arrived, that you’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to perfect in your life and a lot to yield over to the power of the Spirit of God and a lot more to know than you already know. And if you have gotten to the place where you feel satisfied, that’s a very dangerous place to be…very dangerous. If you’ve had enough prayer and enough church and enough teaching of the Word of God and enough of the Bible and enough of Christian fellowship to satisfy you, you are in a very dangerous condition. For if not theological perfectionism, you have arrived at a sort of pragmatic perfectionism where you’re as perfect as you care to be and that assumes that you’re as perfect as God cares you to be when the truth is if you’re not pursuing the prize with all your might, you’re misjudging your present condition. Awareness of the need to pursue a better condition is where all spiritual progress starts. You start out of blessed discontent, blessed dissatisfaction, a recognition you’re not what you ought to be.

Number two principle, if you’re going to pursue the prize effectively you must give maximum effort to pursue that better condition. First to know you need it, secondly to pursue it. There must be maximum effort to pursue that better condition. Look at verse 12 again, so he says, “I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I press on, dioko, I run, I follow after, I pursue, I chase. It’s used of a sprinter and the word means aggressive energetic endeavor. He says I’m running after this thing with all my might. There’s no quietism here. There’s no crucify yourself, let go and let God kind of theology here. This is the straining of every spiritual muscle, this is running to win, 1 Corinthians 9. This is pursuing the prize with all your might. This is fighting the good fight, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7. This is running the race to win, Hebrews 12:1 and 2, laying aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us and looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who is the one before us. Paul’s saying I run, I pursue, I chase, I haven’t arrived, maximum effort.

And, beloved, that’s what it takes. It takes maximum effort using the means of grace provided to you by God to pursue spiritual perfection. You say, “Well, what’s he after?” Now follow, marvelous, verse 12, “I am pursuing in order that I may lay hold of…” Oh, he’s after a prize, he’s after something specific. That’s right. He wants to get a hold of something. The verb means to seize or grasp. I’m after something. “What are you running after, Paul?” Well, here it is, “I’m after that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Now that is a fascinating statement. You see what he’s saying? He’s saying I’m pursuing the prize so that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. “What do you mean by that, Paul?” I mean that I’m pursuing the very thing that was the reason Christ pursued me. Did you get that? In other words, my goal in life is consistent with Christ’s goal for my salvation. He saved me for a purpose that purpose of His in saving me has become my purpose in my spiritual progress. You see? That’s a very, very significant truth. The reason Christ redeemed me has become the goal of my life. My will is now His will, I want for me what He wanted for me and saved me to accomplish.

… Now why were you saved? Why did God choose you and then save you? In order to make you like what? His Son. What’s the goal of your Christian life then? It’s the same thing for which you were saved, He saved you to make you like His Son and that purpose for which He saves you becomes the purpose for which you live. You see? That’s what we’re all about. We’re all in a life-long pursuit of Christ’s likeness. And you may think that you have arrived at some point of spiritual perfection, but I think if you put yourself against Christ you’re going to be a little more realistic. Christ’s likeness is the goal. Christ’s likeness is the issue here. And it is that for which we were redeemed that we might be made like His Son. That’s the point …

Third principle, in pursuing the prize it is required that there be focused concentration to pursue that better condition. Not only maximum effort but focused concentration. Any athlete knows that when you’re running in a race you have to fix your eyes on something ahead of you. You cannot watch your feet or you’ll fall on your face. You cannot watch the people around you or you will trip or somebody will pass you on the other side. Your focus is straight forward on the goal that is ahead. And that is precisely what he is saying here. In making maximum effort there’s a concentration point beyond you upon which you focus

And that takes us to the positive in verse 13, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. Let’s go, let’s move. The word here, “reaching forward,” I love it, epekteinomi, ektenes, means to stretch a muscle to its limit, epek is double prepositions added to it, it means to…I don’t know what…stretch stretch, out after would be ek out, ep after…out after. I mean, your extreme effort is in view here. This is a runner stretching every muscle to reach what is in front of him, the prize. Focused concentration, nothing with the past, just looking at the goal, moving as fast as possible

Paul saw it at the end of his life when he wrote his last letter and he said, “I have finished the course and I’m waiting for the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” What is the crown of righteousness? It’s the crown which is righteousness. What kind of righteousness? Perfection. I’m waiting for perfection which God’s going to give me the day I see Him. That’s the prize.

Number five, this too is a very important principle. In pursuing the prize we must recognize divine resources to pursue that better condition

MacArthur concludes by telling us how to pursue sanctification:

Now, what are the ingredients that help us do that? Four of them, one is the Word. As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow, constantly in the Word, constantly in the Word will keep you consistent, it will keep you on track. It will keep you moving, it will keep you pursuing the prize.

Number two is prayer…prayer. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians illustrates this point when he says, “We night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face and complete what is lacking in your faith.” We’re praying that your faith will be complete. Stay in the Word, be in prayer.

Third principle, follow an example. Look at verse 17, the following verse in our text, “Brethren, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Find somebody to pattern your life after It takes the Word, it takes prayer, it takes a model to follow and one more thing. It takes trials. First Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered a while, the Lord make you perfect.” James 1, “Trials have their perfect work.”

So, in the pursuit of the prize, the Word, prayer, following a spiritual model, you move along and God brings enough trials in to your life to perfect you, to knock the dross off so that you’re pure.

I hope this helps to explain the process of spiritual perfection.

May all reading this be blessed in their Christian journey.

Next time — Philippians 4:10-13

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 3:1-4a

Righteousness Through Faith in Christ

Finally, my brothers,[a] rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God[b] and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

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Last week’s post was about Epaphroditus, a member of the Philippian congregation who went to Rome to minister to Paul and was returning home.

Philippians 3 begins with warnings to the congregation about false teachers, Judaizers in particular, but also the qualities of a true Christian.

This is a long post. John MacArthur preached five sermons on these four verses alone, so grab yourselves a snack and a cuppa.

Paul encourages the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, adding that it is no trouble at all to repeat himself in writing that (verse 1).

‘Finally’ in that verse can also be taken as ‘furthermore’, because the Apostle has some things to add to what he has already said previously.

John MacArthur elaborates on that verse:

Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” We noted that that finally would better be translated “furthermore,” or “so then,” or “now then.” It is a transition, not a note that distinguishes the end, as 44 remaining verses might indicate to you. And he throws in this which is the basic theme of the epistle that comes through in every chapter, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” He is simply punctuating here this theme of joy. He lays down this very simple principle that our rejoicing is connected to a relationship. Rejoice in the Lord. And as I said, that is a familiar theme. It’s in chapter 1 verse 4, chapter 2 verse 2, chapter 2 verses 17 and 18, verses 28 and 29, you’ll find it here in chapter 3 and again in chapter 4, you’ll find it in verses 4 and 10. So he is reminding them about joy. But here he adds for the first time the little phrase “in the Lord…in the Lord.” It is the sphere in which our joy exists. Only in Him is true joy found…nowhere else. And let me just speak to that issue, if I might, for a moment. Paul is not talking about happiness when he talks about joy and rejoicing. Happiness is from hap…hap is a circumstance, happenstance, happenings, happiness, all the same word group. That is to say happiness is an emotion or an exhilaration associated with certain events. It is not an emotion or an exhilaration associated with a relationship. It has to do with an event, a thing, a happening. So the kind of joy that Paul is talking about and calling for, and this by the way is a command, and the command implies the capability of obedience on the part of a believer which in itself is no doubt a test of true salvation. But he says…rejoice in the Lord…commanding us to joy. But it is not the kind of emotional outburst, good feeling, exhilaration that is associated with an event. It is the kind that is associated with a relationship. It doesn’t even say, “Rejoice because of what the Lord has given you…rejoice because of what the Lord will give you…rejoice because of what the Lord is giving you.” It doesn’t say, “Rejoice because of what the Lord has done for the people that you care about.” It says, “Rejoice in the Lord.”

It is the exhilaration in the relationship, perhaps the simplest human analogy to it would be the joy of a parent in a newborn baby. The baby gives nothing, in effect, the baby provides no stimulating events. In fact, most of the events connected with the baby are anything but stimulating. The baby provides no exciting gifts, makes no charitable contribution, does no particularly beneficial service but there is something about the relationship that literally exhilarates the soul. It is the same kind of emotion only in much greater and deeper proportion as that of falling in love. And it isn’t so much that your emotion and your exhilaration and your exuberance and that overwhelming sense of silly peace that you enjoy is related to what the one you love does for you as it is just the thought of the one you love. And extrapolating out of those irrepressible human joys that come out of relationship, we can magnify that concept in to what we ought to feel and ever rejoice in that we enjoy with the Lord Himself.

MacArthur tells us more about joy:

Now let me take it a step further. This kind of joy is not an emotion from a human level, it is produced by the Holy Spirit therefore it is a supernatural emotion. It is a supernatural emotion. You say, “Well what does it do? What does it feel like, this joy that we’re to have?” Well it produces a deep confidence in the future, built on trust. The relationship says my life is in God’s hands, my life is in Christ’s control, all is well. The hymn writer said, “It is well with my soul,” and it is so well with my soul that no matter what is going on around me, I have joy. It is the kind of joy that brings a silent sleep, a deep sleep, a quietness of life because it trusts, because it knows the sovereign God and the faithful Christ will accomplish all their good promise. It is a supernatural emotion that also could be described as the absence of any ultimate fear because what is there to fear when all is bound up in the relationship and the relationship is eternal. It is the kind of emotion that puts a melody in the heart that no matter how bad it is in the world, it’s almost as if we ride across the top of the bumps. It’s the kind of emotion that puts a song on the lips, a lightness to the step. It’s the kind of emotion that produces easy thanks for little things…small pleasures. It’s very different from happiness. It’s different from the happiness, for example, of good health because true joy persists in weakness, pain, illness and death. It is different from the fun of a party with its laughing friends and music because it persists in the dark when someone is all alone. It is different from the delight of a new house or a new car or a new dress or a new anything because it persists through the loss of everything. Why? Because it is the joy in the relationship and the relationship with Jesus Christ that we enjoy never changes…never changes. He is always present. He is ever close. He is ever loving. He is ever securing. He is ever strengthening. He is ever providing. And we trust Him. Rejoice in the Lord. Very different than happiness.

Paul cautions the Philippians to beware of the dogs, the evildoers and those who would mutilate the flesh (verse 2).

By ‘dogs’, Paul meant wild dogs.

MacArthur tells us:

“Beware of the dogs.” Boy, you just didn’t call people dogs in that world. Two words in the New Testament for dogs, both from the same root. One is kunarion, that means a little dog, a little pet dog. It’s a diminutive term, it’s used in Matthew 15:26 and 27, and Mark chapter 7 around verse 27. It means a little diminutive pet dog. The word here is kuon, that word does not mean a pet dog. That word is used of dogs that were not pets and most of the dogs in that culture were not pets. They were scavengers. And there are many many histories that you can read about that day and you can look it up in a biblical encyclopedia and find it. Dogs roamed the streets. Dogs were scrounges, they were scavengers. They roamed in packs. They hunted the garbage of the city. They were often rabid. They snarled. They were wild. Would literally prowl the ancient streets without an owner and without home, they would feed on the garbage, on the filth. They would fight one another. They would attack people. In some cases people would lose their lives because the dogs were diseased.

To show you something of the character of these kinds of dogs, do you remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? And you remember in that story that part of the torture of Lazarus was that he was sick and in his poverty he was lying in the street and it says the dogs were…what?…licking his sores, the filthy vile scroungy scavenger dogs of the street, unimaginably licking the sores of this poor beggar. In the book of Revelation when it wants to identify the people who are not allowed into the gate of the holy city, in Revelation 22:15 it says, “Outside are the dogs.” They are not the warm and fuzzy little diminutives that we have as pets. These dogs were very very different. They were the lowest of the low, the scavengers, the scoundrels, the useless filthy curs that moved in the streets and were a threat to people and children.

And because they were so base and such filthy animals, the Jews had come to use the term “dog” as a title for Gentiles. In fact, the Talmud says the nations of the world are like dogs. The Gentiles were dogs, Gentile dogs, unclean, filthy, scrounging scavengers who savagedly attacked the truth and were dangerous.

And so, the Jews would see the Gentiles as dogs. The Judaizers trying to protect the Jewishness that was so precious to them would see even the Gentile Christians as dogs until they went through a circumcision. Jews called Gentiles dogs.

What is startling here is that Paul, a Jew, calls Jews dogs. That’s turning the table. That is a serious statement. You wonder sometimes why Paul was not popular. That statement would not make him popular…not popular. He is saying, in effect, beware of those people who self-righteously call other dogs but they’re the dogs. They accuse others of shamelessly attacking the truth and they are shamelessly attacking the truth. Are dogs unclean and filthy? So are they. Are dogs snarling and howling and vicious? So are they. Are dogs dangerous and able to wound and even kill? So are they. Stay away from them. Stay away from those dangerous filthy snarling howling wild attacking false teachers who parade themselves as if they are the virtuous ones, but they are deadly, they are dangerous, they are dirty. And he’s talking about people who are religious. He’s talking about people who say we must obey the law of God.

Listen, anybody who comes along in this time and day and says you have to baptized in water to be saved is a dangerous dog. Anybody who comes along in this day and says in order to be saved you’ve got to go through some certain kind of ceremony, you’ve got to say some certain kinds of prayers, you’ve got to go through some kind of a ritual is a dog, an unclean thing, a dangerous beast. Anyone who comes along to you and says it’s fine if you believe in Jesus but if you don’t acquiesce to a certain code of ethics and do your best to live by that code of ethics and perform those deeds which will please God you will never be saved is a dog. Beware.

As for evildoers, MacArthur explains:

They are evil workers. You see, the thing is they pride themselves on being workers of righteousness. That’s how he turns the table on them this time. Typically those who are involved in those kinds of external religions of works see themselves as the workers of what is good, that they please God, they’re earning His favor, they’re earning salvation. They’re the noble upholders of the ceremonies and the rituals of their religion … and they’ve done the good deeds and they’ve filled up all their agenda with those required things. And they’ve done all that good. And the fact of the matter is they are not good workers, they are…what?…they’re evil workers. Well, you say, “Why so?” Because it is the wickedness of all wickedness to think that you can earn anything with God. Why is that wicked? Because it is pride at its apex and pride is a…what?…sin. Unregenerate people, even religious people can’t do really what is good. Let me put it to you simply. Wicked people can do bad bad. Remember our discussion of that? Bad bad. You say, “What’s that?” They do bad things for bad reasons. You say, “What’s a bad thing?” Any kind of sin. They can do wicked things. And they do them with bad reasons, bad motives. They’re motivated by their wicked selfish self-centered nature. Now listen to this, unregenerate people can also do bad good. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Well it’s good in the sense that they can help the poor, they can relieve the widows, they can visit the prisoners, they can adopt orphans, they can do good. But it’s bad good because it’s motivated by pride rather than the glory of God. The best that the unregenerate can do is bad good. They can do bad bad or bad good. But only the redeemed can do good good…a good deed motivated to the glory of God.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant by mutilation:

Then finally he literally scorches them with the blowtorch of terms. He says, “Beware of the mutilation.” This is unbelievable. You talk about offensive, that is offensive. You see, they prided themselves on circumcision. The word for circumcision in the Greek is peritome, it means to cut around. Paul says you’re not the circumcision, you’re the katatome, you’re the mutilation, you’re the castration, that’s what you are. Boy! You think you’re circumcised? You think you fit God’s design in the symbolism of circumcision? Forget it, there’s nothing spiritual about it. All it was was physical mutilation. In Galatians 5:12 he says, “You say you’re circumcised? I would that you were castrated,” Galatians 5:12. Very strong. You see, we can’t just say to these people who add works to salvation, “Well, they’re close. Boy, they’re certainly lovely people. They certainly are nice. And they’re religious. And, you know, they’re trying their best to get to God.” They are dogs. Beware of them. They’re filthy. They’re unclean. They’re vicious. They are not workers of good. They are doing at best bad good, motivated by their own pride. And they go through their religious ceremonies and they are useless, they have nothing to do with their heart and their life and their relation to God. They’re simply external. It is merely a process of mutilation with no spiritual value, no inner cleansing, no spiritual change. Why? Because that’s all of grace and nothing more, right? Nothing more. And as soon as you stick anything else in there, all is lost.

In fact, these people called the mutilation who thought they could come to God through circumcision had to be told that their circumcision was of no more value than the gashings of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. You remember them? Up there with Elijah, cutting themselves, gashing and mutilating themselves, trying to please their deity…absolutely useless. So is circumcision. So is any external thing that does not reflect a transformed heart. He is not a Jew who is one outwardly. He is a Jew who is one…what?…inwardly. Romans 2:28, “For circumcision is of the heart.” What’s Paul’s message here? He’s saying…Look, we’re the true circumcision. How are we characterized? All internally. We worship in the Spirit of God, we glory in Christ Jesus. Who gets all the glory for our salvation? Christ. Our worship isn’t external, it’s…what?…it’s in the Spirit. He gets all the glory and how much confidence do we have in our flesh? None. That’s the difference. You see, they worship on the outside, they glory in their human achievement, their religious activity and they have a lot of confidence in the flesh. They think it can perform. So Paul leads us then to verse 3, and an understanding of the explicit qualities of the true Christian.

So what is it when these religionists do all of their ceremonies and all of their activities and by their own works try to attain the favor of God? It is bad good. It may appear good on the outside, it is bad on the inside because it is nothing but the expulsion of pride which believes that you can please God on your own. They are merit-mongers.

The Judaizers were among them. Evil workers trying to earn God’s favor. It doesn’t mean that they were doing evil deeds, they were working to please God but they were evil because it was all motivated by the false belief that they could be pleasing to God. What a deception of pride.

So Paul flips the table and says you’re evil workers, everything you do is wicked, everything you do is bad. Why? Because they did it out of the allusion of pride and pride is the driving sin of unregenerate man.

MacArthur explains that, in the Old Testament, God intended circumcision to be an outward sign for the Jewish people to use to become pure in heart. God wanted it to remind them of their sinful nature. Note that the male’s blood had to be shed when he was eight days old (emphases mine):

When God demanded that they circumcise the male, He was giving them a symbol that the…the outward part of man’s procreative organ was cleansed to remind them that man needed to be cleansed of sin at the deepest root of his being. That was the idea. Man needed to be cleansed of his sin through a spiritual surgery, at the very root of his nature. And that very graphic symbol was chosen because that is the procreative point at which man produces sinful man. So man in his natural condition is a sinner and he produces sinners, sinners, sinners, sinners and nothing but sinners. At the very point of his nature then he needs cleansing. And every time they circumcised a person and every time they circumcised a little eight-day-old male child, they were reminding themselves of the fact that man at his very base nature was a wicked sinner and desperately in need of a cleansing. It was an illustration of the sinfulness of man. And even the bloodshed that occurred in circumcision could symbolize the need for sacrifice to accomplish that cleansing. So there was even a picture of the pain and the sacrifice in the circumcision as well

Leviticus 26:41 talks about the circumcised heart. Deuteronomy 10:16, the circumcised heart. Deuteronomy 30 verse 6, the circumcised heart. Jeremiah 4:4, the circumcised heart. Ezekiel 44:7, the circumcised heart. That starts all the way back in Exodus 6…Leviticus, Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch already when God said, “I want an outward sign,” He was saying, “I also want an inward reality.” A circumcised foreskin can only be a sign of the need for a circumcised heart, a cleansed heart. But it wasn’t long after God instituted it that they had already begun to deteriorate and that’s why you have those passages where God says circumcise your hearts. That’s why those are there because already the thing began to deteriorate and all they were living by was the physical sign and disregarding the spiritual counterpart.

When the Judaizers came along after Paul left one of his new churches — this happened nearly all the time — they told the new Christians, many of whom were Gentiles, that the men needed circumcision, because only then could they obey the law. However, as we know, the New Covenant has done away with physical circumcision and focuses on a spiritual circumcision — one of the heart and mind with the help of divine grace and the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says that ‘we’ — true Christians — are the circumcision, because we worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (verse 3) for salvation.

‘Confidence in the flesh’ means a works-based religious system, which is still very much active today.

MacArthur explains:

… not only is the true believer characterized by worship, by rejoicing in Christ, but thirdly by humility…humility. That’s the…that is the basic attitude of a genuine believer…“He puts no confidence in the flesh.” Very humble by the fallen condition of his human flesh. He doesn’t trust it. He doesn’t trust in it. He began in the Spirit and he will continue in the Spirit. He knows that all the good that comes to him and through him is by the power of God, he has no confidence in his flesh to please God. He knows it can’t. So there’s a humility there. There is not a pushing of one’s merit, of one’s achievement, but there’s humility.

How do you identify a true Christian? Look for one who worships from the heart that’s prompted by the Spirit. Look for one whose glory and joy and boast is all Christ. Look for one who when viewing himself is humble.

MacArthur elaborates on ‘glory’ in the Greek manuscript:

That…that verb in the Greek, “to glory,” kauchaomai basically means to boast but it has the idea of a rejoicing exultant, almost a hilarious kind of boasting. And what it’s saying here is that if you’re a true Christian all your boasting, all your rejoicing is going to be in Christ because all the credit belongs to Him. So you haven’t done anything to earn it.

He tells us what it means to ‘worship by the Spirit of God’:

Listen, the first thing is an overflowing heart of worship Ask yourself, does my heart long to glorify the Lord? Do I love to praise Him and worship Him? Is it my heart’s desire to serve Him? ... But the question you want to ask is what is my attitude toward God? Because if I’m a Christian the Spirit is in me and if the Spirit is in me, then He is prompting me to worship. And so I’ll have a heart of adoration and a heart of praise and a heart that longs to serve God from the inside out. So I have to look at my heart. And so when the Scripture says “examine yourselves,” it starts there in the heart. Oh yes, there will be a moral code by which you live. And there may have been a real event, there was for all of us a time when we were saved, even though we don’t know it. And we do have to know the facts. And service will be a part of our life but all of that will flow from the inside because we worship God prompted by the Spirit. It’s worship on a supernatural level, it’s not human, it’s spiritual, it’s energized by the Holy Spirit.

Then Paul refers to his Jewish heritage, saying that he has reason for confidence in the flesh also (verse 4a).

Let’s look at the whole verse:

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

It is possible that the Judaizers talking to the Philippians might have thought Paul was a Gentile and therefore, the congregation needed education on the Old Testament laws.

Paul states that, as a Pharisee, he knew the system inside and out.

MacArthur says:

“Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh.” The end of verse 3 says, “Christians, don’t put any confidence in the flesh, although I myself…that’s an emphatic form there…might have confidence even in the flesh.” I mean, it’s not that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Listen, if there was confidence in the flesh I might have it. I might have it. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more than anyone else. Literally to a higher degree. Certainly to a higher degree than most if not all of the Judaizers who were plaguing Philippi. So he is saying if there was anybody who should have confidence in the flesh legitimately, it would be me. And if anybody else has a mind to have confidence in the flesh, I have more reason to have it.

Now he’s not saying this to build his ego. He’s not saying this to convince people of his spiritual superiority. He is simply saying it for the sake of argument. He doesn’t really want to boast in his flesh. He doesn’t really have any confidence in his flesh. In 2 Corinthians read chapter 11 verse 16 through chapter 12 verse 1 some time and he uses the same argument of boasting there but he calls it foolish. It’s foolish to boast, I only do it for the sake of making a point, just for the sake of argument. He says, “If anybody might boast in the flesh it would be me because of my impeccable Jewish credentials, my religious credentials.”

You see, he knew what it was to be a Jew, to be a Jew in the highest sense of the term and yet he deliberately knowingly willingly abandoned it all for the sake of Jesus Christ. He counted it all as worthless. He sold it all to gain the true treasure, the true pearl, even Christ. Now in verses 4 to 7 he tells what was loss and in verses 8 to 11 what was gain. And in the middle is Christ. He says this is what was loss, verses 4 to 7, and this is what was gain in Christ. I gave up all this stuff and this is what I gained.

Here are the next several verses, which are in the Lectionary:

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c] blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Straining Toward the Goal

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.

From that we see that obligatory works, circumcision and rituals are empty actions:

So he’s saying I was born into Jewishness, I was born into the Jewish faith. I followed the rituals from the very beginning. I started with the most essential rite and sacrament which they felt was absolutely necessary for salvation. So he said I look at that circumcision that you see as so vital to salvation and I’m telling you it’s rubbish…it’s rubbish. Because salvation is not by ritual, it is not by rite, it is not by ceremony, it is not by symbol, it is not by sacraments, it is not by masses, it is not by routines and rituals and washings and baptisms. I don’t care whether you’re talking about Jewish symbols and Jewish sacraments and Jewish ordinances and rituals and ceremonies or whether you’re talking about Roman Catholic ones, Roman Catholic rites and rituals, or whether you’re talking about Protestant baptism or Protestant sacraments or the Lord’s table or some other ritual, or whether you’re talking about lighting candles or praying through beads or praying certain formula prayers, ceremonies, rites and rituals don’t bring salvation. That’s what he’s saying. So I considered that truest Jewish rite of all rites, circumcision, as manure. As far as salvation is concerned it’s useless. It’s waste, it’s garbage, throw it out, it can’t help.

Secondly, he says salvation is not by race either. If anybody had a right to boast I might because not only was I circumcised the eighth day, but I am of the nation of Israel. The implication here is that some of the Judaizers probably were Gentiles converted later. They were circumcised later in life and they weren’t really of the nation Israel. They were proselytes. But Paul is saying, “I’m of the people of Israel” …

And I’ll tell you right now the Jews believed that if they were circumcised the eighth day and if they were of the pure line coming out of the loins of Jacob and coming through the twelve tribes that were the children of Jacob, they were therefore the chosen people of God who were the saved, the redeemed, the inheriters of eternal glory. Paul says…the fact of the matter is, that’s useless, that is absolutely useless.

No religious virtue is gained by birth. Understand that? There are people today who want to affirm household salvation. They twist the Philippian jailer’s story that he was saved and his whole household and they assumed that when a family…when parents are saved that the children born of those parents are in covenant relationship to God. And that’s why they engage in infant baptism which is a form of covenant identity. Infant baptism is how you identify a child as having been born into covenant identity, household salvation by virtue of parents. Not so…not so. Your religious family grants you no standing with God. The fact that you were born into a Christian nation grants you no standing with God. The fact that you were born into a Christian family grants you no standing with God, no salvation, it’s useless, it’s garbage, it’s rubbish.

As MacArthur says above, once we devote our hearts to God through His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, whatever good we do comes from Him and our spontaneous actions will reflect that:

all of that will flow from the inside because we worship God prompted by the Spirit. It’s worship on a supernatural level, it’s not human, it’s spiritual, it’s energized by the Holy Spirit.

Paul has more on that, which will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Philippians 3:15-16

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 2:25-30

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[a] for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s affection and esteem for Timothy.

In today’s reading, Paul introduces us to Epaphroditus.

John MacArthur says that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus are three excellent examples of sacrificial living (emphases mine):

There are a lot of people at the table and there are a lot of people who sing the hymn.  Few fast and few pray, few watch.  The poet went on to say, “Many will confess His wisdom, few embrace His shame.  Many while He smiles upon them loud His praise proclaim.  Then if for a while He tests them, they desert His name.  But the souls who love supremely let woe come or bliss, these will count their dearest heart’s blood, not their own but His.  Savior, Thou who thus hast loved me, give me love like this.”  The call for a sacrificial life.

It’s hard for us in this society to get in touch with the model of sacrificial living, and so we have been looking at Paul and Timothy and now maybe the richest of all of them, Epaphroditus.  And I say that because he is much like us When you look at the model of Timothy, as we did last week, you say, “But he is a gifted man, eminently gifted to preach and teach.  He is unique spiritually.  He was called by God, set apart, spiritual leader, trained under the Apostle Paul, a great leader, a great teacher, a gifted man.  I can’t very well identify with that” …

He is not a statesman.  He is not an Apostle.  We have no indication that he was even an elder in the church at Philippi.  There is nothing said to lead us to believe that his ministry was anything dramatic or dynamic, unforgettable, earthshaking.  He, in a sense, is the hero of the common man And maybe in that sense his level of sacrificial service becomes much more instructive for us because he provides for us a pattern of life at the level with which most of must face it.

He exemplifies the spirit of sacrifice for the sake of Christ that has no public kudos.  He had nothing to gain, not preeminence as an Apostle, not as a great teacher, preacher, proclaimer of truth, not popularity like Timothy as one who had been trained under Paul and had had significance ministry throughout his life.  There’s nothing really incomparable about Epaphroditus as there is about Paul There’s nothing really preeminent about his giftedness as there is in the case of Timothy who was so uniquely gifted of God, a remarkable man in every way This is just one of us And in that sense his model and his example becomes all the more direct in its application We could say there are few Pauls, there are some Timothys, there are many Epaphroditus.  This is the people’s model.

Looking back at the earlier verses in Philippians 2, we recall that Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear, trembling and without complaint. Paul spoke of the Philippians’ sacrifice in their Christian journey, saying that he was but the drink offering poured on that sacrifice. He then wrote about Timothy, who was like a son to him.

MacArthur summarises the chapter this way:

Paul is really giving us a strong call to Christian commitment He is saying, “Live out your salvation in humility and without complaint.”

Those are two good balancing things If things go well for you, don’t be proudIf things go difficult for you, don’t complain.  Live out your salvation in humility and without complaint.  And then in order to help us see more clearly how that works, he gave us three models He was a model of selfless, humble, living out of salvation without complaint, so was Timothy.  And here we come to Epaphroditus, the third model.

Just for sake of distinction we called Paul the sacrificial rejoicer, or the humble rejoicer We called Timothy the single-minded sympathizer And now as we come to verse 25 through 30 we see Epaphroditus, let’s call him the loving gambler…the loving gambler.  And I’ll explain that as we go.

MacArthur gives us a brief biography of Epaphroditus, a devoted, holy man from the church in Philippi:

We really don’t know anything except by implication in this passage and we’ll try to construct the best we can somewhat of a profile of this very unique man.

Remember now, Paul is a prisoner, a two-year incarceration in a private house by the Roman government.  The Romans have chained him to one of their soldiers, keeping him a prisoner in his own house.  During the time he is imprisoned by Rome he still has some freedom for ministry The Philippian church who loved him very deeply, the church which he founded, as recorded in Acts 16, when they became aware of his situation were greatly troubled by it and decided they wanted to help him Realizing he could no longer work to earn his living, support himself in his ministry, they wanted to send him some money So the Philippians collected sacrificially from their people a gift of love and they sent it to Paul and it was taken by this man Epaphroditus.

Epaphroditus took the money to Paul, but there was more involved than that.  The Philippian church instructed him not only to deliver the money but to stay and to become the servant of Paul in the matter of all of his personal needs.  So Epaphroditus is sent with the money as the chosen delegate of the church and also he is to stay as the servant of Paul, serving all of his personal needs.

Now that alone would tell us something about Epaphroditus.  Number one, the Philippian church would never have sent a man to work in close proximity with the Apostle Paul unless he was most eminently representative of the godliness of that congregation We can assume that they wouldn’t want to put anybody suspect very close to the Apostle Paul who may well have been the most discerning human being that ever lived and who could see through anyone.  And so we can be fairly certain that Epaphroditus was a man of genuine spiritual virtue, a man of depth in terms of his love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we could also ascertain that he was a man with a heart of a servant For him to go and to simply meet all the needs of the Apostle Paul would indicate to me that he saw himself in the role of coming alongside to serve.  There’s no indication that he was a significant preacher/teacher in the church, although he may well have been able to do that.  It could well be ascertained that he was more likely a deacon than an elder and that his role was more the role of serving than the role of leading.  But nonetheless we can for sure know that he must have had a servant’s heart.  The Philippian congregation having chosen him as their ambassador, as it were, to Paul would never have chosen a man who wouldn’t literally give his life away in service to someone else because to do so would betray both their love for Paul and Paul’s trust in their judgment.

Thirdly, we can ascertain that not only was he a humble serving godly man, but he was a man of great courage because he knew exactly what he was walking into There was no question in his mind how the Roman government felt about Paul.  That was obvious for everyone to see.  It was imminently possible that Paul could lose his life because he was, after all, a prisoner and there was consideration about whether or not he should continue to live since he was bringing the heresy of Christianity into the Roman world.  And if in fact Paul’s life was taken away, it would probably be a matter of course for them to at least consider taking the lives of those who served alongside of him So he well knew the risk involved.

So here is a man then who is a godly man or he wouldn’t have been chosen, who is a servant who is chosen to do that which most fits his gifts, and who has the courage to step into a hostile environment where the very one he serves is hated, rejected.  And he is willing to do that.

The question arises as to whether Epaphroditus and Epaphras are the same man.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states that they were one in the same:

He seems to be the same who is called Epaphras, Col 4 12.

However, MacArthur says they were two different men:

There is a short form of the name Epaphroditus in the Greek and that is Epaphras And there is an Epaphras mentioned in Colossians 1:7 but there is no reason to identify the two as one We think they’re two different people.

Those reading this thinking that Epaphroditus sounds like Aphrodite would be correct:

The name Epaphroditus was a common name In fact, the word Epaphroditus was a common word.  It was a…it was a common noun, if you will…not only a proper noun.  Not just a name but a common term and I’ll tell you why. The name is drawn from the name of a Greek god.  Have you heard the name Aphrodite?  Have you heard that name?  Aphrodite was the goddess of love In Rome her name was Venus, goddess of love.  Among the Greeks it was Aphrodite.  She was the goddess of love and beauty.  And this man is named, as it were, for Aphrodite.  Epaphroditus is simply a term that means “favorite of Aphrodite, favorite of Aphrodite.”

This tells us that he came out of a pagan environment …

So the man came out of a pagan background, converted to Christ.  We don’t know where.  We don’t know in what way.  It very possibly could have happened when Paul founded the church at Philippi.  He could have been one of the early converts and been there from the very beginning, but we do not know that.

He has become, however, a key Christian in the church, a sacrificial man who has left his home, his employment, his ministry, his church, his friends, his wife, his children to go and serve the Apostle Paul.  A very sacrificial man.

Paul begins by saying that he will send Epaphroditus to them and goes on to name the many roles the man fulfils for the Apostle: a (spiritual) brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, the Philippians’  messenger and minister to his need (verse 25).

From that, we can appreciate that Epaphroditus was a very important man in Paul’s life at that time.

MacArthur explains what these roles meant in the ancient world and in Paul’s ministry:

First of all, he is called “My brother.”  The key is the word “my.”  Paul is viewing him in a very personal way.  He is my brother.  What does he mean by that?  Well he means brother in the sense of spiritual birth.  They both have the common source of life, God the Father having given them life in Christ through the Spirit.  They are brothers in Christ and so they share the common eternal life.  But there’s more to it than that.  It is not only brother of common life, but it is brother of common love And the term adelphos also carries the idea of camaraderie, friendship, affection, feelings.  And so Paul is saying, first of all, I want you to know that Epaphroditus not only shares with me common life, but he is a brother loved.  I have affection for him, he is my comrade, he is my friend.  That’s the personal titling.  Now what that celebrates is Paul’s own inter-personal relationship with him…how he related to Paul.  Okay?

The second title is how he related to the ministry, and he calls him “my fellow worker,” or fellow worker.  This word is used thirteen times in the New Testament, twelve times out of the thirteen by Paul and he uses it of people who worked alongside him in the ministry You can look up its uses in Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 1, there’s one in Philippians 4:3, another one in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 Paul titles people “fellow worker,” who came alongside and worked with him in the extension of the gospel.  So he says he not only in relation to my person is brother, but in relation to my task is fellow worker, coworker.  The emphasis here is not on common life, but on common effort He is commendable not only for his relational skills, he is commendable also for his laboring effort, for his diligence Not just brothers in life and love, but workers together for Christ.

Thirdly, he says “my fellow soldier.”  This is to say not particularly looking at his relation to Paul or his relation to the task at hand, but that he is commendable in relationship to the enemies which fight against the ministry.  The title “fellow soldier,” by the way, is a very, very honorable title I did a little research into that Greek word which is also used in the second verse of Philemon and I found that outside of biblical record that word was used on some special occasion to honor a soldier, usually a common soldier was honored with that title.  And the goal was to make the soldier equal to the commander-in-chief In one case to make a warrior equal to a king.  To say you are a fellow soldier, in the very heart of that Greek word is the word stratios(?) from which we get strategist, was to say that you ranked with those who are the strategic people in the forces, the strategists, the great leaders…a great term of honor And Paul is pulling Epaphroditus up, my fellow strategist, my fellow commander-in-chief, my fellow…as it were…leader in the matter of spiritual warfare.

Now all three of these terms demonstrate the gracious humility of the heart of Paul.  Paul doesn’t look down on Epaphroditus at all.  He looks right eyeball to eyeball with him.  In his wonderful humility, he could lift anyone to his own level…my brother, my fellow worker, my fellow commander-in-chief.  This is the humble heart of the great Apostle.  He doesn’t need to brag on himself.  He doesn’t need to elevate himself.  That is contrary to the moving of the Spirit in his heart and contrary to what he knows to be true in terms of the desire of God for his life.

That last term “fellow soldier” is very important because it indicates that there was conflict in the ministry of Epaphroditus It indicates that while Paul was battling, so was he.  And anyone who came alongside him in that environment certainly was battling.  Epaphroditus was probably battling not only men but demons, not only the earthly enemy but the heavenly enemy, not only the fleshly but the spiritual dimension.

So here is this unique man.  Already we know he was a godly man.  Already we know he was a servant at heart.  Already we know we was a greatly courageous man.  Now we find out he had relational skills and had become really a very loved brother of Paul.  He had tremendous work skills so that he was seen to be one who worked right alongside Paul at his own level.  And thirdly, he was a great soldier who did not flee in the face of great, great animosity and opposition.  That’s what we know about him.

There are two more titles that he’s given that tell us a little more about him and they are in relation to the Philippian church And here he introduces the word “your.”  From my viewpoint these three things describe him.  From your viewpoint, these two describe him.  He is your messenger and minister to my need.  This, very simple.  Your messenger is the word apostolos from which we get the word apostle, which isn’t a translation but literally a transliterationHe was your apostle

MacArthur then explains the difference between Apostle and apostle:

Now note, there are some Apostles, only a few, eleven plus Matthias, plus Paul, only those men were Apostles selected by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and sent.  He does not say of Epaphroditus he is the Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, he says he is your apostle.  And here’s the simple distinction.  The Apostles with the upper case letters were those sent by Christ The apostles with the lower case letters were those sent by the church. He is not an Apostle of Christ, he is an apostle of the church.  He is not that uniquely called and dispatched and foundational Apostle chosen by Christ, he is that apostle sent from the church chosen by the church.  And that’s a very important distinction to make.

The first were Apostles of Christ.  The second category apostles of the church.  And he is such, sent by the church, not by Christ personally Himself.

MacArthur explains the Greek meaning of ‘minister’:

Now secondly he says, not only is he a messenger, he’s your messenger, and what was he a messenger of?  He brought him money.  That was the issue.  He sent whatever they sent, and I’m sure it wasn’t just money, there must have been a message with it, a message of love and the promise of prayers and all of that.  But secondly he says he is minister to my need He is your minister to my need.  You have sent him.

Now the word for minister here needs our attention for a moment.  I don’t want to get too technical but I need to give you these foundational ideas.  The word is leitourgon from which we get liturgy And we’ve been noting that word in other studies and that word has to do with sacred priestly religious service from which we get the word liturgy today which is used in relationship to certain kinds of worship.

Now, he comes then as the liturgical priest, if you will.  He comes as the ceremonial servant, to minister to Paul It’s a spiritual term, it’s a religious term, it’s a sacred term There were in the early years around the time of Paul in the church Greek city states And some of you have studied about them in your world history.  Greek city states were very proud, they had their own armies, they even went to war with other city states.  People became very enamored with and very patriotic regarding their own city states.  And very often there were men who were so passionately committed to their own city state that at their own expense they would use their money and their time and their efforts to accomplish great civic duties and provide great civic benefits They were seen as the benefactors of the public And they became known as the leitourgoi, those who at great personal expense did what they did sacrificially to benefit the popul[ace] And that then is a fitting term for this man who at great personal expense, leaving his home and his family and his friends and his livelihood and whatever else, literally came and put his life on the line to benefit the Apostle Paul.  So he is the servant of the Philippian church come to bring a message and he did sacred service on their behalf in the life of Paul as he was instructed to do.

The money which he brought in chapter 4 verse 18 is called an acceptable sacrifice And so Paul picks up with that terminology.  He was a priest doing sacred service and offering a sacrifice of money for the needs of Paul.

So he’s quite a man, quite a remarkable man…unselfish, humble, sympathetic, compassionate, all of those things.  He’s a servant, he’s courageous, he’s godly.  He built a strong bond with Paul.  He worked fairly alongside of him and did his share and he was a great soldier fighting the enemy.

Paul says that Epaphroditus has been longing for the Philippians and has been in distress ever since he found out the Philippians heard that he was ill, or ‘sick’ in some translations (verse 26).

That indicates that the Philippians were very fond of Epaphroditus and highly concerned for his recovery. Just as important, Paul knows that, too.

Henry says:

The Philippians were exceedingly sorry to hear of his sickness. They were full of heaviness, as well as he, upon the tidings of it: for he was one, it seems, for whom they had a particular respect and affection, and thought fit to choose out to send to the apostle.

MacArthur gives us a fuller definition of ‘distressed’ in that context:

That word, by the way, describes the confused restless half-distracted state produced by physical derangement or mental distress It can be the product of grief or shame or disappointment or sorrow, any of those things.  But it’s that confused chaotic restlessness that comes in a time of turmoil And so he says he’s restless and he’s in turmoil and he’s distressed.

By the way, it’s used…the same word is used in Matthew 26 when Jesus in verse 38 says in the Garden, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.”  It’s a very heavy, heavy distress.  One translator calls it, “Full of heaviness.”  One writer, Sweet(?) says, “It is the distress that follows a great traumatic shock.”  He is really upset.

Paul says that Epaphroditus was near death, but God showed him — and Paul — mercy through his recovery, which Paul says was an added mercy because his friend’s death would have produced sorrow upon sorrow (verse 27).

Henry takes the word ‘ill’ or ‘sick’ literally and explains why Paul could not cure his friend:

Sickness is a calamity common to men, to good men and ministers. But why did not the apostle heal him, who was endued with a power of curing diseases, as well as raising the dead? Acts 20 10. Probably because that was intended as a sign to others, and to confirm the truth of the gospel, and therefore needed not be exercised one towards another. These signs shall follow those who believe, they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover, Mark 16 17, 18. And perhaps they had not that power at all times, and at their own discretion, but only when some great end was to be served by it, and when God saw fit. It was proper to Christ, who had the Spirit above measure.

However, MacArthur looks at ‘ill’ or ‘sick’ as James used the word in his Epistle and says that it does not refer to physical illness but indicates a spiritual battle:

If you have any question about James 5, the end of that wonderful section on “let the elders pray for the sick,” we showed you that the word “sick” there does not primarily mean sick It talks about being weak, it talks about being feeble.  And it is the same term here, astheneo, and I don’t believe it has anything to do with physical illness, I don’t believe there’s any disease you get in the work of Christ.  I don’t think that’s what he’s saying at all.  What he is saying about this man is that he came close to death for the work of Christ.  What kind of death do you come close to doing the work of Christ in a hostile environment?  I’ll tell you what kind of death, the death of a martyr.  I don’t think this has a thing to do with physical illness This has to do with martyrdom This man was engaged in spiritual conflict.  This man was engaged in a battle with the forces of hell and the ungodly of the society, that is the battle that he was engaged in.

MacArthur gives us the meaning for ‘sorrow upon sorrow’ in Greek:

Do you know what would have happened to Paul if Epaphroditus had died?  He would have had sorrow upon sorrow.  You know what that means in the Greek?  It literally means wave after wave of grief…this man that endeared himself to Paul.  As I say, he may have known him a number of years, we don’t know.  But somehow he was deep into the heart of Paul, very deep because when he gets distressed about the Philippians, Paul can’t handle his distress And so he’s got to send him home so he can get undistressed because Paul is distressed about Epaphroditus’ distress And the only thing worse than that would be Epaphroditus death which would bring wave upon wave of sorrow to Paul See, here’s a man who deeply loved, a church who deeply loved, a servant of that church that deeply loved…such profound things, so elusive to us who have put objects in front of people.

So God makes a sovereign decision, spares the life of Epaphroditus in the midst of this brush with death.  And in so doing gives mercy to Epaphroditus and mercy to Paul who would be literally overwrought with sorrow if that man had lost his life And by the way, that sorrow upon sorrow is very strong language, very strong…wave upon wave of grief…grief upon grief rolling in.  So God delivered Epaphroditus and God delivered Paul.

As a servant of Christ, Paul was ready to face death.  I think as a servant of Christ I think Paul was ready to accept the death of his friend Epaphroditus But he wouldn’t have liked it personally because he loved the man.  So he was happy to forego the pain of losing Epaphroditus to death.

Paul says that he is all the more eager to send Epaphroditus home to the Philippians because his friend’s distress is making him anxious (verse 28).

MacArthur explains Paul’s selfless love for Epaphroditus and the Philippians:

Paul is not only concerned about Epaphroditus, but he’s concerned about the Philippians being concerned about Epaphroditus who is concerned about them.

Even though he needs him, fellow worker, even though he loves to have him alongside, fellow soldier, and even though he knows they sent him as messenger and minister to his need, and he proves himself so valuable that it was mercy that spared his life for Paul would have had sorrow on sorrow losing him, that’s how valuable he was.  Paul says in spite of all he means to me, I’m sending him to you.  Why?  Because I’m more concerned about your joy than mine.  Magnanimous man.

Paul tells the Philippians to receive Epaphroditus in the Lord with all joy and to honour men like him (verse 29).

MacArthur elaborates on the sentiment that Paul expresses in that verse:

Receive him in the Lord…receive him really as if he were the Lord.  Matthew chapter 18 says that we are to receive one another as little children.  And it says there whoever receives one of these little ones, receives Me.  The word “receive” means to welcome, to open your arms and embrace, to take in.  So he’s saying don’t accept the fact that he’s home as some indication of failure.  I’m telling you, receive him as if you were receiving the Lord.  Then receive him with joy, rejoice that he’s back and that he’s well and that he’s healthy And then hold men like him in high regard Don’t just be happy, be respectful.  Don’t reluctantly say…Well, it’s obvious he failed.  No, hold him in high regard, hold him as highly prized, would be another way to translate it Hold him as a precious man…even best, an honored man…an honored man.

Paul closes by saying that Epaphroditus was risking his life for the work of Christ, to complete through his dedication to Paul the work that the Philippians could not do (verse 30). That was not a slight on the Philippians, rather the recognition that Epaphroditus’s character and holiness was so exemplary.

MacArthur gives us an insight into ‘risking his life’:

Risking his life.  He uses a very interesting verb, that verb is the verb that is connected to the noun periballa(?) which means dice, and the verb form means to roll the dice It means to gamble, to play the gambler, to expose oneself to danger might be the best way…he exposed himself to danger.  That’s what he did.  Not necessarily to disease.  He was so loyal and so faithful and so sacrificial, so humble, so uncomplaining he just put his life on the line in an effort to do what the Philippians wanted done in behalf of Paul That’s why I call him the loving gambler, he loved Paul, he loved Christ, he loved the cause of Christ, he loved the Philippians so much he loved not himself.  He just gave his life away …

Now let me take you back to the name Epaphroditus Remember I told you that it meant to be the favorite of Aphrodite A little twist on that that must have been in the mind of Paul, he’s sometimes fairly subtle.  Aphrodite was the goddess of luck, he was the…she was the goddess of luck as well as beauty And when the Greeks rolled the dice in their games, their gambling games, the common word they used was…they would roll the dice and say “Epaphroditus.”  In other words, they wanted favor from Aphrodite So Paul is doing a little play on the name of Epaphroditus He was a favorite of Aphrodite by name and he gambled with his life He risked his life …

MacArthur says that, in the third century, a group of Christians took Epaphroditus as their model as they tended the sick:

That word paraballa(?) came to have some interesting usages.  In the days of the early church after the New Testament era, there was an association of men and women who got together and took the name “The Parabalani(?)” which meant “The Gamblers.”  They took as their hero Epaphroditus who gambled with his life And it was their aim and their mission to visit the prisoners, to visit the sick, especially those with infectious, dangerous, communicable diseases It was their mission to unhesitatingly, unflinchingly and boldly proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ in every environment without any hesitation.  And they called themselves, “The Parabalani, The Gamblers.”

It is also interesting to note that in A.D. 252 the city of Carthage had a terrible plague and the heathen were so frightened of the germs that were in the bodies of the dead that they literally bagged them somehow and hurled them out of the city, not wanting to touch them for burial.  Cyprian the Christian bishop gathered the congregation of the believing church together and the church members took their bodies and in a gracious act of human kindness buried the dead bodies of the plague-stricken people And according to the historians as well, they nursed even the sick people, coming close enough to them to touch them in that plague-infested city, risking their lives to save some in the city and God used them as a tremendous potential, as a tremendous force really to reach people for Christ because of their love.

Whether you’re talking about The Parabalani who gambled with their lives in an infectious disease environment, or whether you’re talking about Epaphroditus their hero who gambled with his life by going at a hostile culture with all he had in the service of Jesus Christ, that kind of self-sacrificing example is marvelous.

MacArthur concludes:

You know, we really don’t like risk, do we?  First thing we get saved, that eliminates eternal risk.  Heaven for sure, no risk.  Then we back into life and we’ve got to eliminate all the risk in life.  No risk, insulated, isolated, comfortable, got all the money we need, got the burglar alarm working, got the fence, got the gate, got our life closed in, no risk…giving away absolutely nothing.  That’s why I say I’ve always been enamored with sacrificial people and every time I look for them I have to outside our culture or outside our period of history We have so few and the Lord’s convicted my own heart and I trust yours as well to think about how to be an Epaphroditus and give myself away for a cause other than my own fulfillment.

I hate that stuff about self-fulfillment I think I hate it as much as anything because it’s counterproductive to everything that God ever called you to do…which is to give your life away for the cause of Christ and for the service of others in humble sacrifice.

Henry’s conclusion also struck a chord:

What is given us in answer to prayer should be received with great thankfulness and joy.

Along with self-sacrifice, joyful gratitude to God is something else missing from our day and age.

It is time to recapture both in our Christian journey.

Next time – Philippians 3:1-4a

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 2:19-24

Timothy and Epaphroditus

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[a] proven worth, how as a son[b] 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.

—————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction not to complain, because the Philippians — and we — are to be as shining lights in a dark, fallen world. Paul also said that he considered himself to be a sacrificial drink offering poured on the greater sacrifice of the Philippians’ faith.

In today’s reading, we find out more about Timothy. Epaphroditus will be the subject of next week’s post.

Paul, hoping in the Lord Jesus, is writing about Timothy because, as a friend to the congregation, he wanted the young man to visit them shortly to take back good news of them to Rome (verse 19), where the Apostle was under house arrest, chained to a guard.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, as the Philippians had not been in touch with Paul for a while, he was concerned about them:

See Paul’s care of the churches, and the comfort he had in their well-doing. He was in pain when he had not heard of them for a good while, and therefore would send Timothy to enquire, and bring him an account …

Paul says that he has no one like Timothy, who is generally concerned for their welfare (verse 20).

Although the Philippians were a good congregation overall, Paul was concerned about spiritual fissures showing. If he could have been with them, he surely would have.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

… there was another element in his wanting to be with the Philippians.  It wasn’t just fellowship. It wasn’t just love.  It wasn’t just affection.  It was also spiritual progress.  While he was a prisoner at Rome and while he may have been a little bit melancholy as he thought about the affection he had for these Philippians, he was also pretty astute in his mind and he realized that he needed to be there, not just for the sake of fellowship but also for the sake of their spiritual progress They had some real needs.

For example, look at chapter 1 verse 27.  He says, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  Now the first thing we would note is that there was a bit of discord among those people in Philippi.  We don’t know the extent of it but there was some disharmony there and there was need for greater unity.

Chapter 2 verse 1 affirms it.  He says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  Here he’s calling for humility He’s calling for unity He’s calling for oneness. He’s calling for loving each other the same, and so forth …

And there was one other thing on his mind and that is that the Philippian church was being attacked by some theological opposition In chapter 1 again verse 28 says, “In no way be alarmed by your opponents.”  Striving together for the faith of the gospel indicates that there was a war going on about the faith of the gospel.  As some opponents were coming in teaching false doctrine, the fact that they opposed the gospel, he says in verse 28, is a sign of destruction for them.  Then in verse 29 he reminds them, “It has been granted for Christ’s sake not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me and now here to be in me.”  In other words, this is to be expected.  You’ve been called to suffer.  You’re being attacked.  There are those who are coming with false doctrine, opponents and enemies.  Obviously under this attack he was concerned that they have an adequate and appropriate response to that So that was another reason that he would have desired to be with them.

Philippians 3 and 4 provide further insight.

MacArthur explains Paul’s unswerving desire to do God’s will:

Now because he had such a strong desire to help the Philippians out of love, and because at the time he was a prisoner, he had no recourse other than to send someone else.  And so verse 19 he says, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you.”  Obviously Timothy then is going to carry Paul’s mission.  He will carry Paul’s affection.  He will carry his message and effort toward unity and toward doctrinal clarity and strength against persecution. That’s why he wants him to go.

Thus we are introduced to Timothy.  Notice how Paul frames what he says.  “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy.”  I like that.  I hope would not be enough for Paul because everything he hoped for had to be submitted to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus.  That little phrase “in the Lord Jesus” simply means consistent with His will, His purpose, His person, His plan, just that, in accord with His will Paul never did anything.  That’s the baseline, that’s the bottom line in Christian experience.  The goal of the believer is to fill out the will of God, to do what God wants him to do And so, you live in constant submission to the will of God, and we should always say, “I hope in the Lord Jesus, I trust in the Lord Jesus to do this or that.”

Paul never wanted to act independently of his Master’s desires He submitted all of his plans to the Lord.  The Lord was sovereign.  Everything was submitted to the Lord.  That was the bottom line in his life.  And by the way, this is not a stock phrase like “if the Lord is willing,” sort of slapped on the end, tacked on in an unthinking way Nor is it some especially self-abnegating phrase indicating that Paul hasn’t got any clue about what his future is and doesn’t have any idea of what’s coming and so he just sort of pushes it off to the Lord.  It’s not that either.

It’s simply to say I make plans and I make strategies and I set goals but they are all subject to the sovereign Lord under whose leadership I live.  That’s the only way to live, to live in a confident trust in the sovereignty of God.  So he says I hope in the Lord Jesus, that is if the Lord Jesus wills it and if the Lord Jesus wants it, and it’s consistent with His person and plan, to send Timothy.

MacArthur gives us a brief biography of Timothy, who was in Philippi when Paul planted the church there:

He was a native either of Derbe or Lystra, two little towns in the are we know as Galatia His mother was a Jew by the name of Eunice, his grandmother, Lois His father was a Greek so he had a Jewish mother and a Greek father and thus he was able to meet those two sort of colliding cultures, Judaism and Hellenistic Greek culture Obviously he had not been circumcised He had to be circumcised, but he had not been circumcised and as a consequence to that its indication that probably he was educated in Greek culture and Greek circles formally.  So informally he was educated by his mother and his grandmother from whom he learned the doctrines of salvation, as Paul tells us in his epistle to him.  From his father and the culture of the Greeks, he learned that world and that perspective.  So he was eminently qualified to go with Paul into the Greek world to bear the message of Jesus Christ.

We don’t know when he was converted to Christianity We don’t know the details about it.  We know by the time Paul met him in Acts 16 he had already become a Christian and was such a proven young man that Paul said, “I want to take him with me.”  He became Paul’s protege I don’t know if you know how extensively he was a part of Paul’s life. He speaks of him as his son in the Lord, his son in the faith, his true child.  He speaks of him as his brother and his coworker and his fellow servant and his fellow slave.  He was with Paul in Philippi, he was with him in Thessalonica, he was with him in Berea, he was with him in Corinth, he was with him in Ephesus, he is with him here in Rome as he writes this He was associated with Paul in the writing of some of his epistles…such as 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians.  And when Paul wrote to the Romans, Timothy was there as well.

He was of great use to Paul because he was so willing to do anything Paul ever wanted him to do Paul could send him somewhere, he would go.  Paul could take him with him, he would go.  Paul could leave him somewhere, he would stay.  And always faithful to fulfill that which God had given him to do A message in the hands of Timothy would be as safe as it was in the hands of Paul because Timothy was truly his protege.

The Philippians knew him, too, because he had been Philippi from the very beginning He was taken up by Paul in Acts 16.  Later in the sixteenth chapter the church at Philippi was founded, Timothy was surely there at the very founding of the church.  And so they knew Timothy as long as they had known Paul And certainly next to [Paul] he must have been their second favorite.  So he was the right choice.  And Paul was very anxious to send him because of his concern.

I wrote about the relevant passages in Acts in 2018:

Acts 16:1-5 — Paul, Timothy, Silas, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Eunice, Lois

Acts 16:6-10: The Holy Spirit and Spirit of Jesus, Paul, Phyrgia, Galatia, Mysia, Bithynia, Macedonia, Luke

Acts 16:11-15 – Paul, Lydia, first European convert, women, Philippi, Thyatira

Acts 19:21-22 – Paul, Timothy, Erastus, Ephesus, Macedonia, Archaia, Jerusalem, Rome

Acts 20:1-6 – Paul, third missionary tour, Timothy, Sopater the Berean, Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius of Derbe, Asians Tychicus and Trophimus, Luke, Greece, Macedonia and Troas

Like Paul, Timothy had great empathy for the various congregations, including the Philippians.

MacArthur says:

Verse 20, “I have no one else of kindred spirit.”  Similar to Paul.  Paul is saying, “As I survey the people that I might send to you, I have only this man, I have no one else available to me of kindred spirit.  He’s the only one similar to me.  He’s the only one who is like me.”

The word there is one…really two words in the Greek, “of kindred spirit,” iso psuche, one souled, one souled…s-o-u-l-e-d, one minded.  He is one with me in mind, one with me in thought, one with me in feeling, one with me in spirit.

In other words, he thinks like I think.  He acts like I act.  He reacts like I react.  That’s why I’m sending him.

He operated like Paul.  He learned to think like Paul.  He learned to perceive like Paul.  He learned to evaluate like Paul, to assess like Paul.  He came with a spiritual mind, not with emotion. 

Paul wrote of other Christians in Rome who were spreading the Gospel, saying that, unlike Timothy, they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (verse 21).

Paul had already mentioned these men in Philippians 1:15-18.

Henry says:

Note, Seeking our own interest to the neglect of Jesus Christ is a very great sin, and very common among Christians and ministers. Many prefer their own credit, ease, and safety, before truth, holiness, and duty, the things of their own pleasure and reputation before the things of Christ’s kingdom and his honour and interest in the world: but Timothy was none of these.

MacArthur says that finding a kindred spirit in ministry is difficult, if not impossible:

… you may spend a life time in ministry and when you come down to the end find that you have been indeed rich if you have produced one who is like you.  I have no one else.

Even Paul found that those who were unusually faithful and those who were unusually able and those who were unusually gifted were very, very few, very few.  Only Timothy. 

Paul reminds the Philippians of Timothy’s proven worth, how Timothy is a spiritual son serving with him as a spiritual father to further the Gospel (verse 22).

MacArthur explains:

Verse 22, Paul says, “You know of his proven worth.”  Just that phrase, “you know of his proven worth.”  This is not an unknown quantity here.  Timothy’s integrity was well established.  You know, ginosko, by experience is the implication, you’ve experienced his validity, his proven worth, dokime, that word from dokimos, familiar New Testament word, means to be approved after testing He has passed the test.  He was proven.  Please note, not by school but by service.  Not by a test but by testings and trials.

Previous ministry on a number of occasions had provided evidence of Timothy’s spiritual character and maturity.  As I noted, he was there when the church began in Acts 16.  You read Acts 19, Acts 20 you’ll see again that he intersects with the Philippian congregation.  They knew, you know by personal experience the proven worth of this man.  He was known to you from the start.

By the way, 2 Corinthians appears to have been written from Philippi also.  And as I mentioned earlier, Paul and Timothy were together in the writing of that epistle And so he was there even at that writing and certainly was well-known to them.

This unique servant of the Lord was a seasoned man You’ll remember that in the qualifications for elder, 1 Timothy chapter 3, it could not be more clear as to what the standard must be.  The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that this man who was an elder must not be a new convert lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil And then in verse 10 regarding a deacon, he says, “Let these also first be tested.”  And the “also” means that the elders had to be tested, just as the elders are tested also, the deacons have to be tested In other words, they have to be dokimos, proven after testing And again I say, not proven in school but proven in service Not proven by a test, but proven through testings.  This is a man who is a model spiritual servant because he is seasoned.  He has been proven …

The word “serve” is to slaveHe slaved with me, sunemoi(?).  Please note this, it doesn’t say he served me.  It doesn’t say he served under me.  It says he slaved with me.  He’s a fellow slave.  Paul doesn’t see himself as the master and Timothy is the slave.  He slaved alongside of me.  Just like he said to him in 2 Timothy 2, “Suffer hardship along with me as a good servant of Christ.”  He sees Timothy as an equal That’s again his humility.  He sees Timothy in the spiritual dimension as an equal.  He slaved along with me.  But from Timothy’s viewpoint, his attitude was like a child serving his father.

It isn’t a master and a slave.  It isn’t a sergeant and a private relationship.  He slaved with me with the mentality of a son serving alongside his father so that whatever submission was there was a not a forced submission but an earned respect Both were servants of God, both slaved side by side But Timothy with the willing, loving, submission of a son who honors and respects and wants to learn from the father of his love.  The word for son here is not huion which is the generic word for son, but teknon which means child He served alongside me as if he were a little boy and I was his spiritual father That’s marvelous…marvelous, beautiful submission, wonderful meekness.  He never competed with Paul.  No more than a little boy competes with the father of his heart’s affection.  But he came alongside his father.  From his father’s view they were serving together.  From the boy’s view he was lovingly and affectionately looking at his father whom he loved and honored and learning from him with joy.  That’s why he calls him, “My true child in the faith.”

Paul repeats his wish of verse 19, hoping to send Timothy as soon as he can, depending on how things go with him (verse 23).

That implies he had a personal issue of some sort and wanted Timothy with him until it was resolved.

Paul says that he trusts in the Lord that he, too, will be able to make a trip to Philippi soon (verse 24).

MacArthur thinks that Paul might have visited Philippi once more:

Paul did get released from this imprisonment, I’m confident of that Acts chapter 28 verse 30 says he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness unhindered.  I believe it was a two-year imprisonment At the end of that time he was free for a while.  Later on was imprisonment and there he lost his life. But when he was released he may well have gone to Philippi.

I haven’t yet written about 1 and 2 Timothy, but MacArthur gives us an insight into Timothy’s mindset when Paul wrote those letters:

Now let me close with this, and I want you to listen very carefully cause this is so helpful.  Here Paul writes Philippians and he just paints a picture of Timothy that sets him apart as this wonderful person, a real model for us And it was trueBut Timothy was human and Timothy was a sinner And for those of us who are sinful human beings, even though we’re redeemed, there is an ebb and a flow in life, isn’t there?  There are highs and lows.  There are victories and defeats.  And it isn’t long after this…it isn’t long, we don’t know exactly how long, until the Apostle Paul just a few years writes back to Timothy the final letter and he says to him some things that are most remarkable.  Second Timothy chapter 2 verse 21, “If a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the master, prepared for every good work.”  Timothy, I want you to be useful.  “Now flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness and call on the Lord from a pure heart and refuse foolish and ignorant speculations.  And don’t be quarrelsome.”

Now wait a minute…wait a minute, that’s the last letter Paul ever wrote at the end of this life and he writes it to Timothy and says, “Timothy,” first letter he said, “Be an example to the believers.”  Now he says, “Follow righteousness, run away from unholiness.”  And I personally believe that at that point in Timothy’s life there was the ebb, there was the waning of his spiritual strength.  And Paul, knowing his life is at an end as he writes 2 Timothy, is so burdened because Timothy is the only one who is of kindred spirit He’s the only one whose only interests are Christ’s.  He’s so totally focused and so totally serviceable and so uniquely gifted and yet he’s reached an ebbing of his spiritual zeal.  And Paul has to write the second epistle to strengthen him. Be strong in the Lord, he says in chapter 2 verse 1 And so Timothy is the perfect model for usHe’s so human.

In closing, Timothy, in obedience to Christ and in imitation of Paul, is another role model for us to follow in our Christian journey:

We see the standard of what he was in Philippians.  Paul holds him to and calls him back to that standard in 2 Timothy.  And he would do the same for us today.  You see the model of Timothy, hear the word of Paul to Timothy later and be sure that you become what you can be in the power of God’s Spirit.

Paul goes on to write about Epaphroditus, the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Philippians 2:25-30

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