The Secret of Contentment (Philippians 4:1–23)

If the athlete wants to plaster Philippians 4:13 on their person or proclaim it during an interview, let him then speak of having learned to accept both defeat and victory with joy and peace and contentment in Christ. Let him speak of being strengthened to play in his prime with humility and also strengthened to fade from the spotlight with dignity. If he does so, then I might think that he’s actually read a few verses other than 4:13.

Philippians 4:13 unveils the “secret” of Philippians 4:12. The secret Paul speaks of is not one for “success” but contentment in the face of success or failure, a promotion or the loss of a job, life or death, sickness or health. The secret of this verse isn’t how you can achieve your goals. It is how you may accept with heavenly poise God’s holy, wise, and good providence wether it stings or is sweet. The strength Paul speaks of is grace to receive whatever comes your way as a heavenly citizen living worthy of the gospel of Christ.

The Greek word for “contentment” here,  all by itself, suggests the pagan Stoic notion of self-sufficiency and independence. But the word is not by itself. Paul flips its natural meaning upside down. Paul’s contentment is independent from states of either abundance or need, but it is not independent. It is Christ-dependent. Paul finds contentment through Christ in Christ.

Lloyd-Jones, preaching on theses verses said, “It is a statement that is characterized at one and the same time by a sense of triumph and humility. Paul sounds at first as if he is boasting, and yet, when you look at this statement again, you find that it is one of the most glorious and striking tributes that he has ever paid anywhere to his Lord and Master.” But too many, when they quote this verse, are boasting. It is all triumph with no humility. It is the same stoic notion found in Henley’s Invictus.

“Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

No, Paul says, “Christ is the master of my life. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ is the captain of my soul. I am sure that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This is the secret of contentment: finding joy in Christ through Christ; Christ-dependence certain of Christ-sufficiency; desperately needed grace and utterly certain grace; recognizing a need as vast as the ocean and knowing there is a supply as vast as the cosmos. Forget Henley. Sing with Wesley instead.

Thou hidden source of calm repose,
Thou all sufficient love divine,
My help and refuge from my foes,
Secure I am if Thou art mine;
And lo! from sin, and grief, and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name.

Thy mighty name salvation is,
And keeps my happy soul above.
Comfort it brings, and power, and peace,
And joy, and everlasting love.
To me, with Thy great name, are given
Pardon, and holiness and heaven.

Jesus, my all in all Thou art;
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain;
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown;
In shame my glory and my crown.

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power;
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour;
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my all-in-all.

Picking Out Mirrors (Philippians 3:17–21)

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” —Philippians 3:17

It is said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and while this may be said in an innocent and even a good way, the fuller quote speaks to the fuller reality. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and he continued, “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That comes off the tongue a bit more sharply and grates on the ears. You sense the arrogance; yet it is a game the masses play along with.

The imitation that this world knows isn’t simply flattery; it is idolatry. We worship the gods, hoping to become one, or a demigod at least. We act as gods, desiring such “flattery.” Image is valued over integrity; coolness over character. Such is the imitation of this world. In contrast, Christian imitation, imitation as it is meant to be, is worship. This is because Christian imitation is an intentional imitation of imitators.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, emphasis mine). We don’t imitate others so that others will want to imitate us. At least we shouldn’t do it for that reason. Sometime we do play the Pharisee, playing pious for self promotion, but in our best moments we imitate imitators because we want to look like the Jesus they want to look like. Christian imitation isn’t about idolatry committed and desired. It is about worship and sanctification.

All the imitations of this world, are cheap imitations. We were created in the image of God to image forth God. We were created as mirrors. We were created imitators. Imitation is. Because of sin, the image of God is marred. Man, in the words of Augustine, is “homo incurvatus in se,” that is, “curved in on himself.” Man has created gods in his own image and he is becoming like them—deaf, dumb, and dead.

But the saints have been renewed in Christ and are being conformed to His image as we imitate our elder Brother. A critical and commanded way in which this happens is by looking to those who imitate Him. Look to Jesus and look to those who are looking to Jesus.

Wilde was on to something; Imitation is a high form of worship that sinners pay to Greatness. The difference is that Jesus stoops to conform us to His glorious image and the saints would never dare to try to usurp or outshine their Savior. We want to be like Jesus, and we will be, but we would never dream of trying to be Jesus. Our goal is not to idolized in hope of becoming an idol, but to imitate as an act of worship. We are mirrors, and when it is Jesus who is reflected, no one is talking about the mirror, and this is just as we want it. So when you’re picking out a mirror, pick one that neither impresses you with the mirror nor yourself. Pick one that helps you look like Jesus.

An All Encompassing Adverb for the All Encompassing Verbs (Philippians 2:14–18)

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing…” —Philippians 2:14

This is now the third encompassing command we come to in Philippians, but whereas the first two were like verbs, this one is like an adverb. Let me splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The first encompassing command opens the body of the letter: “live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27, my translation). Every other command in this letter falls under this one. It is encompassing. The second approaches the Christian life in general from another direction. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). The whole of the Christian life is encapsulated in both of these commands. They are encompassing as verbs; all you are to be doing as a saint is summed up in them.

But the third encompassing command functions like an adverb. The first two tell you what to do. This command tells you how to do it. How are you to live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ? By not grumbling or disputing. How are you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Again, by not grumbling or disputing.

One thing this adverb-command does is show just how encompassing the first two encompassing commands are. Sometimes we try to compartmentalize the Christian life, discipleship, and piety, as though they were part of our lives. But here Paul calls on the Philippians to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (emphasis mine). Working out your salvation means doing all things without grumbling or disputing. Living worthy of the gospel means doing all things without grumbling or disputing. All things. The adverb tells you that the verbs involve everything.

For those who have died with Christ and risen to newness of life, the Christian life is the only kind of life they are to live. Discipleship, following Christ, is to be all encompassing. Your life doesn’t have bins. To live is Christ. Prior to Christ, your living was death. Now you live, and all that living is to be a living worthy of the gospel, working out your salvation, doing all things without grumbling or disputing.

Grumbling is contrary to the gospel. Disputing is a failure of discipleship. If you want the fuller splanation, listen below.

The Glorious Danger of Being Caught Up into Christology (Philippians 2:5–8)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).

All of Scripture is God’s holy, authoritative, inspired, inerrant word, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, but with Philippians 2:5–11, we come to a most holy place. Like Moses with the burning bush, one feels they stumble onto it. We thought we were simply walking along, then suddenly we are confronted with God manifest on earth. Perhaps, rather than saying we stumble onto it, we should say we get caught up into it. That’s exactly what Paul appears to have done, He does so frequently in his letters. It is as though at the mention of Jesus Christ and His humility, Paul gets carried up. He doesn’t get carried away. He gets carried up. It is one thing to be distracted  by chasing rabbits. Those are unnecessary endeavors. It is another to be distracted by chasing a unicorn. Remaining focused on a lesser thing when confronted with transcendent glory is no virtue.

This is the locus classicus, the definitive text of Christology in the Scriptures, and we don’t come to it directly. Paul doesn’t take up the subject matter of Christology. He stumbles onto it, and then He gets caught up into it. Paul is writing to the Philippians about unity and humility and suddenly, we are caught up with Him into the mystery of the God-man.

This is the glorious danger that all true discussions of Christian ethics and discipleship are liable to. One should always feel they are on the verge of tripping into the Trinity or being caught up into Christology. It is a danger one should readily welcome and plunge into. If our discussions of discipleship avoid this glorious danger, they fail. They fail to be an expression of our living as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ, the gospel of the God-man (Philippians 1:27). 

While we cannot replicate the gospel, we should imitate it. We cannot live the gospel, but we should live gospel-shaped lives. The gospel not only provides a river of life, it shapes the banks in which that river is meant to flow. Pondering the mysteries of the incarnation of our Lord, the hypostatic union, Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, is not simply as practical as church unity, it is essential to it.

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 realize 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.

Obedience School (Jeremiah 35:1–19)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the LORD. The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me” (Jeremiah 35:13–16).

We live in an age where a child spouting a four-letter word is not so much regarded as disobedience as obedience is regarded as a four-letter word. When I say the “o” word, what sort of image pops into your noggin? Whatever the image, is it more along the lines of an ugly tyrant demanding obedience, or a beautiful child offering obedience? I’d venture that the collective moral imagination of society today leans heavily toward thinking of “obedience” as something the villain demands. The heroine of the story is the one who defies authority to live freely. Disney much?

True, there are tyrants to be defied; but how often is the authority an outright tyrant? How rarely is obedience to a good authority praised? Our age may believe it has progressed a great deal so that stories of “courageous disobedience” are delighted in, but the plot is an ancient one. It repeats the very lie told to our mother in the garden. We have been dying, literally dying to believe it ever since.

dachshund-672780_1280.jpgC.S. Lewis, in his preface for Milton’s Paradise Lost, wrote, “Everything except God has some natural superior; everything except unformed matter has some natural inferior. The goodness, happiness, and dignity of every being consists in obeying its natural superior and ruling its natural inferiors.” Our goodness, happiness, and dignity are to be found in obedience. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” The answer, “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.” That answer is not only true, it is good and beautiful.

When God says, “Places everyone!” we should not only know our place, we should know that our place is the best place for us to be. We believe it is a good thing that the sun keeps its course, but when it comes to our own course, we’d like to think we know better. We don’t want to know our place, we want to make it. We don’t want to be a stage hand, we want to own the stage. We don’t want to shine the spotlight, we want to be in it.

Of course a fish cannot be happy on land, but, surely man must be happier outside the ethical orbit he was made to live in. Man is evolving. This is why one man thinks he will be happier if he were a woman. With this, what man is saying is that he would be happier if he were God and God were man. He would rather make God in His image than be made in the image of God. The former seems so freeing; the latter constraining. When a child doesn’t obey their parents, they demonstrate that they’d really rather not have parents. They’d like big people who coddle them and commend them, but not command them. One reason children do this to their parents is that their parents model it before them—this is how mom and dad relate to God. The parent planets cannot get out of orbit without carrying their little moons into an irregular orbit with them. Yet, because the parents think they are god, they can’t imagine why little Timmy would behave as though he were. The only real solution is for everyone to assume their places as told and delight in them.

God planted man in a garden of delight, and if man would have obeyed, he would have stayed. As a result of disobedience, man was driven from the garden to live out his days on this cursed crust. It is this cosmic story that is played out in microcosm with Judah.

The story of the Rechabites recalibrates our consciences according to truth so that we see obedience for the virtue that it is. If the Rechabites obeyed a fallible earthly father, should we not listen to our infallible heavenly Lord? Jonadab spoke and died. Our Lord lives and speaks. Jonadab offered a probability of wisdom should they obey. The Lord speaks sure and certain promises should we obey.

But rather than obey God, whose law is true and whose promises are sure, we turn to do our shopping from shady pop-ups making lifetime guarantees but which only deliver fall-apart knockoffs made in China. We not only ignore God’s commands, we ignore His promises. Or, perhaps we think we can disregard his commands and still gain the promises. Worse yet, like Eve, we think we can get even more than God has promised by disobedience. How foolish of us to trust the hiss of the serpent and disbelieve the roar of the Lion. It is God we should fear and God we should trust. 

Obedience is true, because He is true. Obedience is good, because He is good. Obedience is beautiful, because He is beautiful.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 35:1–19 || Listen And Obey || Josh King

The Don: If You Only Go for Second, You Lose the Game

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“Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand rediscovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.

Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got the pottage in return for his birthright (Genesis 25), then Esau was a lucky exception. You cant get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, ‘What things are first?’ is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.

It is impossible, in this context, not to inquire what our own civilisation has been putting first for the last thirty years. And the answer is plain. It has been putting itself first. To preserve civilisation has been the great aim; the collapse of civilisation, the great bugbear. Peace, a high standard of life, hygiene, transport, science and amusement—all these, which are what we usually mean by civilisation, have been our ends. It will be replied that our concern for civilisation is very natural and very necessary at a time when civilisation is so imperilled. But how if the shoe is on the other foot—how if civilisation has been imperilled precisely by the fact that we have all made civilisation our summum bonum? Perhaps it can’t be preserved in that way. Perhaps civilisation will never be safe until we care for something else more than we care for it.” —C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 655

On Avoiding the Starboard Side by Jumping off the Port Side (Galatians 5:13–15)

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“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. …For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” —Galatians 5:1, 13

In standing firm and not submitting we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that defending the north side of the fort is the same thing as defending the fort. What is most important is the freedom stood in, not the legalism stood against. If you make standing firm against legalism on the north your only concern, you’ll be blindsided out of the south by libertinism.

In standing firm against legalism, it is easy to fall backward into libertinism or antinomianism—(anti: against; nomos: the law). Luther colorfully said, “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can’t help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil’s.” The world is doomed to fall off one side or the other. The saints can be taught to ride. They can learn to run well and walk by the Spirit down the straight and narrow. Even so, we, the saints, never keep it perfectly between the lines and it is easy to drift. Our ears must be tuned to the Word so that we hear the warning rattle of the rumble strip as we’re making our way to the ditch.

The danger stands not only on both sides, but within. The flesh wants to drift from the center of gospel freedom. Likely, you recognize your steering has an alignment issue towards the left or the right. Which son are you? The older brother or the prodigal? The legalist or the libertine? It’s good that you’re aware of your bent, but you must also beware of the danger of overcorrecting. It is in this letter, containing Paul’s sharpest rebuke of legalism, that we find this warning concerning antinomianism. The recovering legalist shouldn’t reason from grace to sin. “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:10).

Jumping off the starboard side is not a good way to prevent falling off the port side. If standing firm against legalism is your sole concern, you’ll fall off the other side. The point of standing firm isn’t simply to avoid falling off of one side of the boat. Our chief concern shouldn’t be what we are standing firm against, but what we are standing firm in.

We are standing in the gospel, in freedom, to by the Spirit, unto God and in obedience to Him, love our neighbor. Stand firm. Do not submit. You’re free! Use that freedom to by the Spirit, love your neighbor for the glory of Christ.

Free Spirit vs. Freedom of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1–6)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” —Galatians 5:1

If justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the central doctrine of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, why is it hailed as the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty? Because as 5:1 demonstrates, justification by faith is bound to freedom as an attempt at justification by works is bound to slavery. Here we have the central commands of this letter: “stand firm” and “do not submit.” These are really one command. Standing firm is not submitting; not submitting is standing firm. This imperative flows from this gospel indicative, “for freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ, in whom we have this freedom, is laid hold of through faith; the Christ grasped through faith is our righteousness.

What is freedom? Certainly it is freedom from something. It is freedom from the law’s demands (3:23), the law’s curse (3:10), sin (3:22), and the elemental spirits of this world (4:3–9). We are freed from these things, but what are we freed to? Is our freedom only negative?

What is freedom? Consider this, one of the most famous works of Jonathan Edwards is his treatise The Freedom of the Will. One of the most famous of Martin Luther is The Bondage of the Will. What might surprise some is how harmonious the two are. It is all a question of what is meant by freedom. Luther, ever the blunt one, says that the will is in bondage to sin (i.e. John 8:34, Romans 6:17). Edwards, in his more sophisticated style, first says that the will freely does whatever it wants. The problem is, the only thing fallen man want’s to do is sin. Fallen man freely does as he wants, but his want-to is enslaved to sin. So, as Calvin says, to insist that such a will is “free” is to use a big word for a small thing.

What Edwards demonstrates is that being free to do whatever I want to do isn’t truly freedom. Yet, this is exactly what our modern, individualistic connotation of freedom is. As fallen a man, being free to do whatever you want is bondage to self—a self who is a damned fool. As a fish is free in water, so we are free when we bow to the Sovereign who is life, goodness, beauty, and truth. When a creature tries to play creator and cast off God’s Lordship, he embraces death, evil, ugliness, and lies. He embraces bondage. Bondage willingly embraced is the worst kind of bondage. The soul might be free when the wrists are shacked, but, though the wrists are unshackled, they are not free if the soul is chained.

So again, what is freedom? At its core is the redemption of Christ purchasing us unto Himself, so that we are counted righteous in Him, reconciled to God, and adopted as sons with all the benefits and promises thereof. But central to this freedom as Paul now wants to work it out is life in the Spirit. When Paul began laying down his defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in chapter 3 he asked, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul will bring this full circle in 5:16–18.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

What beautiful irony: walking by your own desires is bondage whereas walking by the Spirit is freedom. In the former we are under the law and break it. In the latter, we are free from the law and keep it. What is this life in the Spirit? It is living unto God by God. It is living as a creature in love and dependence on the Creator. It is not a life that strives for justification. It is a life that stems from justification.