Monday, April 25, 2016

To the glory of God the Father!

Paul did not know that his letters would later be divided into chapters.  Previously Paul talked about coming to the end of this life and being with Jesus and wanting that very much but that God has purposed him as an apostle with special work to do in this part of the world, and as far as Paul was concerned, he had more work to do.

He told this very special church that they too had work to do and that in so doing it, they might go through some suffering, but he charged them to stand together in whatever they faced.

Without missing a beat Paul begins this second chapter and issues what seem to be conditional statements but are truly indicative affirmations offered with a literary flair.  Consider them in the Good News Version with a little less flair.

 Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another.

He tells them that they are so close to making his joy complete—that is a continuation of his first chapter thoughts about these folks and the fact that they really get what it is to follow Jesus—that just sharing the same love and passion that Paul has for Christ with others will put some icing on this cake.

How can they do this?

Set aside all selfish ambition.  That should ring a bell with putting off the old self and putting on the new.  This line of though should sound very familiar.

Don’t give in to that cheap desire to boast in ourselves.  Be humble.

Be humble to the point that we regard others more than ourselves.

Whoa!  Hold your holy horses there Paul.  Regard others more than we regard ourselves?  Consider others better than ourselves?

Loving our neighbor as we love our self is tough enough.  This charge ranks right up there with Jesus telling us to love our enemies.  How can we do that?

Regard others more than we do ourselves makes for good seasoning now and then but as a main course, really, who can do that?

Here and there, maybe, but as a way of life, how can we regard, esteem others more than ourselves?
Really, how can anyone do that?  How can we do this consistently?

Paul answered the question that he knew would be on the minds of his readers.
 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In most of your Bibles, this passage is probably set apart or italicized or made to stand out in some way, sort of as if were from another scripture.  It is more likely that it is an early Christian hymn or poem or even a believers creed of some sorts.

It is also likely that it was composed by a Jew and not a Gentile as it has a definite chiastic structure.  This form puts the main thought of the poem or the song in the middle.
Note that these verses begin with Jesus in heaven with God, then not considering equality with God something to hold on to.  Next he humbled himself as a servant and as a human.  Next, and this is the center of the poemhe humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

In this single sentence we have the gospel in miniature—God’s love for us poured out at the cross.

Now we see the assent.  He is exalted.  At this name every knee will bow.  At his name every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and this will be to the glory of God.

This is a wonderful poem or song or whatever literary form it took in this first century and it contains some of the most abused words in these modern days.

How many times have you heard a Christian retort in some way, “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!”  We use it to retaliate when we think someone is blaspheming the Lord.

We use it to say, “God’s gonna get um.”

“One day, oh one day, you will be on your knees saying Jesus is Lord!”

You had better say it quickly or it is going to hurt and hurt a lot.  God is going to force this confession out of everyone.


Really?  That’s how it’s all going to manifest itself?
Jesus stepped down out of heaven and became flesh, lived and was tempted as a man, was tortured as a man, and died as a man—an excruciating death on a cross—just so his Father would later inflict so much pain that everyone everywhere would say the words, Jesus is Lord.

Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, he is King of kings and Lord of lords, and Dad still needs to strong-arm his creation to exact such praise?

The God who is not slow in coming but waits with patience so that all may come to salvation will suddenly set aside his everlasting love for a quick fix to hear that his Son is Lord? That might make for a great Shakespearean play, but hardly seems consistent with the God that has been revealed to us.
God will not be mocked.

How then would he arrange for forced confessions?
Why would he desire false gratitude?
Why would he manipulate our lips to say what he longs to hear from our hearts?

Many think, how else will every being everywhere—heaven, earth, and under the earth make such a profession?  Really, many have rejected God and Jesus; how could they utter these words except under duress? 

How could these universal professions be made without the brute force of God imposed on these unbelievers?

Just for a moment, consider the blindness that has taken over the world.  We have eyes to see but the world has been blinded by Satan and the gospel of truth is veiled to them.
But what would happen if this blindness was taken away?

What would happen if every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth that was blind could suddenly see?

What would happen if the truth was set before everyone and everyone had eyes to see?

Would they not drop to their knees and cry out, “Jesus is Lord!”

Would they not know that God got everything right from start to finish?

Would the love of God not be so overwhelming that all everyone could do would be to profess and confess and proclaim the love of God in these words:  JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!

Now at this point, eternal destinations may have already been settled.  I don’t know and I am not asking you to contemplate the soteriological aspects of this.

What I am asking you to do is to consider these verses in their entirety.  What we often do is leave off the very last part.  All of this—from stepping out of heaven to become a sacrifice for our sins to being at the right hand of the Father and especially at the profession that Jesus is Lord—will be to the glory of God!

Think on these words—to the glory of God—for they very much take us where Paul leads his readers.  Paul says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Work out salvation?
Fear and trembling?

I thought that salvation was a gift and perfect love casts out fear?  And you would be right to think that.

Paul is telling us to live out our salvation—this wonderful gift that only God could give—and do it as the most important thing we will ever do—to give it the gravity that it deserves.  Live out the rest of your life not worried about heaven and hell but focused on bringing glory to God.

For God is now working in us and we are living our God-given purpose.

Do you remember the words holy and blameless or pure and blameless?  They have come up a few times in Paul’s letters.

God made us this way now we are to live this way.  Our very lives are to bring glory to God.  That is in everything that we do.

In this dark world, our lives should stand out like the stars in the sky.  The world constantly complains about anything and everything.  We give thanks in all things and stick out like a sore thumb.

As we live out these days of salvation, many of which we will live here on this earth and in these bodies that we are wearing now, we are to bring glory to God.

How do we do that?  How about let your light shine before others so that others can see God’s glory in the good that you do.

How do we do that?  How about growing closer to God to the point that you live in Jesus and he lives in you so that you may ask anything in his name and it will be given.  I have been crucified with Christ.  Christ lives in me.  Put aside selfish ambition and vain conceit.  Let Christ live in us so we ask for the very things that God so loves to give.  That brings glory to God!

How about, bear some fruit?  Does the fruit that we bear in service to God not also bring him glory?

How about doing the work that we have been given just as Christ finished the work that he was given?  What work?  We don’t have to reach back too far to remember, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Let’s take Christ to the world for the rest of our lives.

What work?  How about the Great Commission:  Make disciples, baptize, teach—all done with the authority and the accompaniment of God through Jesus and the Spirit.

How about love that abounds in knowledge and insight and discernment so that we know how to live a pure and blameless people and produce the fruit of righteousness?  Yes, that should sound familiar as it came from the previous chapter.

How do we bring glory to God by living out our salvation?  We do it in the very words that we speak.  Peter reminds us to speak as if our every word were that of a prophet.  Speak as if every word matters, because it does.  Our language is considered, prayerful, and godly and it brings glory to God.

Our service is done in God’s strength, not our own.  God works in us and we live out his will through the purpose that he has given us and that brings glory to God.

The very purpose of humankind is to bring glory to God and enjoy him vey much.  We are to live out our salvation bringing glory to God in everything that we do, and we should enjoy this fantastic relationship that we have with God through his Son so, so much.

Paul tells his readers that his life is being poured out.  He is still running his race.  He is still taking Christ everywhere he goes and where he can’t go he sends friends and writes letters.

Paul explains what’s going on with Timothy and Epaphroditus.  Why?  Paul is not just mentor and teacher; he is family to these people that he writes.

We are family.  Theology and living out our salvation are very important but we never forget how connected we are with each other.

We are all running a race of faith and have a very personal relationship with God through Jesus knowing that God’s own Spirit is right here with us in this day and this time and in this crazy, sometimes dark world.  Our relationship with God is very personal, but it also calls us to connect with other believers.

Consider the people with whom you congregate to worship and serve the Lord.  We are connected.  We are commissioned to connect with those blinded by their unbelief.

How do we do this?

Oh how I wish it were through the crafting of words and sentences, properly referenced, grammatically succinct, and phonetically poetic.  Sometimes it is, but mostly what I write and speak is to those who already have eyes to see.

We minister to a blind world with light and truth.  We have eyes to see.  We are not blind.  We already profess that Jesus is Lord!

We know this to be the truth, but so much of the world is blind to this truth.  How do we reach them?

How do we live out our salvation by taking the gospel of light and peace and love and life to them?

By our language and our love and our discernment and by being a light in this very dark world.  We bring glory to God by living as the people that he made us to be—holy and blameless.

We take the model of Christ’s humility—this kenosis of setting aside his divinity to become human and even die for our sins when he could have remained at the side of the Father and simply condemned us in our sin.  We regard others more than ourselves.

We truly cannot do that, at least with any sincerity, unless we are living for God.  We cannot constantly live at this level of humbleness without God living within us and us living for him.  We too must empty ourselves—not of divinity as Christ did—but of selfish ambition and vain conceit.

For God through Christ has placed himself inside of us already.  Now we are to live out, work out, this divine life that we have been given.  Christ indeed lives within us.

We look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord not desiring retribution upon  the blind, but hoping—knowing it will happen before I see it—that the blindness will be lifted and truth will prevail.

That brings glory to God.

Those confessions and professions that Jesus Christ is Lord bring glory to God!  Everyone will speak them with their lips but they will come willing from every heart.

For those of us who have eyes to see today and know and have professed that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead, let us empty ourselves of everything that makes us feel like we are better than those who are blind. 

If we are to live according to God’s will and act according to his purpose, we must have the attitude of Christ Jesus--

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
     he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth
 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

To the glory of God the Father.


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