Righteousness From God Through Faith in Christ

1 Finally, my brothers, 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 and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. – Philippians 3:1-4a ESV

Here, Paul drives home a message that was common to virtually all of his letters – that of true righteousness. And his reason for bringing it up seems to be due to the fact that the Philippian believers were undergoing intense opposition, either from within or without, regarding the issue of circumcision. As a Roman colony, Philippi would have had a large Gentile population and, therefore, the church in Philippi was most likely made up predominately of Gentiles who had converted to Christianity from paganism. In A.D. 50, when Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy had arrived in Philippi on their missionary journey, there would have been few Jewish residents in the city. But by the time Paul wrote this letter some 10-12 years later, the Jewish population could have grown and there may have been Jewish converts to Christianity within the congregation at Philippi. The presence of Jews outside the church and Jewish converts within the church had evidently raised an issue that had become a point of contention for Paul: Circumcision.

Paul opens this section with a reminder to rejoice, even in the face of opposition. This is in keeping with his message to them earlier in the letter:

“…it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” – Philippians 1:29 ESV

And Paul had used his own life as an example of joy in the midst of suffering. After all, he was writing to them from house arrest in Rome, facing a trial before Nero and uncertainty as to his fate. But he had been able to tell them:

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” – Philippians 2:17-18 ESV

So, even though they were facing opposition, they had every reason to rejoice because they were privileged to suffer for the sake of the gospel.

But it doesn’t take long for Paul’s tone to turn much more serious and sarcastic. He warns them to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). Now, while this statement is clearly intended to paint the opposition in an unflattering light, there is more going on here than meets our modern, western eyes. 

Paul, writing in Greek, uses a play on words in describing those who were of the pro-circumcision camp. He refers to them as “those who mutilate the flesh.” But that is a translation of a single Greek word, katatomē, which means to cut up or mutilate. In Leviticus 21:5, the priests of God were forbidden to “make any cuts on their body.” In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, the word katatomē was used to describe this forbidden practice.

Here is where Paul’s cleverness and open hostility can be seen. The Greek word normally used when speaking of the Jewish practice of circumcision was peritomē and Paul uses it in verse 3.  You can see what Paul is doing here: katatomē vs peritomē. He is comparing the Jewish ritual of circumcision with the forbidden act of self-mutilation. But it’s important to remember the context. Paul is addressing a predominately Gentile congregation. These would have been pagans who had placed their faith in Christ, but now there were being told that their faith was incomplete and insufficient. There were those who were telling them that they must be circumcised and keep all the Jewish laws and religious rituals in order to be truly saved. This message was common in the 1st Century and was propagated by a group that came to be known as the Judaizers. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Paul thought about these people. He calls them dogs and evildoers. And his intense anger for them was due to the fact that they were adding to the gospel message he preached. His feelings about this matter are made perfectly clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

And Paul had strong words for the church in Corinth because they were being led away from the simple message of the gospel and buying into a false narrative that essentially claimed true righteousness was based the false formula of Jesus + something = salvation.

As far as Paul was concerned, the Judaizers were the enemy. Although they claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ, they were demanding that everyone become as they were. Their demand was that all the male members of the church in Philippi be circumcised and, essentially, convert to Judsaism before they .could be considered truly saved. And this left Paul in a state of rage, especially because he was unable to do anything about it while under house arrest in Rome. Which explains the strong nature of his rhetoric.

And he completely invalidates the message of the Judaizers, instead offering the Gentile converts to Christianity as the true circumcision.

“For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…” – Philippians 3:3 NLT

This verse summarizes Paul’s view on the matter. To him, circumcision was nothing more than a work, an outward act that left the one circumcised with a false sense of spiritual well-being. For the Jews, it had become a symbol of their unique status as God’s chosen people. But in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul exposed the flaw behind the Jewish thinking regarding circucision.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. – Romans 2:25 NLT

In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it. – Romans 2:27 NLT

The problem lies in the dangerous misperception being perpetrated by the Judaizers. In their way of thinking the rite of circumcision was the non-negotiable doorway all must enter on their way to justification before God. But this teaching stood in direct opposition to the gospel message of salvation made possible by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There was no other step needed. To add circumcision to the gospel message was to distort the good news and to make it another gospel altogether. Rather than basing salvation on the grace-gift of God’s Son, the Judaizers were introducing a form of works-based salvation. They were making justification a matter of rule-keeping and self-effort. But Paul reminds the Philippian believers, “We put no confidence in human effort.”

And then he goes on to expose the absurdity of the Judaizers’ argument. If they were going to make it all about human effort and rule-keeping, Paul could have been the poster-boy for self-justification. And he will go on to describe his relative merit as a good Jew who had all the criteria to make him a candidate for justification before God through works. But for Paul, this way of thinking was ridiculous and dangerous. It stood in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. And in a direct attack against the pride-filled Judaizers, Paul sarcastically states: “I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!” (Philippians 3:4a NLT). And he will go on to describe his so-called credentials for justification before God. But he knew that his curriculum vitae had nothing to do with his right standing before God. His salvation was not based on anything he had done or any worth he brought to the table. It was all the result of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And Paul drove home that point in his letter to the Galatians.

“…we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16 NLT

For Paul, the formula was quite simple and concise. Righteousness was made available by God through man’s faith in the finished work of Christ. No more. No less. Circumcision becomes nothing more than self-mutilation when used to earn favor with God. Law-keeping becomes disobedience to God when used as an attempt to justify oneself before God. For as Paul stated, no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Living Proof

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

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. – Philippians 2:19-30 ESV

Suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, Paul goes from talking directly to the congregation in Philippi to mentioning two individuals who, at first glance, seem to have no relationship whatsoever with the church there. On closer examination it becomes clear that both Timothy and Epaphroditus were well-known to the believers in Philippi. Epaphroditus was actually a resident of the city and member of the local congregation. He had been sent by the church to Rome, where he ended up ministering to Paul during his time under house arrest. Paul refers to him as “your messenger and minister to my need” (Philippians 2:25 ESV). Later on, in chapter 4, Paul refers to the gifts that Epaphroditus had brought with him on behalf of the church in Philippi. And, evidently, Epaphroditus had been the one to deliver Paul’s letter, having been sent back to Philippi after his recovery from a life-threatening illness.

And as far as Timothy is concerned, he had been with Paul and Silas when they first arrived in Philippi on their missionary journey. The book of Acts reveals that Paul had met Timothy when visiting the cities of Lystra and Derby.

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. – Acts 16:1-3 ESV

Paul wanted the church in Philippi to know that he intended to send Timothy to them as his personal representative and so that Timothy might deliver back to Paul a report concerning the conditions within their local fellowship.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. Philippians 2:19 ESV

But why does Paul bring up these two young men at this point in his letter? What was his reasoning for switching from a very personal call to the body of Christ in Philippi to live in unity and humility in a city filled with intense darkness and twisted moral standards?

I believe there are two things at work here. First, Paul wants his brothers and sisters to know that he is thinking about them and that, even in his absence, he is sending others to assist them in their faith journey. He is not abandoning them.

But there is another and somewhat more subtle point being made here. Paul is using these two young men as examples to the flock in Philippi. Paul has been talking about the task of the church working out its salvation with fear and trembling. He has been calling them to live lives marked by blamelessness and innocence. And now he brings up these two men he has come to know and love.

In these verses, Paul gives a glimpse into the lives of two men who meant a great deal to him. They were his brothers in Christ and his fellow workers in the mission to which God had called him. Timothy and Epaphroditus, while not household names to most of us, were icons of spiritual virtue in Paul’s mind. He couldn’t have done what he did without them. And he commends both of them to the believers in Philippi as men whom they could not only trust but emulate. Both were likely younger men than Paul, but that didn’t stop him from praising their value and virtues as men of God.

Paul described Timothy as a one-of-a-kind individual who showed genuine care for the people in Philippi. He didn’t view his efforts on their behalf as work but legitimately cared for their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Paul then describes what appears to be a consistent problem among leadership within the early church at that time. “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21 NLT). I don’t think Paul was intimating that there was no one else who cared in Philippi, but that there was a prevailing presence of self-centeredness among many within the church, especially among the leadership. Sadly, It was a rare thing to find a believer who put the interests of Christ before his own. Timothy was such a man. Timothy had served Paul well and had become like a son to him. Paul even referred to Timothy as “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2 NLT). He was a faithful, loving, reliable, and godly young man who modeled Christ-likeness and ministered faithfully alongside Paul even in his darkest moments. He was a real man.

Paul describes Epaphroditus as “a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25 NLT). And by sending Epaphroditus back to them, Paul was making a personal sacrifice, because he knew Epaphroditus was anxious to see his friends and fellow believers back home. This kind and generous young man wanted to put to rest any concerns over his physical well-being, by making a personal appearance and proving to his fellow church members that he had fully recovered. Upon Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to “welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve” (Philippians 2:29 NLT). Obviously, Paul thought highly of Epaphroditus. He had risked his life for the cause of Christ, having been close to death, all to serve Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.

Paul appreciated and valued men like Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knew that he could not accomplish the ministry without them. He was under house arrest, unable to travel, and restricted from ministering to the various churches he had helped plant around the world. He had to depend on faithful men like Timothy and Epaphroditus to be his hands, feet, eyes, and voice; delivering his messages and expressing his love for the body of Christ.

The church today needs men and women of character like Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is a shortage of reliable, faithful, loving and selfless individuals who put the needs of the body of Christ ahead of their own. Paul knew that men like Timothy were going to be constantly tempted to compromise their character, and the same thing is true in our day. So Paul warned this young man, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT).

The church still needs men and women who have that same attitude and focus. The body of Christ needs to raise up and recognize those kinds of leaders, both men, and women, who are willing to risk their reputations, careers, comfort, and even their lives, for the cause of Christ. While men like Paul were vital to the church in those early days, the spread of the Gospel was dependent upon individuals like Timothy and Epaphroditus for its long-term survival and success. They were the faithful foot soldiers in the battle for the gospel, and we need more like them today.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Deity Is In the Detail.

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:11-24 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyHaving revisited the cities in which Paul and Barnabas had ministered in their first missionary journey, Paul takes Silas and Timothy had heads across the Aegean Sea for Neopolis, the port of Philippi in Macedonia, a journey of 125 miles. Luke makes note of the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony. In an attempt to bring the strongly nationalistic and somewhat unruly Macedonians under control, The Romans had divided Macedonia into four distinct districts, with Philippi becoming an important operations hub of military and commercial importance. There was a large Roman population in the city, because Rome had a policy of filling its colonies with Roman citizens who would be faithful to the state, many of them former Roman soldiers and their families. So, not only was Paul going to encounter a Gentile population made up of pagan Macedonians with a strong sense of nationalistic pride, he was going to encounter a larger-than-usual contingent of Roman citizens, faithful to Rome and its pantheon of gods.

Luke records that, on the Sabbath, their party ended up searching for a place where any Jews might have gathered for the prescribed hour of prayer. The fact that they did not head for the local synagogue indicates that there must not have been one. For any city to have a synagogue, there had to be a required number of Jewish males living there. Before a synagogue could be built, the local community was required to have at least ten adult Jewish men of bar mitzvah age. So, it seems likely that Philippi had a very small contingent of Jews, far too small to justify the construction of a synagogue. In the absence of a synagogue, Jews were known to gather by the sea shore or a river for prayer. Luke reports, “we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13 NLT). There, they found a group of women who had gathered to pray. Notice that only women were mentioned. This corroborates the assumption that there were not enough Jewish males to justify a synagogue. There were no men present at the river at the time of prayer. But one of the women, who was names Lydia, struck up a conversation with Paul, Silas and Timothy. Luke would have been in Paul’s entourage as well. Lydia is described as a worshiper of God, which means she was a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. She was also a businesswoman, a seller of purple good, and it is likely that she was in Philippi on business, because Luke indicates that she was from nearby Thyatira. What we have here is yet another example of one of those seemingly chance encounters that the apostles had. They end up in Philippi and, on the Sabbath, they find themselves down by the river where they run into a woman who just happens to be in town on business and, because she is a Gentile God-fearer, she was at the river at the prescribed hour for prayer. There, her path crossed that of Paul, Silas and Timothy, and her life would be changed forever as a result. Lydia, upon hearing the gospel as declared by Paul, became a Christ-follower and was baptized. And Luke indicates that her salvation ended up impacting her entire household. because she implored the apostles to come to her home, and her family members and household servants ended up placing their faith in Christ as well and were baptized.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke had yet another “chance” encounter that day. They ran into a young slave girl “who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means” (Acts 16:16 NLT). As we will see, the source of her supernatural ability was demonic in nature. But that didn’t matter to her owners, because their only concern was that she made them a lot of money telling people their fortunes. This young woman began following Paul and his companions around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17 NLT). And Luke indicates that she was very persistent in her efforts, carrying on for a number of days. Now, at first blush, it would seem that this would have been a positive thing for the apostles, like a form of free advertising. After all, what she was saying was true, and her words would have been like having a free ad campaign played over the local radio station. But Luke records that Paul became annoyed, and finally spoke to the demon who possessed her, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18 ESV). Paul cast the demon out and the publicity campaign came to an end. But we have to ask the question: Why did Paul become so annoyed? Why had the words the girl had been speaking ended up rubbing him the wrong way? It is important to keep in mind that this young girl’s ability came from a demon. The words she spoke concerning Paul and his companions were not hers, but were from the demon who possessed her. And it likely that this demon was causing the words to come out of her mouth in a sarcastic and demeaning manner. While what she was saying was true, it probably came out with more than a hint of disrespect and intended to ridicule not respect the apostles.

This demon had no intention of truly heralding and honoring the apostles. It was turning their ministry into a three-ring circus. No doubt, her efforts were attracting crowds, but it was making life difficult for Paul and his friends. But Paul set the girl free. Not only had she been a slave girl, she had been enslaved to the demon who had possessed her. But she had been spiritual emancipated. While this would have been a happy occasion for the young girl, it would prove to be a blow to the men who owned her. Without the demon, she was worthless. She had lost her ability to tell fortunes. And these men were so upset, that they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. They wanted justice and, most likely, financial compensation for their loss. But it’s interesting that their accusations against Paul and the others says nothing about what had happened. Instead, they say, “These men are throwing our city into confusion. They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or practice, since we are Romans” (Acts 16:21 NLT). Basically, they accuse Paul and his companions of proselytizing. They claim that these Jews were trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism, a crime under Roman law. The crowd, which would have been made up of primarily Roman citizens, joins forces with the two disgruntled slave owners, and the magistrates are forced to beat Paul, Silas and Timothy with rods, then throw them into prison.

Once again, it would be easy to see all of these occurrences as nothing more than chance, the unforeseen, unplanned outcome of life. They just happened. No rhyme or reason behind them. But we have already seen too much take place in the lives of the disciples of Jesus Christ to accept that conclusion. The lives of Paul, Silas and Timothy were being controlled and directed by God Almighty. Their destinations and even their interactions with others were under the divine direction of God. They didn’t just happen to end up in Philippi. Their encounter with Lydia wasn’t just some form of kismet. The presence of the demon-possessed slave girl wasn’t some strange kind of unlucky coincidence. It was the hand of God. And Paul, Silas and Timothy ending up in jail was not some unfortunate turn of events that had caught God off guard and left Him scrambling to intervene. It had all been part of His sovereign will and well-orchestrated plan for these men and their message. Only time would expose God’s purposes behind all of these things. We see only the immediate circumstances, while God knows their outcomes. We are restricted in our ability to recognize the handiwork of God, even in the dark days of our lives or the pedestrian circumstances that fill our lives. God doesn’t slumber or sleep. He never takes the day off. He is intimately involved in the details of life. Nothing escapes His notice and nothing is outside the purview of His sovereign will.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prayer In the Midst of Problems.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them… – Acts 16:25 ESV

Most of us have no problem praying when everything around us is falling apart. In fact, it seems that our prayer lives actually improve drastically when our circumstances take a turn for the worse. We become prayer warriors in the midst of problems. But what kind of prayers do we pray in those moments? If we were honest, we would have to admit that our prayers usually center around our rescue. We want God to deliver us from trouble, fix our problem, remove our pain, heal our sickness, improve our finances, restore our happiness, and we want Him to do it NOW. But the story of Paul and Silas gives us a glimpse into a different kind of praying when faced with troubles and trials. Acts 16 tells of their arrival in Philippi, a Roman colony. Luke records, “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (Acts 16:13 ESV). In virtually all of Paul’s missionary journeys he went to the local synagogue on the Sabbath. But in this case he went to a “place of prayer.” For a city to have a synagogue, there had to be a minimum of 10 Jewish men living there. So evidently, there were only a few people of Jewish descent living in the city of Philippi and, as a result, they had to find a place to gather for worship and prayer. It was there that Paul and Silas met Lydia, who they led to the Lord and baptized. She hosted them in her home during their stay in Philippi. Some time later, on their way back to the place of prayer, they met “a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16 ESV). Actually, she was demon possessed and was used by her masters to tell people’s fortunes. When she saw Paul and Silas, she shouted, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17 ESV). She did this every time she saw them. And while what she said was true, it was not acceptable to Paul and Silas. Perhaps they feared that they would become too closely associated with a woman who was known to be possessed of a spirit. So Paul, “having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour” (Acts 16:18 ESV).

With the removal of the demonic spirit, the girl lost her ability to tell fortunes, and her owners lost their ability to make money. This resulted in Paul and Silas being dragged before the rulers of the city and accused of causing a disturbance. They were beaten with rods, thrown in jail and had their feet chained in stocks. It was in this condition that we find them praying. But not only were they praying, they were singing hymns. The passage does not tell us the content of their prayers, but it indicates that their prayers and songs were heard by the other prisoners around them. Luke tells us that they were “praying and singing hymns to God” in the middle of the night. The very fact that he mentions both prayer and singing seems to indicate that they were joyful, not sorrowful. They were praising God, not just pleading with Him to get them out of their predicament. They were worshiping, not whining about their circumstances. And their actions were getting the attention of those around them. Their unorthodox behavior in the midst of their problems couldn’t help but be noticed by those who shared their lot in life.

Paul was well acquainted to difficult circumstances. He wrote to the believers in Corinth, giving them a glimpse of all he had been through. “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13 ESV). In a second letter to the church in Corinth, he let them know that his experience with trouble and trials was ongoing. But so was his less-than-normal reaction to them. “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love” (2 Corinthians 6:4-6 NLT).

It wasn’t that Paul enjoyed pain and suffering. It was that he had learned to trust God regardless of what was going on around him or happening to him. He found peace in the midst of problems because he knew God was there with him. He wrote, “We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (2 Corinthians 6:7-10 NLT).

We aren’t told what Paul and Silas prayed, but I have a sneaky suspicion that they were praising God for His sovereignty, power, protection, wisdom, and unshakeable plan. He knew what they were going through and He knew why they were going through it. He had a plan behind their problem. And Luke records that while they were praying and praising, an earthquake shook the building, their chains fell off and the doors of the prison flew open. But rather than run for daylight and freedom, Paul and Silas led the jailer and his family to Christ. And the amazing thing is that the jailer took them to his home, washed their wounds and fed them, but rather than escape, Paul and Silas chose to go back to the prison. Had they been praying for release, they would have seen this as God’s answer to their prayers. But I believe they were praying for God’s power to be on display, so that more people might come to Christ. They weren’t praying for their problems to go away, but for their God to have His way. And He did.

Philippians 1:1-11

Lives of Distinction.

Philippians 1:1-11

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:11 NLT

As Paul writes this letter to the believers in Philippi, he is under house arrest in Rome, awaiting his coming trial. But rather than complain about his circumstances or his lot in life, Paul is joyful, grateful, and full of words of encouragement to his brothers and sisters in Christ living in this Roman colony. Paul is far from self-focused, dwelling on his own situation. Instead, he is obsessed with the well-being and ongoing spiritual development of the church in Philippi. He is confident that God is going to complete what He started there. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). God was not done yet. He had more to do among the people of Philippi, continuing His transformative work in their lives and within the church.

So as Paul is prone to do in all of his letters, he offers up a prayer on behalf of the local congregation there. He shares that it is his ongoing request that their love will continue to grow unchecked – made possible by God’s work in their midst and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. He also prays that their knowledge and understanding will grow as well. Specifically, he wants them to understand what is really important in God’s grand scheme of things – what really matters most to God. Knowing and understanding what God wants will always result in lives that are pure and blameless. Comprehending God’s holy standard and understanding that He has equipped us with His Holy Spirit as a power source to enable to live according to that standard are major requests on Paul’s prayer list. Paul wants them to grow. He wants their lives to produce fruit that reflects the reality of their salvation in Christ. That fruit will appear as righteous character, or a Spirit-produced change in behavior. Paul describes the nature of this fruit in his letter to the Gatatians: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). That list is extensive, but it should also be expressed in our daily lives. Each one of those characteristics is a visible expression of the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They are evidence of His power and presence, reflecting that He is doing a work in our lives.

Paul was not angry about being in prison. He was not upset about having to suffer for Christ. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to serve Christ and to minister to the body of Christ by using the opportunity to write letters to the believers in Philippi, Galatia, Ephesus, and Colossae. Paul stayed busy, not having a pity party, but using every available moment to minister to the body of Christ and to continue spreading the Gospel every moment of every day. His greatest desire, expressed in the words of his prayer, was that the people of God in Philippi would continue to grow, mature, and exhibit the character of Christ in every area of their lives. And that would be his prayer for us as well. Overflowing love, ever-increasing knowledge and understanding, pure and blameless lives, and Spirit-produced fruit that is both visible and tangible – all these things are needed in our lives today. May we pray as Paul did, asking God to make these things a reality among His people today.

Father, may Paul’s prayer become our ongoing prayer for one another. We need for our love to increase. We need to grow in our knowledge and understanding – comprehending what really matters to You. We need your Spirit to produce fruit in our lives that clearly reflects His activity in our lives – transforming us from the inside out. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

Committed to the Cause.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to love your lives is a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT

Prior to visiting Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. They had had an encounter with a demon-possessed girl who had been used as a fortune teller by her “handlers.” Paul had cast out the demon, and as a result, she lost her ability to tell fortunes and her bosses lost their source of revenue. Paul and Silas were dragged before the authorities and accused of “teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice” (Acts 16:21 NLT). The city officials had them severely beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Yet we read in the book of Acts that “around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening” (Acts 16:25 NLT). Suddenly massive earthquake struck the region and the doors of all the prison cells flew open. But rather than escape, Paul and Silas shared the gospel message with the jailer, who came to faith in Christ that night. Upon their release the next day, Paul and Silas left Philippi and headed to Thessalonica, where they shared the gospel for the first time with the readers of this letter.

Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers of the circumstances surrounding his first visit to their city. He and Silas had still been suffering the effects of their beating and imprisonment in Philippa, but yet they faithfully shared the Good News with them, even in the face of opposition. They didn’t do it out of greed, false flattery, personal gain or any other impure or improper motive. They did it because God had entrusted the Good News to them. Paul reminded them, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT). They diligently and faithfully shared the gospel among the Thessalonians, pleading, encouraging and urging them to believe. And the recipients of Paul’s letter had received their message as the very word of God. As a result, they too suffered persecution at the hands of their fellow countrymen.

Paul understood. He knew the cost of commitment to Christ. He had first-hand experience of just how high the price was for following Christ. But he encouraged these new believers to live their lives in such a way that they honored God. After all, He had allowed them to share in His Kingdom. Remaining faithful to Him even in the midst of persecution and difficulty was the least they could do in return. Persecution was not unique to the Thessalonians. Even back in Judea, Jews who had come to faith in Christ, had undergone intense persecution from their own people. This was a common place occurrence in those days. It was to be expected. It came with the territory. But Paul’s life illustrated the faithful endurance to which he was calling the Thessalonian believers. He was committed to the cause. He was motivated out of love for Christ. He worked hard, setting aside his own personal agenda and needs for the sake of the gospel. Their conversion was a direct result of Paul’s commitment. He didn’t let persecution or difficulty dissuade or distract him. He didn’t whine and complain. He simply shared, faithfully, passionately, honestly, obediently and lovingly.

Father, what an example Paul was and still is. He didn’t just mouth the words, he lived them. He didn’t just preach about commitment, he modeled it. How easy it is for us to find excuses and rationalize away our faithlessness. We use the slightest difficulty as a justification for spiritual laziness. When things heat up even slightly, we drop out. But Paul reminds us of the kind of commitment to the cause we should have. Help us to live like he did, to face opposition with the boldness he did, to endure difficulties with the kind of faith he did, and to remain committed to the cause of Christ as he did. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org