Sunday Sermon Notes: May 30, 2021

Romans 12:17-21

In 12:1-16 Paul has discussed our response to grace with a series of short statements that stem from the theme of sincere love, but in 17 ff. he seems to focus on one particular subject: Revenge. While the previous section can be said to deal mostly with our relationships within the Body of Christ, this section would seem more (hopefully) to deal with those outside of the Body of Christ. Paul set up his new theme in verse 17:  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Our natural human inclination, when we have been harmed or insulted, is to strike back, to get even, but that is not the reaction of sincere love, and it has been rendered obsolete by grace.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (12:18). We are not to stir up trouble or carry on in a provocative manner with other people, we should not be tossing insults and unkindness around, nor should we be looking for disputes, for our response to grace makes that kind of living hypocritical. God has forgiven us; He has shown love and mercy to us- do we honor Him by stirring up trouble with other people?

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

Romans 12:19-20

If we are harmed by another, even if it is a violent attack; our response is to show God’s mercy and love to the other party, it is not for us to avenge the wrong we have suffered. If avenging or retribution or punishment is required, that is God’s job, and since God has been faithful in dealing with us, He can be counted on to be faithful in the final disposition of our having been wronged.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21).

There, that’s the “official” lesson portion- now let’s get real.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

As we saw when we covered these verses earlier, this is not empty talk; there are serious implications in these words. These injunctions require a response to grace, a response that brings about a whole new way of living and thinking, and more than anything else, they require that we trust God like never before. Yes, dear reader, these verses call upon each of us to put it all on the line in faith. I can’t think of anything that puts this new way of life to the test more than being the victim of a violent attack of some sort, for these are the things of nightmares, fear and emotional as well as physical trauma. As though that isn’t enough, here we are called to respond in love to the very one(s) who have caused it all; this is about the most counter-intuitive thing I can think of… but that’s just me.

Paul still has not mentioned the word, but what he is describing is forgiveness.

The reality is that a victim of violence will not move on in life if they cannot find a way to let go of the anger, rage and hurt of their experience and this is not likely to happen if they lust for revenge. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not sure if I can do this on my own, in fact I doubt it very much.

But there is good news…

Grace has a dual purpose. First grace takes our sin away, making it possible to receive the gift of eternal life, and second it provides us with the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and it is by the strength and mercy of the Holy Spirit that we can overcome serious traumas of whatever kind in this life, not by our own will. God has given us the path and the resources to travel the path of this life; the only question that remains is that ancient question we all must answer: Will we trust God?

And with that question, we have come full circle in our discussion; back to where we began.

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No Confidence

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

Philippians 3:1-4a

Chapter 3 starts out with Paul urging the people to rejoice in the Lord, and that seems simple enough, but then the subject seems to turn.  What follows is a denunciation of those who would teach the Philippians that they must first become Jews before they can be saved.

The word that jumps out at me in the second verse is the word “dogs”. So, catch this spectacle: Paul the Jew is calling those Jews who insist that a Gentile be circumcised a Jew before they can become a Christian, “dogs”. That is amazing when you consider that “dogs” are what the Jews call Gentiles! Dogs, evil doers and mutilators of the flesh; hey Paul, tell us how you really feel!  As we saw in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he has no patience with this teaching, and there is little wonder why; the old ways are entirely over and done.

In verse 3, he points out who are the “circumcision”, the ones who serve in the Spirit and boast in Christ; and it isn’t the Jews.  Again, the old ways are done, gone, and irrelevant.  We as Christians have “no confidence” in the flesh, not even Paul, who might have a reason to claim some confidence in the flesh. This is an interesting little situation, for Paul has been writing from the end of the first chapter, and all through the second about being “worthy of the gospel” and through all that he described how we should be imitators of Christ, which is the sign of the New Covenant. Circumcision was the sign of a different covenant, and was required of Abraham and his descendants.  All of those old ways were merely illustrations of the reality to come in Christ, and now that the reality has come, those old physical things are over.  Thus, Paul dismisses confidence in the flesh (circumcision).

As you might expect, Paul is only just getting started on this subject; there’s much more to come, next time.

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Genuine Concern

Philippians 2:19-30

In this section, Paul moves back into some personal comments.  He is talking about two other men who are with him, but who are not prisoners, Timothy and Epaphroditus.  In the first several verses, Paul is telling the Philippians that he is planning to send Timothy back to them so that he can bring more news back to Paul about how the Philippians are doing.  Then comes what is probably the most significant part of the passage from our point of view:

I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

Philippians 2:20-22

Isn’t it interesting that Paul says he has no one else like Timothy, because he will show “genuine concern” for the Philippians?  He explains what he means by that when he says that everyone “looks out for their own interests” and “not those of Jesus Christ.” Think about that for a moment: Wouldn’t you have expected Paul to say ‘not those of others’ instead? “Everyone looks out for their own interests, but not everyone looks out for the interests of others.” That’s what I would expect him to say here, since what came just before this was Paul’s observation that Timothy would have genuine concern for the Philippians. What’s going on here?

Let’s see if we can solve this little riddle.  Paul has been encouraging the Philippians to live lives “worthy of the gospel” and in the process he has discussed unity in the Body of believers, along with service, humility and putting others first.  Now, he cites Timothy as someone who will show the people genuine concern and who will look out for the interests of Christ.  We must conclude from this that showing genuine concern for one another is looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ. Why would we be concerned about others?  Because we want to serve Jesus by looking out for His people.

This is what Paul is doing by writing this loving letter.  This is what it means to put others first. This is what loving our brothers and sisters is all about, and it results from our love of God.  God loved us; we love Him. God loves our brothers and sisters, so we love them too. Thus, when we love one another and care for one another, we are putting not only the interests of others ahead of our own; we are putting the interests of Jesus Christ first in our lives. This then, is “making disciples”: Caring for others because they are loved by, and important to, our Lord.

Verses 25-30 are mostly about Epaphroditus. We gather from these verses, that he was sent to Paul with the most recent news from Philippi. Apparently, while he was with Paul, he became seriously ill, but has now recovered. You might notice the tender way in which Paul speaks of him, and about Paul’s relief that he has recovered. Now, he would like to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi with Timothy so that they can see how much better he is doing.

If we look carefully at these verses, what we will see is that Paul is showing genuine concern for both Epaphroditus and for the Philippians; he is looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ, and thus he is giving us another practical example of this teaching.  Pretty cool, don’t you think?

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An Amazing Contrast

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:14-18

As we continue in this letter, Paul is still talking about being “worthy of the gospel” in a context of our need to find humility as Jesus did.  We shouldn’t be too surprised that he has found his way into grumbling and arguing.  Those two things probably don’t come out of humility very often, at least not in my experience.  He urges us to drop those kinds of things that we might become pure and blameless children of God.

It strikes me as interesting the direction he goes from there. Notice that he puts this right into focus by contrasting this “crooked generation” with the result of being blameless children of God who “shine like stars.” Think about the contrast, and the effect it would have if the followers of Christ shone like the stars while in this “crooked generation”.  Think about how that would look to the rest of the world around us; there would sure be a contrast.

Paul engages in a little personal reflection here as he points out that when he meets the Lord it would be obvious that he hadn’t labored in vain, when the Philippians are shining like stars. When he goes on to use the term “poured out like a drink offering” he is telling them that even if he is executed, he will be filled with joy for the work of Christ in them, and urges the Philippians to be filled with joy as well.

Obviously, Paul has brought us back to purpose in saying this.  For the followers of Christ to be pure and blameless children of God and to shine like stars in this dark world, is really not about star children, it’s about their testimony and God’s purpose.  Think again of that contrast: What would we look like to those who have not yet followed Christ?  Some will be irritated and full of criticism, but others will see the love of Christ and want to have some themselves, and it is for these that our testimony is so important. Yes, there is no way around the fact that God’s purpose must always be at the forefront of our thinking as we follow Jesus down the path of life.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: May 26, 2021

John 14:1-14

We continue today with the “Farewell Discourse” of Jesus with His disciples.  This particular text is one of the most beloved in all of the Scriptures, full of love, hope and reassurance containing some of the most memorable phrases in the Bible, and indeed in all of literature.  In the discussions that have come before it, there has been a challenge in the example Jesus set when He washed the disciples’ feet.  There has been a betrayal and predictions of Jesus’ death and then of Peter’s denial of Jesus.  Now, Jesus seeks to comfort the  disciples and to help them begin to understand that the events which would soon follow are nothing less than God’s Eternal Plan coming to its climax.

Verse 1 is the transitional verse that takes us from the tension and distress of the latter part of chapter 13 into a new topic.  Jesus is telling the disciples to take heart because He is not going to forsake them, even though He must be returning to the Father.  The key phrase here is “Trust in God; trust also in me.”  It is key because it is phrased not as a suggestion or as advice but as an imperative: Trust!

Then, in verses 2-4 Jesus uses the illustration of the Father’s house to tell them that His leaving is to serve the purpose of preparing their place in God’s “house”.  He uses an interesting method to tell them that He will return for them in due course so that where “I am” you also will be.  This is a clear play on the words “I am” and it indicates that upon His return there will be some amount of sharing His “I am-ness” with His disciples.

Having left off in verse 4 by telling them that they know the way to where He is going, He now responds to the insistence of Thomas that they don’t even know the where, much less the how…Jesus, with evident patience, tells them again what He has been telling them for a long time: He is the Way, you can only come to the Father through Jesus Himself.  He is the Truth; you can know no other truth, for no other truth is genuine.  He is the Life, for there is no other life that is eternal. He expands on this in verse 7 by pointing out to them that He and the Father are one.  If we want to know the Father we will see Him revealed in His Son.  If we want to see the Father, we will see Him in His Son.

Phillip’s reply is to innocently ask Jesus to show the Father to them in the way that a lawyer might produce a witness.  All of them should know that no one has ever seen the Father (John 1:18). It was considered by the Jews impossible for a mere mortal to look directly upon the glory of God, not even Moses had looked directly at Him.  Jesus explains that we see God revealed in Him through spiritual discernment.  He indicates also that His miracles were revelations of God’s presence in Him.  In truth, the logic is that since it isn’t possible for a mortal man to look directly at God and live to tell the story, God has been made manifest in Jesus Christ, having become a man so that direct interaction can occur, a foundational premise of Christian Theology.

Jesus mentions that those who have faith in Him will continue to do what He had been doing, and that they will do even greater things because He will grant them whatever they ask of Him in His name.  This has been the source of considerable confusion and discussion in our time.  Are we doing what He was doing… what was He doing anyway?  The ministry of Jesus on the earth was not one designed to advance my interests, desires, wants or needs.  Its purpose was to advance the redemptive plan of God.  Are we living our lives to advance the redemptive plan of God?  Jesus is not telling us to use the ‘magic words’ at the end of our prayers, “In Jesus’ name Amen.”  He is telling His disciples, soon to become His Apostles, that He will do great works through them and in fact He did; they are recorded as answered promises in Acts including many miraculous signs that were performed for the specific purpose of confirming the Gospel message. With that said, it is possible, even requisite that we as Christians have an active and powerful prayer life; I can’t imagine how we can follow Him through life without it.  However, in no way did Jesus promise anybody that He would give them a “blank check” to live selfish lives of demanding benefits from Him; this is simply inconsistent with every word of Scripture. He will give us whatever we ask for in His name to accomplish God’s purposes.

John 14:15-31

As we continue with this discussion, we now move into further elaboration of how this will all work: There will be a new Counselor.  The word translated “counselor” is parakletos which in the ancient world meant “one who gives legal advice”.  Today, we often refer to a lawyer as “counsel” which comes from this meaning.

In verses 15-17 Jesus teaches us three things about the Holy Spirit. 1) The Holy Spirit is our Eternal Advocate who intercedes for us before the Father (1 John 2:1).  2). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth that unveils for us our relationship with God and thus sets us free from sin, death and the traditions of men.  3) The Holy Spirit is within you.  He cannot be taken, He can only be received.  Thus, this world cannot take Him away and cannot even comprehend Him for He is not compatible with the world of men.  Wherever there is a Christian, there is also the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus goes further still in vv. 18-21 with the concept of His being “in the Father” and being “in you” and “you in me.”  By extension of course that means that we are “in the Father” through Jesus.  If we have His commands and obey them, then we will be considered to love Jesus.  If we love Jesus, the Father will love us.  Be sure to catch the “if” here; it goes back to obey.  If we obey Jesus’ commands the Father will love us in a special way, and Jesus will show Himself to us.  Will He literally and bodily do so?  No!  It’s actually better than that:  He will show Himself through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The Judas in 22 ff. is the Thaddeus of Matthew and Mark.  His question should sound familiar as it has already been asked by Jesus’ own brothers in 7:3-4. Jesus will not show Himself to the world because He doesn’t do things the way the world does.  You will never see Jesus as a guest on television because He is not out to win the praise of men; He is doing the Father’s work of redemption.  Finally, He introduces another element of the Christian life: Peace.  This is not merely the absence of war; it amounts to the full renewal of fellowship between Man and God.  With this peace, we need not be afraid, for no matter what the world may do, we are in a place where our future is assured.  The chapter concludes with the urgency of the hour: Satan is busy at work and the time for face to face discussion is very nearly over, yet there is still time for a little more yet to come when Jesus talks about vines and branches in the next chapter.

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Pure Encouragement

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

“Fear and trembling”?

Thank you for asking!

Over the centuries, there have been some preachers and some commentators who have a field day with these verses. What they often do is to quote them something like this: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, lest…”

Do you see a problem? When you read the verses and compare them with the “quote” is something missing? Was something added? By the way, don’t forget you must deal with the “therefore” that is the first word in verse 12.  What does it refer to?  It refers to 2:1-11; are these verses about going to hell?  No way! They are about humility, godliness and the example of Christ which results in salvation… but don’t forget that section also begins with “therefore” so we need to go all the way back to chapter 1, where Paul set the context, which is rejoicing in suffering because God’s purpose is being advanced. Dear reader, these verses are not a threat that God is waiting for an excuse to smite somebody and ship them off to hell, they are about His purpose.  As you will see shortly, this view is confirmed in the verses that follow, so fear not.

Let’s start over: verse 12…

Notice how Paul’s tone is one of encouragement; “…as you have always obeyed”, keep it up: Continue “to work out your salvation” yes, you’ve been doing fine, keep it up! Also, let’s not forget that he isn’t talking about earning salvation, for salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, even more remember that salvation isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning. Nobody is talking about going to hell here; Paul is encouraging the people to live lives “worthy of the Gospel”, “or it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

“Fear and trembling” is another way of saying “reverent awe” and in this context, the reverent awe isn’t about God’s wrath, it is referring to God working out His purpose through you and me.

The God of all creation has a purpose. He is working at accomplishing this great purpose day and night, and He wants you to be involved so that He can work His purpose through you.  What is His purpose? It’s redemption, for His love for all people is so great that He wants to redeem them to Himself, and He wants you and I to be agents of His love. No sir, these verses are not scary threats, they are wonderful encouragement! That encouragement will continue in the verses that follow.

How very sad it is that so many have taken a phrase out of context to scare people:  May God have mercy…

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THE Role Model

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

When it was all over, He was placed into a borrowed tomb. When they could finish His burial some 36 hours later, He had already risen from the grave!  He returned to His glory and as a result of His remaining faithful to God’s purpose, His is the name at which every knee should bow.

The reason that Paul has written this is that this is how we should live as Christ’s followers.  It is this kind of humility, purpose and selflessness that we should strive for.  There is no greater example of love in action than the example of the life of Jesus− He is our role model.

Oh yes, how could I forget to mention that because of what He did in all of this selflessness, you and I have eternal life, and as His co-heirs, we too will arise in glory when the great day comes.

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The Nature of Christ

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-9

Paul continues to describe what it is like for us to be humble and “worthy of the Gospel” using in this instance the very example of Jesus Himself.

Jesus was by His nature God.  Imagine what it could be like for Him to set aside the glory of heaven to be born in a stable; what earthly prince would so lower himself?  He took on the very nature of a servant when He became a man. Now many of us might not be used to thinking of ourselves that way, but in God’s sight, that’s what we are: His servants and all of the riches on earth cannot change that simple fact. So, Jesus took on our form, that of a servant, was born in the humblest of circumstances, into a working man’s family. No privileges, no fancy title, no big name, just a working class guy.

As if this were not enough, Jesus, by nature God, became the servant of all, taking this to the point where He was willing to sacrifice Himself for the rest of His servants.  Yet not only did He give Himself up for us, He gave Himself up to be crucified, of all things, the most terribly painful method of execution I know of.  Think about it: There He was, beaten, ridiculed, tortured, stripped naked and nailed to a cross and then lifted up for all to see as He bore our sins.  The people in the crowd, and there were plenty there, hurled insults at Him while He died very slowly in agony: A barbaric scene to say the least.  And what had He done to deserve such treatment?

Nothing at all.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: May 23, 2021

Put Love into Action

Romans 12:9-16

Paul continues in these verses with his discussion of our response to grace. Here, he sets the tone with verse 9: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Our response to God’s grace must be one of love, both love for God and love for others, and this love must be sincere. It is interesting that Paul should modify this sincere love statement with the concept of hating what is evil and clinging to what is good; it would appear that in our sincere love, we are to maintain the highest of ethical standards, not allowing ourselves to misuse our new freedom.

So then, what does love in action look like in practice?

Paul begins shedding light on this question in the verses that follow, first of all with an emphasis on what we should do to put love into action:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (12:10). Because our response to grace is that we love others, we should be devoted to one another, and we should put others ahead of ourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (12:11). Because our response to grace is that we love God, we should serve Him with enthusiasm always. Because our response to grace is one of love, our attitudes should reflect that love for God and other people: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (12:12). Since we have a whole new attitude because of the grace we have received, our love should result in generosity toward other people: Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (12:13).

Many commentators refer to this section as the “Law of Christ” but at least for me, it doesn’t really read that way; I highly doubt that Paul is intending to give us a list of rules that we check off as we go. Instead, I think he is simply pointing out some no-brainers as if to say that since we love God and love others, these are the natural kinds of things that should follow. In the next three verses, his emphasis shifts slightly, but he is still speaking of sincere love:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Romans 12:14-16

As we read these verses, notice that they are not things that are common in this world. I’ve never met someone who blessed their oppressors, for instance; have you? I don’t always see people rejoicing with their friends who are rejoicing, for all too often a person sees their friend rejoicing while harboring resentment because their friend was fortunate in an area where they hadn’t been as fortunate. Harmony is surely lacking in our world, while pride and conceit are commonplace; and so many decline to associate with the less fortunate. Real sincere love is a very rare thing in our world, but within the church, it is supposed to be a given.

In fact, the apparent lack of love in some church bodies is a sore subject for many people. Some of them complain loudly and criticize bitterly about the lack of love in this or that church, some even leave church entirely because of it. While on the one hand I might be inclined to feel for such people, on the other hand, after going through these verses, I can’t help thinking that they aren’t exhibiting love either. Thus, I’ll add a response to grace that Paul alluded to in verse 14, but hasn’t mentioned yet by name: Sincere love requires quite a lot of forgiveness, for all of us are works in progress.

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Mercy is the most fundamental aspect of our relationship with God. We only have a relationship with God because of His tremendous mercy, for without it, we are permanently estranged from Him. Thus, Jesus teaches mercy on our parts as a foundational requirement of being His disciple.

We have received His mercy- we are to show mercy to others when the occasion arises. We have received His love- we are to show love to others. How can we show mercy without love, and love without mercy? Yes, this is fundamental.

The person who has received God’s mercy and who shares it with others, both through the Gospel and through our own attitudes and actions, will in the end, receive mercy when those who have refused it receive God’s judgment; this is also a fundamental truth.

Now we come to the reversal of this: What kind of person does not show mercy to others?

The ruthless, the cruel, the inhumane, the purely evil…

Will they receive mercy: of course not, they will be judged. Will they be blessed in this life by relationship with God? No, for they live in open rebellion against Him. Will they receive mercy in the end? No, they will receive justice instead.

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