Sunday, November 9, 2008

Communion With God in the Midst of Struggle

International Sunday School Lesson
Week Ending November 16,2008

Scripture Text: Phiippians 3:17-21; 4:1-9 (NRSV)

Background: Philippians 3:3-4:9

Phiippians 3:17-21
(17) Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. (18)For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. (19)Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. (20)But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. (21)He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Phiippians 4:1-9
(1)Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.(2) I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.(3)Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.(4) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (5)Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (6)Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (7)And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (8) Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (9)Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Today as I opened the newspaper, the headlines read “Turmoil at local Church”. Churches today are struggling, just as the church struggled in Paul's day. How this congregation responds and how they handle this struggle will speak volumes to our community. Paul certainly was willing to help the church at Philippi in their time of struggle. I know God will help this local congregation in its time of struggle too.

They must be willing to follow Paul's lead and “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, Rejoice”. And I trust they will fast and pray until they have the answer that the Holy Spirit will give them through their prayers and supplications.

While you are thinking about the above, let me share some interesting facts about today's scripture text. The letter to the church at Philippi was written by Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome. It has been called by some a letter of joy, and by others a letter of rejoicing. The church at Philippi was the first church established in Europe, by Paul, on his second missionary journey. They had on two occasions been very generous to Paul and this letter is in response to their latest offering to him.

Philippi was located near the sight of a great battle that took place in 42 B.C. Where the armies of Brutus and Cassius were defeated by the armies of Anthony and Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) and the Roman Empire replaced the Roman Republic. Philippi became a military outpost and was made a Roman colony, which gave it special privileges.

Knowing all of the above Paul writes, they need to be careful in who they choose to emulate. In addition to the Judaizers, they were also being influenced by what we would call today antinomianism, (“against the law”). This belief was popular because it required no responsibility to obey any of God's laws even the “Moral Law of God” that we call the Ten Commandments. This is the same problem addressed by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Basically Moses said it is not to hard nor is it too far away that you can not obey God's moral law. Some were teaching in Phillipi that faith precluded any responsibility to live a moral life, one could do and live anyway they liked as long as they believed that Christ redeemed them from any form of punishment. This belief is still a threat to Christianity today. Martin Luther addressed it by the Formula of Concord in 1577, which recognized a threefold use of the law: (1) to reveal sin, (2) to establish general decency in society at large, and (3) to provide a rule of life for those who have been regenerated through faith in Christ.

The other belief of Libertine ( Libertine means one devoid of any restraints, especially one who ignores or even spurns religious norms, accepted morals, and forms of behavior sanctioned by the larger society) was also popular.

Paul describes these beliefs; their appetites or their circumcision are their gods, and their minds are only concerned about earthly things. Paul calls for the people at Philippi to aim higher, think about higher things (see verse 4:8).

Evidently there were a couple of prominent women within the church that disagreed about some things, and Paul gives his advise, but notice he does not take sides. His answer is “Rejoice in the Lord”. (This passage starts with another “Rejoice in the Lord” in verse 3:1). When Paul says “let your gentleness be known to everyone” he is giving all of us a tutorial on handling disagreements. Then he says “ The Lord is near”. Paul could mean his return is near or his presence is near as in Emmanuel (God with us). Either way, “don't worry about anything”.

We are reminded to pray about everything and give thanks for everything. We are probably lax in both areas. The benediction that Paul uses in verse 7 is similar to Psalms 145:18-20 (18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19He fulfils the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. 20The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy).

In verse 8 of our text Paul gives an attitude adjustment outline; “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, If there is is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”.

Paul closes by telling them to “keep on doing the things you have learned”. There are times in our Christian walk when it is important for us “to keep on doing”. What we do, may not be glamorous or even noteworthy, but out thoughts should always be on the “Higher Plain”. Remember the “The Lord is near” and our “citizenship is in heaven”.

Just the thoughts of a layman,

Here is another sight that you might enjoy that covers the lesson from a different slant, by Standard Publishing and The Christian Church.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Burgess -- thanks for illuminating this passage for us. We all need to be reminded of our need to stay in prayer before God in each situation and circumstance in our lives. Grace and peace,