Friday, October 24, 2014
Join us this Sunday for worship at 10:30 AM and then plan to stay to enjoy a pot-luck lunch and fellowship with those in attendance. If you are able to bring something to share, it would be much appreciated -- and if you can help with clean-up afterward -- that would also be much appreciated. See you them. Semper Reformata a la Sola Scriptura.
Monday, October 20, 2014
October 19, 2014 Second Reformed Church
What do you need – in addition to Jesus – to be saved? What do you need – in addition to Jesus – to be made right with God and welcomed into His Kingdom – righteous – forgive of your sins and holy?
Let us remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote to the church in Philippi – a church of Gentile – no-Jewish – converts to Christianity. He told them of the joy and thanks he had for them, and his desire that they would continue to grow in the faith. Please, let us be in prayer for each other!
Paul explained that what was of greatest importance to him was not his release from prison – or those arrogant “super-apostles” who said they were better Christians than Paul – but that the Gospel would advance. Whether he lived or died – whatever anyone might say – he desired that the Gospel – above all else – would continue to advance. That is my desire – as well – and I hope it is yours.
Paul explained that he – they – and we – need not fear anything any person or government might do to us – but to understand that we have been gifted to believe and to suffer for Christ’s sake. Did you see in the news that a town in Texas is requiring pastors to submit their sermons for review by the town? It’s an offense! It’s a violation of our free-speech rights! Let us pray that those people who are charged with the reading of those sermons would be convicted by God and brought to faith by the Holy Spirit – and let us pray for all Christian pastors – and all Christians – that we would not be afraid to say with Peter, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:29-32, ESV).
It is the greatness of the Gospel message that must lead us on as Christians with the same humility that Jesus had – even being God the Son Incarnate – Who humbled Himself in obedience to the Father even to death on the cross. So must we seek that humility, bearing fruit as those God has saved, by attributing all salvation to God, and then – with fear and trembling – bearing the fruit of good works to the Glory of God in response to His salvation of us.
That brings us up to this morning’s text, where Paul addresses a most insidious false teaching that came into the church by those who were called the Judaizers.
And so we see, this morning:
First, the Gospel causes us to rejoice.
Second, saying that Jesus plus anything else equals our salvation is heresy – a lie!
Third, Salvation is wholly the Work of God.
Fourth, no one keeps all of God’s Law perfectly.
Fifth, the value of the Gospel for salvation exceeds the worth of mere obedience.
First, the Gospel causes us to rejoice.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”
Paul is repeating himself – and he says it is “safe” to do so – because we need to be reminded to continue to look at the wondrous – priceless – Gospel that has been given us! That Gospel that Jesus said is worth more than all the treasure of the world! Do we rejoice in the Gospel – in life and death, in sickness and health, in poverty and riches, in bounty of friends and loneliness? Are we ready to stare down the evil of evils and rejoice because nothing can take away the glorious Gospel given to us? Can we be filled with all the blessings of the earth and still see the blessing of the Gospel – oh, what love! – that it is far more worthy and joy-filling than everything else?
If we can’t rejoice, let us turn our eyes upon Jesus – consider what God has done in coming to earth to make us right with God to His Glory! If we can’t, let us consider if we have ever believed. Do you believe in God Who came to earth, lived, died, and rose, and ascended – victorious and most blessed forever?
Paul now turns to another problem in the church in Philippi – one that might seem all too familiar to us: the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a group that claimed that before you could become a Christian, you had to become a Jew. They argued that since the Law of God – and especially the command to be circumcised is a sign of belonging to the people of God – all the Laws that were specific to national Israel – was commanded by God, they had to be followed.
They said that salvation by faith in Jesus was fine, but you also had to be circumcised and participate in the other ceremonies that God gave national Israel. They said that Jesus Alone, faith alone, was not enough for salvation – you have to have Jesus plus the works of the Law for salvation. This claim outraged Paul – and it should outrage every Christian.
Second, saying that Jesus plus anything else equals our salvation is heresy – a lie!
As Paul said – speaking of these Judaizers, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”
“Look out for the dogs” – Paul is not talking about Annie or Teddy or any other dog that we might have in our life and love – Paul is referring to the wild, street dogs that ate garbage and dead animals, and attacked others for their food. They were brutal nuisances.
The Judaizers were the same – they were not looking to lead people to salvation – they were looking to pat themselves on the back and to tear others down – to prove that others were far less worthy of salvation than they. They attacked the Gospel and preached a false gospel of salvation by Jesus plus their good works.
“Look out for the evildoers” – and we might think that is harsh – “weren’t they preaching Christ – what made their preaching evil?” Paul addressed the Judaizers in more detail in the book of Galatians – exposing them as non-Christians. You cannot be a Christian and say that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus anything else. Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed”
(Galatians 1:6-9, ESV).
Paul is not shy about this: the claim that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus – circumcision – obedience to the Law – anything – is not the Gospel. Such persons are “accursed.” Such persons are “anathema.” Such persons who teach this false gospel, Paul literally writes, “let him be damned to Hell.”
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus good works. Some Pentecostals and Charismatics teach that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus speaking in tongues. Such teachings and anyone who continues to teach them – let them be damned to Hell.
“Look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” Circumcision – as prescribed to Abraham and the nation of Israel was the cutting of the foreskin to symbolize inclusion in the people of God – it did not guarantee salvation. Paul tells us that making circumcision a requirement for salvation turns the sacrament of circumcision into a mere mutilation of the flesh. It is a corruption – it is blasphemy.
Today, those who say that baptism saves a person have turned the sacrament of baptism into a corruption – a blasphemy.
Anyone who teaches that salvation is by faith in Jesus plus anything else is a wild, savage dog that barks and bites and tears and steals. Such are evil doers – those who bring down persons who are being drawn to salvation in Jesus, rather than building them up. They are anathema! They are mutilators, corrupters, blasphemers of the sacraments – turning a ceremony is a hacking away at the truth.
Salvation by Jesus plus anything else is a damnable lie – a heresy – and we should not care who says it – how important, decorated a person is – how big their church or ministry is – salvation is faith in Jesus Alone plus nothing!
Third, Salvation is wholly the Work of God.
The Gospel – the truth of the Gospel – is that salvation is all of God by God and for God, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Jesus Alone. Thanks be to God!
“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.”
The circumcision of the Judaizers was mere mutilation, because they gave it a meaning and an import it did not have. The circumcision of the true Christian is not of the male flesh, but of every believer’s heart. Paul wrote, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29, ESV).
Paul is telling us that true believers – true Jews – are those people who believe in Jesus Alone for their salvation. So, modern day Judaism is a false religion – along with any religion that preaches salvation as Jesus plus anything else.
And, he tells us that salvation is God’s Work. God changes the heart by giving the indwelling of God the Spirit. What part do we play in our salvation? Nothing! We are to respond to our salvation by doing all the good works that God has given us to do, but not one of them adds to our salvation.
The true circumcision – the true believers – those who believe in salvation through Jesus Alone –
“Are people who worship by the Spirit of God.”
We can’t worship God rightly until God comes into us and changes us and causes us to believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation. The Scripture tells us again and again that no one seeks to do good for all the right reasons and we are born spiritually dead. So, if we are dead and seeking to do things for the wrong reasons – some of which are outright evil – we will never worship God by the Spirit of God until the Spirit of God comes into us to changes us and teach us and lead us in worshipping by the Spirit of God.
As Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).
“And glory in Jesus Christ.”
We can’t glory in Jesus Christ – we can’t proclaim Him to be Who He really is – the Son of God Incarnate – the Promised Savior – until we have received salvation from Him. We cannot love Jesus and follow Him in faith and obedience until after God has changed our hearts and caused us to love and obey Him
Until God made us to believe in Jesus as our Savior, we were enemies of God – we were at war with God – we hated God. We didn’t want to show others how wonderful Jesus is – we didn’t want to love Him with every part of our being more and more fully as were matured in the faith – not until God did His Work in us.
So, this change of heart – this coming to love Jesus and proclaim Him to be Who He truly is – is completely a spiritual matter – it is completely a work of God. It is nothing we did or desired or worked our way towards. It is God’s Work – which makes it all the more glorious and us all the more desirous to glorify Him.
“And put no confidence in the flesh.”
All we who have come to believe in Jesus as Savior by the miraculous Work of God in us now put no confidence in our heritage and our family and our good works – insofar as our salvation is concerned. We understand that nothing we were born, nothing we are, and nothing we do is of any confidence insofar as salvation is concerned.
Paul uses himself as an example – a prime example – of a person who would have been saved by the flesh – by his works, if such a thing was possible. Yet, we see in this example:
Fourth, no one keeps all of God’s Law perfectly.
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day,”
Paul was raised in a family that kept God’s Law.
“of the people of Israel,”
Paul was a member of the biological people of Israel – not a convert to Judaism.
“of the tribe of Benjamin,”
Paul was a direct descent of Jacob, who is also called Israel, the father of the twelve tribes – of which Paul was a direct descendant of Israel’s first king, Saul.
“a Hebrew of Hebrews;”
Paul had no mixed blood in his heritage – he was the son of two Hebrews – who spoke Hebrew – he was not raised to speak Greek, as the captives were.
“as to the law, a Pharisee;”
Paul was a member of the religious group that adhered to the Law with great strictness and separated themselves even from the common Israelites – not to mention the Gentiles – in order to seek after holiness through the works of the flesh.
“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;”
Paul was so zealous for the Law – for the honor and fame of God’s Name – that when he saw the Church arise and thought it was against God and His Law – he persecuted it with all his might.
“as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
And as far as anyone could judge to look at Paul, to hear him speak, and see him act – he did keep the Law in all its fullness. If it were possible to be saved through keeping the Law – through heritage and life – Paul certainly looked to be the person – if anyone could – who would.
However, Paul wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV).
Paul understood that despite all the pluses – all the checkmarks in his favor – he considered himself – looking through the eyes of Christ – that he was the chief of sinners – the greatest of sinners – the foremost of sinners – because none of his works lead him to salvation and the Savior.
Fifth, the value of the Gospel for salvation exceeds the worth of mere obedience.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Paul tells us that his heritage, his good works, his diligence in keeping the Law were all worthless – even a loss – because he did not know Jesus. And, when he came to faith in Jesus – he recognized the greatness of the value and the glory of Jesus and His salvation. In God circumcising Paul’s heart and bringing him to faith, he understood that all of his works and heritage were impotent as far as achieving salvation was concerned. God was not impressed that someone who rejected His salvation was trying to do all the right things.
The author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV). We could put it this way: whatever does not come as a fruit form saving faith is sin. Whatever is done outside of saving faith is sin.
So all those good things that Paul did – all those good things we did before God saved us – all those things anyone does – wonderful things that the world praises people for doing – if they are done by someone who does not believe savingly in Jesus – in God’s eyes – those things are sin.
Paul uses strong language: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,”
And our translators use a polite word – literally Paul says that he counts all those benefits he had before faith in Christ as dung. Before Christ, all the best of who we ever were is no better than the waste that comes out of our bodies. That’s how offensively useless it is to say that we must add something to Jesus and His Work to gain salvation.
But that’s what the Judaizers were teaching – that’s what the Roman Catholic Church teaches today – and some other denominations: “Jesus’ Work is great, but I have to add my bodily waste to it to make it really worthy in God’s eyes.” What insanity! What an offense!
Paul said “no” – everything before Christ was like waste – dung – in comparison to His Worth and the worth of His Gospel.
“in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“
Our righteousness cannot come from ourselves – it must be credited to us by Jesus. We cannot come to God as holy and sinless people on our own – we must have Jesus’ Righteousness – His Holiness and His Sinlessness imputed to us – so God will see us as holy and sinless and receive us into His Kingdom for the Sake of His Son. And to befoul Christ’s Work with our work does not improve us in God’s eyes.
The Philippians needed to understand that the Judaizers were wrong to say that any work or belief had to be added to Christ to make His Work acceptable and effective – we must understand as the hymn writer puts it, “nothing in my hands I bring, only to Thy cross I cling. We must reject anyone and any religion or denomination or church that says our works – in any way – merit salvation.
Salvation is by Christ Alone, by faith alone, by grace alone.
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection,”
If we believe that salvation is all of God, we will come to know Christ intimately – personally – as we continue to grow in love and faith and obedience to Him. Isn’t that what we desire? To know Him? To begin to plumb “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” – even with our finite and still sinful selves? (Romans 11:33a, ESV).
“and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”
Strange as it may sound – isn’t our goal to suffer like Christ – to not suffer for our sin – but to suffer for righteousness – for the proclamation of the Gospel – for glorying in Jesus Christ before the world which hates us?
And should we not want to die the death of Christ – a death of perfect obedience to the Father for His Sake and His Glory?
“that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul didn’t know if he would be let free from prison at that point. He didn’t know when or how he would die – or if he might live until Christ returns and never have to die in the body. But whatever he would have to endure for the sake of Christ, he held fast to his goal of the resurrection from the dead – like Christ – to be with Him forever in His Kingdom in Glory.
A recent book was titled, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”
What do we need to be saved?
Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
And God damn anyone who teaches anything else to Hell.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Yours is the Salvation. We get confused about the place of being obedient to You, and some teach that Jesus is not enough – that our works also add to our salvation. God, please rid that lie from our minds and hearts. Help us to understand that salvation is all of You – Jesus Alone. We respond to that most glorious salvation that You give us through obedience, but our obedience does not make Your salvation of us any more effective. Lord, mature us, and help us to stand boldly and hopefully for Your Gospel. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Starting this Thursday, October 16th, and going forward, D.V., we invite anyone who has time and inclination to come help out at the church from 10 AM to 12 PM. We ask that you use the gifts God has given you to join together with us to help maintain the building, work on the Women's Association sale, etc. In whatever way you are able and willing, we ask that you would join us in fellowship to better the ministry of Second Reformed. I hope to see you tomorrow -- or soon! Call the church office with questions and concerns.
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
The Banner of Truth Minister's Conference is only SEVEN MONTHS AWAY! Start planning, D.V., to join with other men of faith to study the topic "Suffering in the Church." See here:http://banneroftruth.org/us/events/2015-usa-ministers-conference/?mc_cid=c1ae51898d&mc_eid=7599c10da9
Paul Vroom? Paul? Paul? Paul? PAUL!
Thursday, October 02, 2014
D.V., the preaching schedule for October is:
Guest preacher: Bill Galloway
Guest preacher: Will Lampe
Guest preacher: Bill Galloway
Guest preacher: Will Lampe
Philippians 3:1-11 “No Confidence”
10/26/14 Reformation Sunday
Philippians 3:12-16 “Press On”
Join us as 10:30 AM for worship!
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
The Lord High Mission Commission of the Classis of Passaic Valley will meet, D.V., tomorrow, Wednesday, October 1st, 2014, at The Hope Reformed Church (RCA) in Clifton, NJ, at 1 PM. Please feel free to avail yourselves and join with us in discussion about the missions-oriented needs of the Classis and her churches. If Providence restrains your bodily presence, but have a request or comment, please be in touch with The Rev. Mr. Scott Nichols, The Faith Reformed Church (RCA) in Midland Park, NJ.
Monday, September 29, 2014
I have not read Mark Bittman’s book, VB6, but I have read and used his book, The VB6 Cookbook. Based on the introductory material, his argument is that you will live a more healthful life if you eat vegan prior to 6 PM and then allow yourself, if you desire, small amounts of animal foods after 6 PM.
The cookbook is set up with a great deal of introductory information about different fruits, vegetables, and animal foods – how to choose and use them. That, alone, is worthwhile information. Then follow the recipes: breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and deserts, and then a section on “building blocks” – recipes that can be built upon to make a meal.
The book is primarily creative and tasty vegan recipes, but there are enough with animal foods to make this a useful cookbook for any type of diet. He also makes suggestions in the recipes about alternate ways one might make the food he has created.
I have made three of the recipes so far:
“Good Morning Sweet Potato” (74). I made this recipe the way he suggested and found it very tasty. I would never have thought to eat a sweet potato for breakfast. It is hearty and filling and very sweet – as the original recipe makes it. He includes suggestions for making less sweet or without the walnuts.
“Slow Cooked Brussel Sprouts with Lemongrass” (121). For this recipe, I used an alternate version he suggests, using eggplant rather than Brussel sprouts. This recipe has a Thai flavor to it as the sauce base is coconut milk. This was the best of the three I have made so far. As I at it, there was a slight sweetness to it, but then the hot pepper jumped up and made it hot – a wonderful combination in my opinion.
“Eggplant Meatballs” (124). This recipe came with a picture – the pictures are plentiful throughout the book. However, I came away from it disappointed for two reasons: first, the “meatballs” did not hold their shape. Perhaps if I cooked them longer they would have. I may try it again. Second, it was too “eggplanty” – much as I like eggplant, it was overwhelming to the rest of the ingredients. However, I like the idea, and may try fooling around with the recipe.
If you are looking for a creative vegan cookbook with recipes anyone can make and loads of guidance about cooking plant foods, this is one you should pick up. If you just want vegan food before 6 PM, I suspect the animal food recipes would also be good based on my experience with the three I made. (I did not make an animal meal, as I try to eat vegan as much as possible.)
[This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]
September 28, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Do you have any heroes? Do you have anyone you look up to and try to emulate? Is there anyone you know that you want to become more like?
Paul tells the Philippians that whether he lived or died – in a sense – it was all the same to him – since his goal was to advance the Gospel. So, if his death advanced the Gospel – great, and if his life advanced the Gospel – great.
Paul then turns to plead with the Philippians to become like Christ in His humility – to spend your life pursuing the Will of God the Father at any cost – that God would be glorified and that you would have His joy.
And Paul tells the Philippians that God has given them the faith to receive the salvation that God gives them as a gift to be able to be His people. And God has given all those who believe the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit as a gift, Who helps us to understand and remember and to do all that God has called us to do by the grace that He gives us – especially through the Word read and preached and the Sacraments.
Paul tells them it is work – hard work, laboring before God Who instills us with awe of His Holiness and Majesty – still we know He loves us and has made all these things able for us to do through Him, for His Glory, and for our everlasting joy in Him.
Are we striving after God, reading His Word, working with all that we have to become like Him – into the Image of His Son – as the Holy Spirit works in us to transform us? Are we giving everything we have to God for the advancement of His Gospel in thanks for what He has done to save us – and for all the promises yet to come that He has made to us?
Lest we say, “It’s too hard,” let us remember that God has gifted us with everything we need – including the indwelling of God Himself – to be able to accomplish all God has called us to do – all the works He has set out before each of us that we should do them.
G. K. Chesterton was right when he wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried” (G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/13211-the-christian-ideal-has-not-been-tried-and-found-wanting).
It’s hard, but it’s not too hard – when we consider the value of the Gospel. When we consider that it was hard for God to become a human being and suffer – even to death on the cross – for the sake of all those who would ever believe in Him. When we consider that God has gifted us and enabled us and indwelt us, so we are now able to refuse temptation and not sin, and to follow after all of God’s commands, and to continue in the transformation into the likeness of Christ that the Holy Spirit is working in us.
It is hard work, but God is working in and through us, that we would become like Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God.
Does it sound odd to your ears to say, “Jesus is my hero – I want to be like Him”? Whether the wording sounds odd to us or not, the truth is – becoming like Jesus is the goal we are called to – we cannot see God – we cannot dwell in the fullness of the Kingdom with God – unless we are like Him. But He has promised to make us like Him until and on that final day when the fullness of the Kingdom is ushered in.
As we work with everything we are – striving – and growing in our ability to be like Christ – by the Power of the Holy Spirit – God has given us men and women who – in ways that they are like Christ – we may look to as persons to imitate.
Paul already told the Philippians about himself and his Christ-like desire to see the Gospel advance above even whether he lived or died. And we have Christ Himself – living on the pages of Scripture for us to imitate. And we have those who are more mature than us in the faith – or more mature in some area of the faith – that we may imitate – as they have imitated Christ.
To that end, Paul presents two guys in this morning’s text – Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul did not write about them and what they were doing at this point in the text, merely to tell the Philippians about them, but to provide them – and us – with examples of two men who exhibited Christ-likeness in ways that we ought to emulate.
First, Paul writes about Timothy – a familiar Scriptural character to us: Timothy had, as a young person, professed faith in the God of the Bible and His salvation. He was one of Paul’s closest companions. He received Paul’s letters to Timothy continued in the Scripture, and he is mentioned throughout Paul’s writings.
Paul tells the Philippians:
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”
Paul tells them that he is going to send Timothy to them soon, if God is willing. Paul wants Timothy to be a help and an encouragement to them and to bring news of them to him sometime in the future when Timothy would journey back to Rome to see Paul again.
And Paul tells them that he doesn’t have anyone like Timothy with him – he is genuinely concerned about their welfare. Timothy cared about these Christians and their struggles and seeing that they get the help that they needed. Timothy loved them like family.
Now, Timothy wasn’t from Philippi. This wasn’t his church – these weren’t his people – his relatives. Why did he care so deeply about them?
Is it because Paul cared so much about them? That may have had some influence on him, but there is a greater reason – something we can look at and emulate – something we can look at and understand that he was acting like Jesus acts – he was being like Jesus – which is Who we should be like. He was genuinely concerned about them and desirous to help them, because they were fellow believers – they were brothers and sisters in Christ.
How much does Christ care? He came to earth and lived for us and died for us and rose for us and is coming back for us – do we love our fellow Christians genuinely – do with love our fellow Christians enough to give our lives for them if it was necessary for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we love and seek the welfare of the people in this church? Do we love and seek the welfare of other Christians? Do we pray for Christians around the world and seek out other ways we might help them in their desire to live like Christ and advance the Gospel to the whole Creation?
It’s hard, isn’t it? We’re busy people. We have our own lives. We have our own interests. It takes time to get to know people – especially if they are at another church or around the world. Who has time for that with so many good things on TV? Going from Rome to Philippi was about 750 miles – as the crow flies – across land and sea.
Are we able to remember times other Christians have reached out to us in genuine concern – caring for us and seeking to meet our needs? Not because we’re so wonderful, but because we are some of those Christ died to save.
Let us make the effort to know each other and other Christians and to genuinely care about them – like Jesus does. Like we ought to – as brothers and sisters and members of our Body – the Church. Let us each do something this week to show we really care about another Christian – and let’s keep being genuinely involved with each other and other Christians.
Paul tells the Philippians that they know Timothy – they know that he is like a son to Paul and worked side-by-side with Paul as co-servants of Jesus Christ – working together to advance the Gospel together. Timothy had proven his worth in his loyalty to Paul as a co-laborer in the advancement of the Gospel, and as someone who sought the interests of Christ above his own.
We need to have the mindset that asks ourselves, “What would Christ have us do – what would best advance the Gospel?” Not, “What would Jesus do?” – we are not Jesus, but what would He have us do. Because He is worthy of all obedience and glory, what ought we do?
Timothy is an example to us of someone who loved his brothers and sisters and sought the interests of Christ above his own. We ought to be people like that – like Jesus – Who loved us so much that He Incarnated, lived, died, and rose to make us right with God, and Who seeks the Will of the Father, first, even though it should mean a most horrific death to the Glory of the Father.
Paul tells the Philippians that he will send Timothy as soon as he finds out what the result of his preaching the Gospel to Caesar is, and he trusts, if it is the Will of God, he will join them soon as well.
The second person Paul raises up is Epaphroditus. We only know what Paul tells us about him in this letter:
“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, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 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. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
Epaphroditus was a native Philippian who had been sent to bring the church’s gift to Paul – which we will see more about later in the letter – and to bring greetings to Paul and to see how he is – that Epaphroditus might report back to the church in Philippi.
Paul describes Epaphroditus as a brother – a fellow Christian, a fellow worker – possibly a missionary – probably a pastor, a fellow solider – one who is advancing the Gospel “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12b, ESV), the messenger from the Philippians – the one they had sent to minister to Paul’s needs at this time.
Paul tells them that Epaphroditus was longing for them – which is another indication that he was their pastor. The pastor ought to long for his flock – love his flock – desire to see his flock grow in the Grace and Image of Jesus Christ. A pastor is a shepherd and ought not only to lead his flock in person, but spend time in prayer and preparation, growing, himself, in the likeness of Christ that he might lead his people well. A faithful pastor desires and longs for his people – for their prayers – for their advantage through the Gospel.
Also, a faithful pastor is distressed when his flock is distressed – as was the case with the Philippians about Epaphroditus, because word had gotten back to them that he was ill. And Paul confirms that he was ill – in fact, he almost died of his illness, which was received in his work for the church and Paul and the advancement of the Gospel.
It has been a blessing to me to be cared for by this church – most of you know about my health concerns, my being alone, and my desire to see us all faithfully obey Christ and grow in conformity to His Image. I pray for you and long to see you and see progress and growth in you. And I ask that you pray for me and my ministry and my conformity to the Image of Christ. If you love Jesus, you will love those pastors who are seeking to be faithful to Him, and you will pray for them – please pray for me. Pray that I, too, as well as you, will desire and value obedience to the Will of the Father and the advancement of the Gospel over life itself. Pray I will strive – as I pray you will strive – to be more like Jesus.
Paul loved Epaphroditus, and told the Philippians that God had mercy on Epaphroditus and him, because God granted him mercy and spared him from death by this illness, and God also spared Paul the great sorrow it would have been to lose his brother.
So, for the good of the church in Philippi – for the good of their hearts – that they should have their pastor back, safe and sound with them, that they might rejoice and give thanks to God for his return and for his restored health – for his ministry to Paul – Paul said he was going to send him back to them now – possibly he even carried the letter to the Philippians back with him to the church.
And Paul gives them instruction – not only how to receive Epaphroditus – but all pastors – all ministers of Word and Sacrament. Paul tells them to receive men who are called to the ministry with joy and with honor.
We ought to receive ministers – pastors – with joy when they bring the Word of God to us. What more joyful thing is there to have the Word of God delivered to us by a messenger that God has chosen for this purpose? God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Word of God and to live it out in obedience, and He has also given us faithful pastors to help us understand through the reading and preaching of the Word that we would live it out in obedience. We may be joyful in seeing and being with a specific pastor, but the greater joy is hearing him deliver the Word of God to us. Our joy is in hearing from God, and only secondarily from any man.
And we ought to receive faithful pastors with honor. And again, this is due to the fact that God has called them to preach God’s Word to us. The call to the ministry is a strict one – one for which all those who accept the call will receive a greater judgment.
Don’t misunderstand – ministers – pastors – are sinners, just like everyone else, but they have been given a heavier call in the sense that, if they are faithful, they are speaking for God.
Consider, if the President was to write us a letter, and he sent one of his officials to read the letter to us and greet us in his name, we would honor the message-bearer for the message he bears and for the person whom he represents. The messenger would – effectively – be speaking for the President – delivering his message. So, we would honor him as the one who brings the message from the President. We may know nothing more about him – but because he brings us word from the President, he is worthy of honor. The messenger ought to have a real humility about him, since the message is not his, but the President’s – the honor and joy he receives is due to the word he has to bring from the President.
The same is true of pastors – and all the more so, because their message, when faithfully delivered, is from God. And so, they should exhibit a Christ-like humility, knowing that it is not they that cause us to rejoice and honor them, per se, but the Word of God and the God of the Word, Who is behind the faithful pastor.
Paul continues by saying they should especially honor and rejoice in seeing Epaphroditus again because he almost died “complet[ing] what was lacking in [their] service to [Paul].”
Don’t think that Paul is insulting the Philippians! What this phrase means is that Epaphroditus completed the work that the Philippian church had promised Paul on their behalf because it was not feasible that they should all come to Rome to deliver their gift and to tend to his needs.
And so, we have the example of these two guys and how they were striving to live unto Christ-likeness: Timothy, a faithful pastor and comrade of Paul, who was genuinely concerned about his fellow Christians and sought to minister to them for the sake of the Gospel. And Epaphroditus, a faithful pastor, who came from the church in Philippi to minister to Paul and bring him a gift from the church and almost died, yet who thought the advancement of the Gospel worth more than his life, and yearned for the good of his flock.
Let us emulate people like this – seeking the advance of the Gospel as we minister to each other, genuinely caring for each other, working together that the One Salvation of Jesus Christ would be known, and let us advance the Gospel as we show our care for the pastors that God has given us for the sake that they are appointed by God to bring the Word of God to us.
And may we all continue to seek to be like Christ in His humility in all that God has given us to do, but especially in the advance of the Gospel to the whole Creation.
May God give us the grace to grow in these ways.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, it is hard for us to be so humble as to truly consider the needs of the whole Church and all Christians throughout the world. We ask that You would help us to love each other and seek each other’s good – to work together to proclaim Your Gospel. Help us to look out past ourselves at other Christians and truly care. Help us to see You in the lives of these two guys and other Christians that we would be inspired to strive to be more like You. Revive us, O Lord; may we be a joy to You. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.