The Doctor: They Were what They Were

Commenting on Ephesians 1:1

“I am emphasizing this because it seems to me that it is the primary need of the Christian Church at the present time to realise exactly what it means to be a Christian. How was it that the early Christians, who were but a handful of people, had such a profound impact on the pagan world in which they lived? It was because they were what they were. It was not their organization, it was the quality of their life, it was the power they possessed because they were truly Christian. That is how Christianity conquered the ancient world, and I am more and more convinced that it is the only way in which Christianity can truly influence the modern world. The lack of influence of the Christian Church in the world at large today is in my opinion due to one thing only, namely, (God forgive us!) that we are so unlike the description of the Christians that we find in the New Testament. If therefore we are concerned about the state of the Church, if we have a burden for men and women who are outside the Church, and who in their misery and wretchedness are hurtling themselves to destruction, the first thing we have to do is to examine ourselves, and to discover how closely we conform to this pattern and description.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 24

The “Only” Command (Philippians 1:27a)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” —Philippians 1:27

When introducing a friend to some great man he completely ignorant of, there’s only so much an introduction can do. Philippians 1:27 is a great verse. Alas, this will only be an introduction. We will only deal with the word “only.” But let’s first consider the context in which this light introduction is made.

Philippians 1:27 opens the body of the letter which runs until 4:3. What Paul opens with isn’t unique. What is unique is its placing. It isn’t odd to find a sink in the house, but it is peculiar to find one in the foyer. Paul’s standard MO is doctrine first, then application; truth then commands. With Paul, the theological always undergirds the ethical. Even here, the difference is simply that the theological is assumed. There are no major controversies at Philippi at this time. Paul’s letter has been initiated by their gift. This helps us to understand a bit why Paul opens with a command, but why this command?

I can only think of two likely answers, and we get to them both through that little word “only.” This “only” might be the most significant word in the letter. What is meant by this “only”? The two angles can be seen in two translations that do a bit more interpreting at this point than they do translating. The Christian Standard has “just one thing” while the NIV has “whatever happens.” In the former we see “only” understood as emphatic, while “whatever happens” recalls what Paul has been and will repeatedly tell them concerning his visiting them.

Let’s take up the latter first. Paul is confident, though not absolutely certain, that he will be released and then come to see them (vv. 19, 25–26). Should he not, he wants them to obey this command so that he may hear that they are standing firm without fear.

This leads us naturally to the second intent of “only.” If Paul is not absolutely certain that he will be released, don’t you know this “only” is also emphatic? There is a primacy to this command. Paul opens with this first because it is first. With this “only” Paul not only says “whatever happens” but also “whatever else!” Matthew Harmon says this verse provides the thesis for the body of this letter. I believe we can go further still. This verse provides the thesis for the Christian life.

In a sense you only need this “only” command. Jesus said the great commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart soul and mind. The second is like to it: to love our neighbor as ourselves. The command we have in verse 27 is really just another way of stating the same great all encompassing commands of loving God first and neighbor second.

I hope that if you’re unfamiliar with Philippians 1:27, that now, having been introduced, you’ll sense something of his greatness and want to converse and learn as much of him as you can.

The Doctor: The Gospel Viewed from Above

“Another way in which the peculiar characteristic of this great Epistle can be stated is that it is a letter in which the Apostle looks at the Christian salvation from the vantage point of the ‘heavenly places’. In all his Epistles he expounds and explains the way of salvation; he deals with particular doctrines, and with arguments or controversies that had arisen in the churches. But the peculiar feature and characteristic of the Epistle to the Ephesians is that here the Apostle seems to be, as he puts it himself, in ‘the heavenly paces’, and he is looking down at the great panorama of salvation and redemption from that particular aspect. The result is that in Epistle there is very little controversy; and that is so because his great concern here was to give to the Ephesians and others to whom the letter is addressed, a panoramic view of this wondrous and glorious work of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Luther says of the Epistle to the Romans that it is ‘the most important document in the New Testament, the gospel in its purest expression’, and in many ways I agree that there is no purer, plainer statement of the gospel than in the Epistle to the Romans. Accepting that as true I would venture to add that if the Epistle to the Romans is the purest expression of the gospel, the Epistle to the Ephesians is the sublimest and the most majestic expression of it. Here the standpoint is a wider one, a larger one. There are statements and passages in this Epistle which really baffle description. The great Apostle piles epithet upon epithet, adjective upon adjective, and still he cannot express himself adequately. There are passages in this first chapter, and others in the third chapter, especially towards its end, where the Apostle is carried out above and beyond himself, and loses and abandons himself in a great outburst of worship and praise and thanksgiving. I repeat, therefore, that there is nothing more sublime in the whole range of Scripture than this Epstle to the Ephesians.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 11, 12

For the Love of the Name (Philippians 1:12–18a)

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15–18).

In many areas of life there are two kinds of fans. It could concern literature, film, music, but let’s take baseball as our example. The first type is the more common. He enjoys the game, but he loves his team. The second, the more rare, enjoys a team, but he loves the game. He is the true baseball fan. It is baseball itself that he is a fan of. And of course there are those who just come for the hot dogs, but that is another matter.

As to the fans, here is how you might distinguish the two. When the game is over, even if it was an amazing game, the more common fan will always walk away devastated if his team lost. Something of his identity is linked with that specific team. He loves his team in a sense more than he does the game. In contrast, the second type, though he wishes his team to have won, will walk away talking about how great a game it was.

Simply because man takes up holy things doesn’t act as a forcefield against such vices. We see the same thing in the church. I’m afraid it is more common to find Christians, who quite often, what they get really excited about is their team and not the game. Their team might be the flavor of music, a particular ministry, a preacher, or even a solid theological persuasion. Your team can be a good team, the team that should win, but God have mercy on us so that it is the game itself that we most love. God have mercy on us such that it matters not if we’re watching amateurs who play just to play, or professionals who are only in it for glory and money—still we can rejoice, simply because it is the game we love.

For Paul, it is far less concerning for an insincere man to preach the true gospel, than for a sincere man to preach a false gospel. The truth of the message is more important than the sincerity of the messenger. Because Christ is preached, Paul rejoices. 

If Christ is preached, let us rejoice. When Christ is preached at Falls Creek, at an Arminian seeker-sensitive Church, or by some hipster topical-sermon preaching pop-culture pastor, rejoice! There may be much that bothers us, there may be much to legitimately critique and express concern about, to point out how the very gospel preached is outshone or subverted by other things, but inasmuch as the gospel is preached, let us rejoice. Or can you only rejoice when it is your team? When it is a reformed church? When it is through a ministry like Ligonier rather than Lifeway?

Opposite the “holy club” from which Wesley and Whitefield came, their later arose what were called “hell fire clubs” to mock and obstruct the revival. At one tavern, among such a group, a Mr. Thorpe rose to outdo his fellows in mimicking George Whitefield, or “Dr. Squintum” as they called him because of malady that is something like a lazy eye. He began by reading Luke 13:3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But as he continued mocking Whitefield’s preaching of the gospel, he was converted and later became a minister.

I’m not advocating that we rejoice when the gospel is so ridiculed, but this should make it clear why, when the gospel is preached, we can rejoice in that. Why can we rejoice whenever the gospel is preached, regardless of who preaches it? Because, as Paul told the Romans, it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. However man may try to use the Son to make themselves shine, they will always be overshadowed. Attempt to use Jesus as your spotlight, and you’ll find Him so bright, all eyes will be on Him.

The Don: Revere the Surgeon

“The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. 

Either way, we’re for it. 

What do people mean when they say ‘I’m not afraid of God because I know He Is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?” —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (HarperOne, 2001) pp. 5, 6.

Tipping the Scales with Balance (Philippians 1:3–11)

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

If you want the scale of your life to be heavy on thankfulness, you shouldn’t think that petitions burden the scale on the opposite side. When we notice that our prayer life is fat on request and slim on thanks, we can easily become the guy who chases down his steroids with protein shakes and hits the gym twice every day. Sure, he’s bulked up, but that ain’t healthy. What thankfulness is to contentment, we shouldn’t think petition is to discontent. You can’t fix thanklessness with petition-lessness.

In Paul’s prayer not only are thanksgiving and petition mingled, they’re rooted in the same soil. So rather than being puzzled at this odd connection, we must realize that they are unstable compounds when isolated. These two go together like sodium and chloride. They also separate like them. Thankfulness, all alone, is very well as corrosive as chlorine. If your prayers only communicate contentment and no longing, perhaps it’s that you’re at home in this world and merely blessing God for it. We readily note the danger of prayers full nothing but petition. Thing is, if we try to correct it by beefing up on thanksgiving, we’ll find we’ve carried over the same root problem. Both the glutton and the body builder can have the same root sin. What we’re after is wholeness and balance. Perhaps then we should label one side of the scale “holiness” and the other “sinfulness.” If you want the scale tipped towards holiness, you need balance in your life. Not a balance between things such as godliness and ungodliness of course, but a balance of things that both go together on the holiness side of the scale, things like godly thankfulness and godly petition.

Rather than thanksgiving or petition rooted in self, what we need are thanksgiving and petition rooted in the gospel of Christ. What Paul gives thanks for is, upon examination, what Paul petitions for. Paul’s joyful gratitude is rooted in the good work God has done in the Philippians and the gospel partnership that is the result. His petition for them to abound in love with knowledge is essentially a prayer that God will continue to do this good work, a good work Paul has already said he is certain of.

When you want to tip the scales with thankfulness, what you need isn’t less sodium and more chloride. What you need is more salt. Look to Christ. Anchor your prayers in the gospel. Then you will see reasons not only to give thanks; you will long for more.

The Don: Where Is God?

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will be come. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

…Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

…Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent—non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?” —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (HarperOne, 2001) pp. 5, 6.

A Word to the Saints about a Word for the Saints (Philippians 1:1–2)

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1–2).

When believers read that Paul wrote Philippians to “all the saints” it is critical that they realize that they are all—everyone of them reading the letter—saints. The saints are not an elite task force within the church. Every one of God’s elect children is enlisted with this basic rank. The saints are simply those positionally sanctified, that is, those who have been set apart from this world unto God. The saints then are not a select group within the church, they are the church—the assembly of God, a group distinct from this world.

Paul in his greeting also refers to “overseers,” also known as elders or pastors (cf. Titus 1:5–7). “Overseers” is also a word largely alien to church speak today. Too often we are more adept at speaking Christianese than we are Biblese. The consequences of this I’m afraid are often dire. In the instance of overseers/elders, believers can fail often make the connection to pastors. For instance, they never reason, “The church at Philippi had overseers, plural. Why then does my church have only one?” It’s like a person only knowing “cow” and failing to realize that all this talk about Herefords is talk about cows. When we turn to the word “saint,” the problem hits closer to home. If cows were so cognizant, it would be like a cow failing to realize it was a Hereford.

“Saints” is Paul’s most common way of addressing believers. Over sixty times the New Testament speaks of God’s beloved in this way. When you survey older Christian literature—the early church fathers, the reformers, the puritans, even an author as recent as B.B. Warfield—you’ll find this address quite common. We would do well to recover it. If you think it odd, remember, it wasn’t as if the world addressed their letters in this way. It was a uniquely Christian thing to do. If you avoid using it to be less awkward, well, that is very un-saintly. So be a saint, and refer to those who are saints as saints.

And this gets to why we should be so zealous to use the word, not to make much of us, but to make much of Christ. Outside of Christ we are ain’ts. We ain’t holy. We ain’t good. But in Christ we are righteous. In Christ we are holy. In Christ we are children of God. In Christ we are heirs. In Christ we are partakers of the promises. On and on we could go. Every blessing of salvation we enjoy, we enjoy in Christ. This is why John Murray would write, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” So can you see why it is that if you are in Christ, you are so set apart from this world. Why it is that you are so saintly? So dearest saints, make much of Jesus by addressing one another not only as “saints,” but also, sometimes go ahead and tease it out further, and address each other  as “saints in Christ Jesus.”

“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).

The Don: Submitting to God’s Gifts

“I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings. I know it sounds fantastic; but think it over. It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good. Do you know what I mean? On every level of our life—in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experience—we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and depreciating all other occasions by comparison. But these other occasions, I now suspect, are often full of their own new blessing, if only we would lay ourselves open to it. God shows us a new facet of the glory, and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one. And of course we don’t get that. You can’t, at the twentieth reading, get again the experience of reading Lycidas for the first time. But what you do get can be in its own way as good.” ——C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (Harcourt, 1992), p. 26

Leaving the Door Cracked Open (Jeremiah 52)

“Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

…And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived.” —Jeremiah 52:1–3, 31–34

Chapter 52 of Jeremiah is an editorial epilogue, a compiler’s coda, a historical appendix, a postscript. The final words of Jeremiah 51, “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah,” should assure you of the authorship of all that has preceded, but what are we to make of chapter 52? Where did this stuff come from? Most of the material, almost verbatim, is drawn from 2 Kings 24:18–25:21, 27–30.

When Scripture borrows from Scripture, we may be confused, but we shouldn’t be utterly confounded. If you want to know who added this postscript, well, perhaps it was Baruch. But really the best answer is the same as to who wrote 2 Kings. Not that they are necessarily the same person, but the answer is the same. Who wrote this coda? We don’t know.

The far more important question is not who the author is, but what was the author’s intent. C.S. Lewis lamented that the literary criticism of his day took a turn from focusing on the literature to the author. To find out what an author meant, you must read the author, not his book, so they say. The critic acts as a detective tracing the sources of inspiration, or as a psychologist unearthing desires and motives. Lewis demonstrated how, in his case, the critics were almost always wrong. 

So instead of puzzling uselessly over who wrote this epilogue, let’s ask why it was attached? What does the author mean to communicate? What does God mean to say to us? I believe the answer is plain and harmonizes beautifully with the message of Jeremiah—God is good on His word. Or to borrow from Jeremiah chapter 1, God indeed watched over His word to perform it.

So while most of this chapter looks back, to see God’s word of judgment vindicated, it also looks forward, anticipating God’s word of redemption as true. The vessels that have been taken (52:18–19), will one day be restored (27:21-22). The people who were deported (52:28–30), are the good figs that Yahweh will plant in the land (24:4–7). And with Jehoiachin’s release (52:31–34), hope is kindled that indeed a righteous branch will spring up for David (33:14–17). 

As the book of Jeremiah closes, know that God didn’t completely shut the door on His children to leave them in darkness. He left the door cracked. And the Son was shining bright on the other side.