In John 15, the result of abiding in Christ is bearing fruit. The nature of God is the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Matthew 7:16 says, "by their fruit, you will know them." Using the Christian label does not mean one is in Christ; being Christlike as seen in one's nature reveals we are in Christ. When Jesus saw the fig tree not bearing fruit, He said, "every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut off." John 15 reveals that God is the gardener, and He prunes every tree to bear more fruit.
If we do not want to be cut off from the blessings of God, we must daily renew our relationship, drawing near, abiding, allowing Him to remove anything attached to us that is not of Him. Our dominion mandate from Genesis 1:28 is "be fruitful and multiply." What comes out of us as we minister to others is the seeds of our fruitfulness. Those who receive from us gain the very seed of God, and as we water the seed, multiplication transpires.
Paul writes to the Colossians, sharing the reports that how the good news that went to them is going worldwide, bearing the fruit of changed lives. Transformation comes to those who go to God daily. We cannot get near God and remain the same. The question is, are we drawing near to the Lord daily? Are we like Paul's example of Epaphras, faithful servants?
Paul now prays in verses 9-14 for the Colossians, speaking the work the Lord wants to form in them. May the love of the Holy Spirit fill us, having complete knowledge of His will in all wisdom and understanding, producing every kind of good fruit. Our lives bringing honor to the Lord, as we know Him more and more, being strengthened with power, endurance, and patience as needed, walking in the joy of the Lord, always giving thanks, as we live in the light.
Paul, in verses 15-20, shares on the supremacy of Christ. We must know Christ in His fullness to become like Christ in all of His ways. Christ created everything in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, through Him and for Him. All things are held together by Him; He is the head of the body, the church. His will is that He would be first in everything, reconciling all things to Him through the blood of His cross.
The purpose of every test and trial is to bring us to a place of Christ being first. If we can recognize this, then life will become much smoother. Nothing in this world was created evil; everything was made good; our job in life is to reconcile all things to God. To take what the enemy has meant for evil and turn it around for good. The branches in our life that do not produce fruit are those where Christ is not first. If we desire more excellent fruit, we need to allow the Lord to search our hearts and reveal to us the things He wants to prune. God wants to use us to better this world, but we must first allow Him to change our hearts.
Paul clarifies his ministry in verses 24-29, that he rejoices in his sufferings for the church, so that his purpose of making known the hidden mystery for ages among the Gentiles, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, striving in His strength, so that every person is presented mature in Christ. Our desire in ministry should be the same.
The charge from this devotion is for us to draw closer to the Lord so that we may bear more fruit and have a more significant effect on those whom God has entrusted into our care.
Sunday July 18th
A woman was walking along the beach when she stumbled upon an old oil lamp. She picked it up and rubbed it, and lo-and-behold, a Genie appeared.
The Genie said, "I can grant you one wish. So, what will it be?"
The woman didn't hesitate. She said, "I want to see peace in the Middle East.” She pulled out a map, and pointed to Israel and all of the surrounding countries. She said, “See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting each other."
The Genie looked at the map and said, "You must be crazy, lady! These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I'm a good genie, but not THAT good! Make another wish."
The woman thought for a minute and said, "Well, I've never been able to find the right man.
You know, one that's considerate and fun, likes to cook and helps with the housecleaning, who gets along with my side of the family, and who doesn't watch sports all the time. That's what I’m going to wish for ... a great husband."
The Genie let out a long sigh and said, "Let me see that map again!"
We all wish for peace, don’t we?
But if someone were to ask you, “WHAT IS PEACE”, how would you answer them?
Webster’s dictionary has this to say about peace: it is “freedom from or stopping of war; freedom from public disturbance or disorder; freedom from disagreement or quarrels, harmony, concord; an undisturbed state of mind, absence of mental conflict; calm, quiet, tranquility.”
All these explanations of peace talk about peace as if it is something that happens when conflict and problems aren’t present.
I have to get rid of all those things that create anxiety in my life in order for me to have peace. If this is true, then we’ll never have peace. Because as long as we are alive, we’ll always have conflict, and we’ll always have problems. Peace doesn’t come by getting rid of our problems. Peace comes by focusing our thoughts on what God wants us to think about. Peace doesn’t come with the absence of the storm; it comes in the presence of the storm because Jesus is walking there beside us, and we’ve got our eyes fixed on Him.
This is exactly what Paul is addressing in the opening verses of this final chapter of Philippians:
1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
One of the main issues concerning peace in the Philippian church was these two women who were fighting with each another. We have no record of what they were fighting about, but whatever it was, it had separated their friendship. This situation was creating enough of a problem that word had gotten all the way to Paul in his Roman prison about their conflict.
This situation created great pain for Paul. He describes the people of this church as brothers. He calls them his source of joy and his crown. And he calls them his friends. Paul had started the church at Philippi. Most of the people in the church had been saved as a result of Paul’s teaching. That most likely included these two women that were now fighting, women who Paul says had, “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel”. When they were focusing on the gospel, they got along. But somehow, they took their eyes off of Jesus and started focusing on themselves. That’s when the trouble started! That’s when the trouble always starts – when I take my eyes off of Jesus and only think about myself.
Paul not only tells these women to fix the problem that was standing between them, he tells them how to fix it. He tells them to “agree with each other”. The NKJV says, “be of the same mind”. They couldn’t change what had happened between them. That was over and done with. But what they could change was how they felt about the situation and their attitude toward one another. They had to change their minds about who was at fault. They had to change their minds about who was going to be the one to seek forgiveness and restoration.
A couple of chapters earlier in this letter, Paul said this: (Phil 2:5 -8) “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” These women weren’t going to get past their conflict until they changed their minds and got Jesus’s mind instead!
Paul gave one more piece of advice to help these two Christians get back in relationship with each other. He asked other Christians in the church to act as mediators between them to help pull them back together. Because sometimes we need help, and blessed are the peacemakers!
Paul seemed to expect a good outcome to this situation, because his next words to them are a double reminder of what he’s been saying throughout the whole letter: Verse 4
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
I don’t think that we struggle so much with the concept of REJOICING as we do with the word ALWAYS! We actually like rejoicing, but we like to have something that we feel is worth rejoicing OVER!
The thing is that if we truly believe that God is working ALL things for our good - then what’s NOT to rejoice over! Even the hard things are going to turn out for our benefit!
Sometimes we need to get a little more excited waiting to see how God is going to turn our situation around for our ultimate good. And while we’re waiting, we can start our rejoicing because we know that He WILL turn it around!
Paul gives us some guidelines as to how to accomplish this in verses 5-7:
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We have to remember that worrying accomplishes nothing.
Proverbs 12:25 - "An anxious heart weighs a man down."
So what should we do instead of worrying? PRAY!
Pray about everything, Paul says. And pray with Thanksgiving both for what God has already done in your life and what He’s about to do in answer to your prayer!
And when we do that… when we give it to God in prayer instead of worrying about it… that’s when we finally find peace. It’s a peace that surpasses or transcends all understanding, which means that people won’t believe how much peace we have when they see what we’re going through, because the peace we’re experiencing isn’t a NATURAL peace, it’s a SUPERNATURAL peace!
Then Paul gives another tip to finding God’s peace in verses 8-9:
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The key to our peace is where we are putting our thoughts. It’s all about our thinking!
Just like Euodia and Syntyche, those two quarrelling ladies, we need a change of mind to replace our negative, “stinking thinking”!
We need to let go of our focus on past hurts and replace it with a focus on the things that GOD is telling us to focus on… true things, noble things, pure things, lovely things, admirable things, excellent things, praiseworthy things.
To emphasize what he’s talking about, Paul uses the example of the recent offering that the Philippians have sent to him (verses 10-13)
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Here’s how Paul looked at their gift: He appreciated it, but he was already fully content even without it. He had experienced times of plenty and times of want, and either way, he had learned that his REAL source of security wasn’t gifts or finances, it was JESUS!
If we lose sight of that, our sense of peace and contentment is easily affected by our constantly-changing circumstances.
Paul emphasizes in verses 14-18 that the real benefit of their giving wasn’t what it did for HIM, it was what it did for THEM… to give their offering as unto the Lord:
14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;
16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.
17Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
And then Paul caps it all off with this wonderful promise:
19And my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
You have made an effort to provide for ME, says Paul, and I GUARANTEE you that God will provide for you!
Compared to other places that Paul visited, Macedonia was very poor economically. The brethren in Philippi were not ‘well-to-do’ people. Yet, despite their poverty, they were the most charitable and giving congregation of all the churches that Paul had founded.
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul uses the example of the generosity of these Macedonians to encourage the wealthy Corinthians into giving to the relief of drought-stricken Jerusalem:
“Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.”
These impoverished brethren in Philippi had begged Paul to let them send a financial contribution to help their fellow believers in Jerusalem who were suffering the effects of a severe drought.
We don’t need to worry about our own needs when we share in giving to the needs of others.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”
Paul promised the Philippians that they could count on God to provide for their needs - not necessarily everything they ever wanted, but their needs would always be met. And his assurance to them, AND to us, is that they would receive blessings because they had been faithful in their giving, because it’s impossible to out-give God!
Paul’s closes his letter with these personal words to this church that he loved so much:
20To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
21Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings.
22All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household.
23The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Peace is a real thing. We can not only attain it; we can maintain it.
But we have seen that the key to peace comes from an attitude of the heart – an attitude of gratitude that gives thanks and praise to God no matter what is going on in my life. It is a decision to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.
It is a choice to focus my thoughts on things that are good, and pure, and noble, and true – rather than on all of the negativity in the world around me.
I would like to take verse seven and turn it into a prayer declaration over us all today:
May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds this day, and in the days to come. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
In the previous chapter, Paul wrote about Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were good examples of his teaching regarding selflessness. Here in Philippians 3, Paul writes about bad examples, those who add works to salvation, putting confidence in oneself. Paul describes these religious Pharisees as evil dogs, quite harsh! Yet, what bigger lie could there be? If we could attain righteousness in ourselves, then why did Christ die for our sins?
Confidence is an essential attribute in competitive sports, for, without it, one will give up during times of adversity. In the running, confidence will give you the boost of adrenaline needed to run hard even when tired. Yet, in the race of life, self-confidence will be your end. Paul had every reason to boast, especially in comparison to the religious Pharisees who he was addressing. He could easily relate with them, for he was once one of them, for just as they persecuted the church, he once persecuted the church, even to the point of murder. But, in verses 7-9, he states he now counts his accomplishments as worthless garbage, he no longer depends on his righteousness, His confidence comes in the form of the righteousness of Christ.
To advance the kingdom of God, we must discard our past, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It may be easy to let go of the things we regret and want to forget about, but how about the things we are proud of, like our accomplishments and earthly possessions? These can be giant stumbling blocks than the big sins we committed. If we desire, like Paul states in verses 10-11, “to know Christ and the mighty power that raised him from the dead, even suffer with him, sharing in his death, experiencing the resurrection from the dead,” we must surrender all! All means everything. Experiencing Resurrection power can only come by death. Resurrection power is not just for the afterlife but in the here and now. At the front of the race in advancing the kingdom of God are those to whom the King has the most domain.
Another vital attribute in competitive sports is the innate ability to press on through suffering and pain. Many are those “who when the going get’s tough don’t get going but rather give up.” The Lord did not promise that life would be easy for those that follow Him. He made it clear that His disciples will suffer. Paul rejoiced in suffering; why? For he knew it was necessary to conform him into the image of the Son. James chapter 1 tells us when facing tests and trials to count it all joy, for through it we gain endurance, leading to perfection. Paul, in verse 12, says, “I have not already reached perfection, but I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” If Paul had reached perfection like Enoch, he would no longer be present; he’d be in the air. Enoch gained perfection through continual fellowship; Jesus was made perfect through obedience.
It is how we respond when we are tired that reveals our level of maturity. Most people are at their worst when they are tired, Isaiah 40:29-31 tells us, to “wait on the Lord, and He will renew our strength, then we will run and not go weary, and walk and not faint.” When we are tired, we wait; it doesn’t mean we stop; instead, we serve the Lord. Waiting is serving! The Lord imparts strength to those who serve Him. To serve the Lord is to give Him what He desires; intimacy! Like Paul said in verse 10, “I just want to know Him!” Pressing doesn’t mean striving harder; it means yielding more! Spiritually, waiting and running do not oppose each other but are needed together. We wait on the Lord, gain strength and instructions, and then we run with God’s Word to perform it.
The goal of the race is Christlikeness; it is the prize that we earn, not by our works but His work in us. Many things can distract us and cause us to stumble and fall, but just because we get knocked down does not mean we are out. As long as we learn in every situation, we’ve gained something. Runners are to look forward, for one can not run unless both feet move ahead; if we have baggage from our past, we are stuck there. If we are serious about winning in life, we must forget those things that once beset us and press on.
Paul referred often to running in his writings for his audience was predominantly gentiles from a Greek/Roman culture in which Olympic Games was extremely popular. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and the Olympics are still an exciting experience every four years and beginning later this month. I personally love the games, for one I love sports, and secondly, I love to see the world come together.
In Philippians chapters, 2-3 Paul refers to running in both chapters and so these next two weeks our focus will be running the race. Unlike Olympic runners are prize is not medals of earthly gain but rather eternal reward, not based on individual achievement but Kingdom advancement, becoming like Christ and pointing others to Christ. The older you get the more you realize how fast life passes by. If a runner continues to lose one race after another they will feel all their hard work was in vain. In the Kingdom nobody loses, we all win, in fact, we already won. Our race is to inspire others to get off the sideline and join in the race and encourage those who are stumbling or have fallen to get back up again.
ALL ABOUT ATTITUDE
Your attitude will affect your altitude! One of the biggest obstacles to hurdle in the race of life is bad attitudes. We live in a negative world and if we are not careful negativity will infect us. Here in Philippians 2:1, Paul asks some thought-provoking questions to help the Philippians examine their attitude. Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? The conclusion is if we are not in communion with the Lord we will be like the world and in need of an attitude adjustment. Only in the Spirit can we get along and be able to work together with one mind and purpose in the Lord.
Paul now describes bad attitudes as selfish and only concerned with impressing others. He then speaks to them to be humble and put the interest of others ahead of themselves. He now describes Jesus in verses 5-8 who as God humbled Himself taking the position of a slave, to the point of obedience to God, dying a criminal's death on a cross. It says in verse nine it was through this act of humility that Jesus was elevated to the place of highest honor, His name above all names. The way upward is downward! Humility is the attribute necessary to run in the victory of the Lord, to hurdle the obstacle of pride. The bible says God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humility is not a weakness it is a strength. The humble climb higher, run faster, go farther. Jesus won the race of all races, and in Him, through His name, we are positioned as victors.
NOTHING COMES EASY
Those that have won gold in the Olympics can testify that it did not come easy. It takes great sacrifice, hard work, and a never-give-up attitude. Yet, for some reason, it seems Christians don’t always understand this concept and think that changing one’s life doesn’t take any work. WRONG! We are not saved by works but faith is a verb that means action. So if one has faith in God then it will be seen by the fruit of what they do. Just like if one believes they can be a great runner they don’t just enter races if they have not yet first trained for it. The Lord tests us, He allows us to go through trials, like a good coach so that we can gain endurance and become stronger.
The work is not our works but His work in us, as we give God space to move in our lives, we change. We change because He changes our desires to what pleases Him. This is how we grow from having a negative to a positive outlook, from complaining and arguing to praising and giving thanks. Jesus is the light so the more space we give Him, the less darkness remains as our lives become an outpouring of light to God. It is like a runner giving their coach time each day to train them. If they follow the coach's guidance they will run their race not in vain, the hard work won’t be useless, it will pay off when they compete in a race.
BE THE EXAMPLE
What inspires athletes is often other athletes who have accomplished what they desire to achieve. Paul commends two individuals who he was sending to the Philippians as examples of what he was teaching them, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Few people have it in them to push through challenges without being inspired by others. We need motivation from others and we need to be those who motivate others. Paul was sending them Timothy who was the chief example of someone who has proven that he genuinely cares about others more than himself. Sadly, this example is not something often displayed by many Christians, so we need to pray, Lord makes us like you! Now, Epaphroditus had helped Paul greatly in time of need even when he himself was sick to the point of death. We are called to lay down our lives just as Jesus laid down His life for us and both these individuals were examples of God’s love on display.
If you are on the sideline watching life pass you get in the race, advancing the kingdom of God. Let the Lord adjust your attitude by humbling yourself before Him, repenting, and He will transform the way you think and behave. Make a pledge to put the effort like an athlete to give God your coach the time daily to work in and through you, knowing that it will pay off, you will grow. Finally, be the example like Timothy and Epaphroditus of those who genuinely care for the needs of others more than themselves.