Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 4)

Okay, lovely friends, we’re finally there: the last chapter of Philippians. We’ve seen the examples of Paul, Christ, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. We’ve seen the appeals to be selfless and the instructions on how to do so. Now at last we get to see the central problem in the Philippian congregation: two fighting women.

Before we get to that, though, I want to look at one other significant keyword: agape. You may or may not know that in the Greek New Testament there are two main words for two main kinds of love. Phileo is used for brotherly affection, but agape is used for the deep type of love that involves self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, hmmm? Sorta fits into what we’ve been talking about, doesn’t it! Oh, I love the Bible. So inter-connected and wonderful. Agape occurs seven times in Philippians, and it’s always translated “love” or “beloved.” See if you can find them for yourself. :)

Diving back in…

The Problem—Euodia and Syntyche (4:1-3)

At the beginning of this chapter Paul starts to bring his letter to its clincher: “Therefore, my beloved brethren… in this way stand firm in the Lord” (1). How do we stand firm in the Lord? Maintain this spirit of selflessness that we’ve been talking about. Now he’s going to get into the real point. Take a look at verse 2: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”

“Look, Melissa, I don’t know. You say Euodia and Syntyche were the main problem, but if that’s the case why do they pop up so late in the book? How do you know they’re that important?”

Well, I’m going to show you. :)

The word for “urge” in this verse is the Greek word parakalo, and it’s special because it’s a petition verb. In English writing, we often use bold lettering, italics, or capital letters to stress an important point. Greek petition verbs are the equivalent of all these things plus a few exclamation points for good measure. In other words, Paul really wants to drive this point home. It’s also extremely significant that he uses the word twice in the same sentence. This double-petition verb phenomenon only occurs one other place in the New Testament (in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, if you’re interested). God is never redundant without a purpose. This whole book is redundant! He’s redundant when He’s really trying to drum an important point into our heads. Therefore, this redundancy in petition verbs is really, really, really SUPER important. It’s so important, in fact, that people who’ve studied the book (like Denny Petrillo) consider it to be the key verse in the book.

Now look at the next few words, the action Paul is urging Euodia and Syntyche to perform: “to live in harmony.” That’s our central keyword phroneo! Remember, it could also be translated “to be of the same mind”… And we know from 2:3 that the way to be of the same mind is to “regard one another as more important than yourselves.” This letter was for the entire Philippian church, but it was really written so they could know how to help these two women get along!

Now, we shouldn’t let Euodia and Syntyche go by without giving them a little credit. These weren’t bad women; they were members of the Lord’s church, for crying out loud! Paul asks the congregation to “help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel” (3). They’ve worked with Paul, and they obviously care about the cause of Christ! However, they rubbed one another the wrong way, and they couldn’t let their agape love overcome this dislike and disagreement. So what does Paul do to help? He enlists the church! What an awesome lesson for us! Part of the reason God put the church in place is so we could help other Christians make it to Heaven. We need to be sure and utilize that gift when we’re having a sin problem!

You’re Getting There (4:14-20)

I know that’s a weird section title, but before I explain, take a look at verses 14 through 17:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.”

Phew. Long stretch there, but I want you to see it all.

Remember how Paul started with encouragement? He’s ending with encouragement too. He’s saying, “Hey, you know what? You’re already getting there. You’re already selfless in your generosity towards me and my work for Christ.” Check that last verse again: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” Not only is the church’s giving good for Paul, it’s good for themselves! It’s a step in the right direction toward total selflessness.

I want to clarify, guys— you don’t now know everything there is to know about the book of Philippians. There’s a WEALTH of knowledge that I didn’t even touch on. That’s part of the beauty of the Bible: you never know everything about it. There’s always more treasures to go find.

So I implore you to go find some treasure for yourself. Study the book. Look for more keywords. Explore. More than anything, though, I implore you to apply what we’ve studied to your life. Put Christ before yourself. Put others before yourself. Be willing to compromise your opinions. Live in harmony with one another. I hope this study has been as profitable for you as it’s been for me!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 3)

Hey everyone! As you might already know, we’re learning about selflessness through a study of Philippians. So far Paul has given two examples of selflessness for the church at Philippi (and us!) to follow: first, himself, and second, Jesus Christ. That’s not all, though… we’re not even at the halfway point yet! I have quite a bit to cover in this article, so I’m going to go ahead and jump right into the text. Remember to study for yourself too!

Example #3—Timothy (2:19-24)

At this point in the chapter Paul begins to talk about his desire to send Timothy to the Philippian congregation as an aid and as a messenger. We know quite a bit about Timothy from other parts of the New Testament: he was extremely close to Paul (1 Tim. 1:2), he was young (1 Tim. 4:12), and he learned much from his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Here in Philippians, we get special insight into the content of Timothy’s character.

Beginning in verse 20, Paul tells us why he wishes to send Timothy to Philippi: “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” Paul wants to be sure to send somebody who will invest himself selflessly into the work of the church with a full and complete concern. He goes on to say, “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (21). The “they” here is everybody else Paul could have sent, the ones that weren’t his kindred spirits. Paul has confidence that Timothy will put Christ and His will before himself. Sound familiar? No wonder Paul calls him a kindred spirit! The two of them have the same top priorities: the cause of Christ and the furtherance of His church.

Example #4—Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

Paul starts to switch it up here by giving us two (soon to be three) examples in a row. After Timothy, he writes about another friend of his: Epaphroditus. The church at Philippi already knows this man. Paul describes him as “your messenger and minister to my need” (25), and, skipping ahead a little, Paul mentions in 4:18 that he has “received from Epaphroditus what you have sent.” This congregation supported Paul, and it sounds like Epaphroditus was the go-between who delivered supplies and gifts to him.

Paul has already sent Epaphroditus to Philippi as an example and aid. Why? Take a look at verse 26 and part of 27: “Because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death.” Did you catch that? Epaphroditus wasn’t distressed because he was deathly ill; he was distressed because the Philippians had heard about it, and he didn’t want them to worry about him! Can you imagine being on your deathbed and having concern only for your loved ones? Talk about selfless. Fortunately, we see in the end of verse 27 that God had mercy on Epaphroditus and spared his life. Paul instructs the church to “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Once again, two priorities: Christ, and his church.

Example #5—Paul, Part 2 (3:1-14)

In 3:1, Paul says, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Commentaries often offer a lot of speculation as to the meaning of this sentence. Is he referring to another letter? What is this supposed to mean? It becomes really easy to understand when you’ve been paying to the examples the entire time. Down in verse 4, Paul begins referring to himself. Just for good measure, he’s offering himself up again as an example of selflessness. That’s the same thing he’s writing again.

In 4 through 6, Paul lists all the earthly things he could be prideful of during his time as a practicing Jew. However, he clarifies, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Just like when he gave Jesus as an example, we’re seeing here the tie-in between humility and selflessness. All Paul’s earthly triumphs have been totally eclipsed by his love for and subjection to Christ.

Appeal #3 (3:15-21)

“Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (15-16).

Have this attitude? It’s our friend phroneo! In other words, have this attitude I’ve been telling you about this entire letter. In case you weren’t buying that the whole example thing was intentional, take a look at the next verse: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (emp. added).

Good ol’ Paul’s never going to leave us without a why. First, he spotlights the enemies of the cross, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (19). These are the people who put their earthly desires, and therefore themselves, first. However, “our citizenship is in heaven” (20). In being selfless we focus more on Christ than on the things of this world, and this will lead to our ultimate exultation in heaven. That’s why we be selfless.

We’re three quarters of the way through, people! Come back next week to see how Paul wraps up this awesome letter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 2)

If you started this series with me last week, you know that we’re covering the book of Philippians. As we’ve already discovered, the theme of the book is “others before self”, and the Apostle Paul is getting this message across using an example/appeal format. Once again, I want to heavily encourage you to study this book for yourself as we go through this broad overview… I can’t cover everything! Now that we’re a little further in, though, I do want to help you out with a keyword before we start digging back into the text.

The central keyword that Paul uses in this letter is the Greek word phroneo, which means “to be of the same mind” or “to have this attitude.” It’s a bit of a hard one to pin down in English, but usually it has a connotation of being in harmony with somebody else. It’s translated a few different ways in the text, so I’ll give you the references if you want to mark it. (I’m using the New American Standard, by the way.)

1:7—“feel this way”

2:2—“being of the same mind” and “intent on one purpose”

2:5—“have this attitude”

3:15—“have this attitude” and “have a different attitude”

3:19—“set their minds”

4:2—“to live in harmony”

4:10—“concern” and “were concerned”

As you can see, the word occurs nine times, which is kind of a lot for a book with only four chapters. You can also see how it would be powerful in Paul’s letter, whether he’s saying, “Have the same attitude… as this example I’m going to point out to you” or “be of the same mind… with each other.”

Alrighty, then, jumping back into the text.

Example #2—Christ (2:5-11)

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death
even death on a cross.” (5-8)

No, my computer did not just spaz out and mess up my line breaks. I want you to look at the downward trend. First, Jesus had a mindset. He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (6). That phrase “a thing to be grasped” is the Greek word harpagmos, and this is the only occurance of it in the New Testament. Literally it means “that which is to be held on to forcibly.” So, then, Jesus didn’t think that his equality with God was important enough (in comparison with something else) for him to hold onto it forcibly. Because of his mindset, Jesus took an action. He “emptied himself” (7) of his heavenly privileges by becoming a man. Not only did he become a man, he became a “bond-servant” (7). Not only did he become a bond-servant, but he “humbled himself by becoming obedient” to God’s will even to the point of death, even to the lowest death possible: death on a cross (8).

Once again, we can see the theme: “others before self.” Jesus regarded OUR salvation as so important that he left heaven for it. That’s about as selfless as it gets, ladies. In this passage we can also see the role of humility in selflessness. Jesus’ action began with a humble mindset. He knew just how awesome he was. He knew that He HAD equality with God, but He didn’t let that change His thinking. He went from a higher status than any of us will ever reach to a lower despair than any of us will ever have to go through, all for us, a grossly imperfect world.

But that’s thankfully not the end of the story. Paul goes on to tell us, “For this reason, God highly exalted Him…” and continues speaking about the exultation and power Jesus received in verses 9-11. Paul is reminding the Philippian church just who their Jesus is, because he’s about to tell them how important it is that they follow His commands.

Appeal #2 (2:12-18)

First, Paul implies the church, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (12). Hear that? SALVATION. This quarrel between these two women was reaching such a point that it was a salvation issue! Look at verse 13: “for it is God who is at work in you.” It sounds like the fight was even impairing the congregation’s ability to reach the community in an effective way. If they were known for the fact that Euodia and Syntyche just couldn’t deal with each other, how would that reflect on God and his church?

Fortunately, Paul once again offers the solution to the problem: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (14). Grumbling is complaining, and where does complaining come from? Selfishness, of course! We think ourselves important enough that we feel the need to voice our dissatisfaction with something. Disputing, too, is a result of selfishness, just like we’ve been talking about. So, will being selfless get the church at Philippi its credibility back? You betcha. Take a look at 2:15: “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (emp. added). Why should we do all things without grumbling or disputing? Why should we be selfless? It will help us keep our salvation (like in vs. 12), and it will set us apart from the world.

So we have Paul the Apostle and the Lord Jesus Christ for examples… big shoes to fill, don’t you think? Stay tuned, though. We’ll be back at it next week… Paul’s about to show us that you don’t have to be God’s Son or even a seasoned missionary to be selfless.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 1)

This is the first part of a four part series. It's been on Come Fill Your Cup already... but not all of you read Come Fill Your Cup so I don't feel bad posting this here. I'll go for a post every Wednesday. :)

I love the Bible. And I really love the book of Philippians.

Philippians is a really simple book that is somehow still lost on most of the religious world. A lot of the denominational world will tell you that Philippians is a book full of joy and praise from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. Really, though, it’s all about a problem the congregation there was having—two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, just couldn’t get along (4:2). And it was sucking all the joy out of the church. So how does Paul suggest the church fix the problem? It’s very simple. The entire theme of the book is “others before self.”

This series is going to be an overview of the book of Philippians. I would beg you to please read the book and study it for yourself, because there’s NO WAY I can fit everything there is to know about it in writing (mostly because… I don’t know everything there is to know about it). I also want to mention that most of this thinking is not original with me. Denny Petrillo taught it to our teen class. This study is mostly derived from my notes from that class. So, thanks Mr. Denny!

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Before we start really digging, I want to point out that even though Paul is pointing out a problem in the church, he starts out by encouraging them (1:1-11). He mentions his thankfulness for them (3-4), his appreciation for their partaking in the Lord’s work (5), his confidence in God to perfect their congregation (6), his deep love for them (7-8), and his prayers of supplication for them (9-11). When we rebuke a brother or sister in Christ, how often do we do it discouragingly? How often do we aim to tear someone down emotionally rather than build her up spiritually? Let’s take a leaf out of Paul’s book and vocalize to the people we rebuke how much we love them, that we’re praying for them, and that we have confidence in their ability and willingness to change. We should never, ever water down the Word of God, but the more lovingly we present it, the more likely people are to accept it.

Example #1—Paul (1:12-26)
Alright, moving on. The bulk of Philippians follows a basic format: an example of the theme followed by an appeal to apply the theme. The theme, like we said before, is “others before self,” and Paul’s first example is himself. First, Paul puts Christ and the gospel before himself. Paul is currently imprisoned in Rome, but he doesn’t complain about it; rather, he points out, “my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (12). Why? Well, word has gotten around even amongst non-believers that Paul is being imprisoned for the sake of Christ (13) and it’s boosting the confidence of other Christians to preach the gospel (14). After all, Paul seems to be doing okay in prison (I mean, he’s only on house arrest), so God will take care of others who preach as well, right? Paul continues with his own thoughts on the matter: “I will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (20-21).

Next, Paul puts the church before himself. He says, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (23-24). Paul is homesick for Heaven, like we are so very often even today. He’d rather be there than on earth. However, he has a proper perspective: he knows that God can still use him to do fruitful work, and so he “will remain and continue with you all [the Philippian church] for your progress and joy in the faith” (25).

We’ve all heard the acronym for J.O.Y. – “Jesus, Others, You.” Paul is outlining this perfectly here! For him, it’s really all about the furthering of the gospel and the strengthening of the church. Now, he’s going to ask the Philippians to think the same way.

Appeal #1—(1:27 – 2:4)
Paul now shifts his focus to the Philippians themselves, urging them, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that… I will hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (27). Look at all those “unity” phrases—“one spirit”, “one mind”, “together”. He continues this thought in 2:2—“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Alright, God wants a unified church. But how do we be unified? Paul’s going to tell us. Look at 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Aha! The theme that I promised was coming! The solution to any quarrel is to put others before oneself. If both sides of the quarrel do this, they WILL come to a compromise. Every time. As Paul points out, this isn’t merely an action, it’s a way of thinking: “with humility OF MIND REGARD one another as more important than yourselves.” It’s not just acting like someone’s more important than you… it’s believing it and putting that belief into practice.

Paul’s not going to ask us to take his example alone, though. Tune in next week to see what else he has to say… he’s lined up a better Example than any other.