When opportunities come knocking on our door it always seems to be the wrong place and the wrong time to share God’s Word. Timing is important, but maybe we analyze and discern the receptivity of one’s heart too much before sharing the message of the gospel.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Jesus seems to be using a familiar parable among the disciples regarding the message of urgency and applying it to witnessing opportunities.
So often, a person may appear to us as not being interested in going to church or hearing the message of Jesus. Easily discouraged by appearance, we withhold our invitation for others to come to visit our church or share the message of salvation. Jesus is encouraging all of us to open our eyes of faith and trust that the harvest is indeed ripe and ready to be reaped. All we need is to have the courage and sense of urgency to follow through.
We can go to the Lord and pray, “Lord Jesus, forgive me for the numerous excuses I come up with to procrastinate in sharing Your love and good news with those You have put in my life. When You place me in those circumstances, those windows of opportunity, help me seize the moment instead of thinking, “Next time.” Open my eyes to the harvest, Lord. Amen.”
A soldier going into battle recognizes the importance of having an effective weapon. In confronting the enemy, a poorly equipped solider will have little chance of victory.
For Christians, what weapon are you using to confront the world?
A Christian goes into battle every time an opportunity comes to share the message of the gospel. The weapon we choose will make all the difference. The Bible says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God….”
Christians must understand that when placed in a position to share God’s Word against stubborn unbelief, it is not entirely a battle of reason. It is an assault to demolish a stronghold of the devil. We must enter the battle with the right weapon to be effective – and that is the Word of God. Our own strength or ability will not be enough.
Equipped with the sword of the Holy Spirit, we are able to effectively slice consciences mired in prideful attitudes opposing itself to Christ. In doing so, we also unleash ourselves from the strands of our own inadequacies that restrain us from sharing the truth.
We can go to the Lord and pray, “Jesus, what an encouragement it is to know that as I share my faith with others, I have such a powerful weapon in Your Word. Sometimes it feels like I’m going up against a mighty stronghold. Help me to persevere and to remember the weapons that I have on my side. Thank You for Your encouragement. Amen.”
You are living on your own for the first time. Perhaps that first year in college is a little rough. That imperceptive bug called homesickness can plague the best of people. Though we long to be away from the nest, enjoying newfound freedom, we are surprised to find ourselves longing for the familiarity of home. Epaphroditus knew exactly how that felt.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he mentions a young man by the name of Epaphroditus. He was sent by the church to give Paul encouraging messages and financial support. However, we read that Paul was sending this young man back sooner than expected. There seems to be a combination of being homesick and suffering from an illness while helping Paul in Rome. To relieve Paul’s anxiety, a decision is made to send Epaphroditus back home — perhaps even carrying this very letter.
“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” (Philippians 2:25-30)
We get a glimpse of Paul and his love for others when he encourages the church in Philippi to welcome him back “in the Lord” with great joy and honor. It would not be surprising if Ephaphroditus was somewhat sheepish about coming home early. He may have had glorious dreams of being a champion helper for the beloved Paul, before sickness and longing for home overcame him.
We find out that Paul was encouraged by his presence in Rome and the generosity of the church to send him there. He asks the congregation to honor Epaphroditus upon his return in an appropriate way, so God receives the glory for all that is accomplished in his kingdom. He wanted this young man to be welcomed as a hero, and not feel bad in any way for coming home early.
Even though we may feel like failures, the love Paul expresses the same love God expresses to all of us. He picks us up when we are down. He uses us despite our inadequacies. No matter if we are young in age, young in the faith, or even a mature adult stricken by illness or age, we are welcomed with great joy and honor by a heavenly host that rejoice in our willingness to serve. We are useful. And our Lord takes great pleasure in expressing our worth.
The psalms in the Bible expresses our soul. It sings both during the good times when our spirits soar and during difficult times when we look for God in the depths of our uncertainty. Our faith is an ongoing song that longs to be heard.
We read in Psalm 96, “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. … proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”
Faith is singing our song even though we may not feel like it. There are days when the melody just doesn’t seem right. Yet, we are to proclaim His message, declare His glory, and share about His marvelous deeds to the world day after day. How do we keep our faith fresh and strong, and not be redundant or mechanical? How do we consistently proclaim His marvelous deeds?
Notice the verse says we are to sing a new song. A song based on the good news of the gospel, the all-important message of salvation, is renewed every day. It is not a song based on feelings, but one that rests on God’s promises and his completed work on the cross. It is the only song that can completely refresh us, flowing from a thankful heart basking in God’s grace and mercy.
We can pray:
“Lord, I thank You for music and songs. I thank You especially for the song of faith You have placed in my heart. As I sing this song in my daily life, may it not only be pleasing to You, but may it reach the ears of many people. Amen.”
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we see his genuine care and concern toward these young believers in Christ. There was evidently a strong bond that still existed.
Notice how Paul took the time in his letter to let them know of his health and well-being, plus give an update about his pending trial in Rome. He was hoping that the trial would take place soon and that the news would be good. However, Paul was placing the entire matter into God’s hands. The Lord knew what was best for him and for the congregation in Philippi.
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Philippians 2:19-24)
Paul had decided to send Timothy, whom the church was already familiar with, to Philippi for he “had no else like him”. Paul seemed to have considered others, but they were probably spiritually immature or unqualified. He comments sadly, “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
There seemed to be a lack of total commitment to Christ and his cause even among some of the apostle’s coworkers in Rome. Some were unwilling to make real, personal sacrifices for Christ and his kingdom. Paul was obviously disappointed in them. They wanted to be known as servants of Christ, but they refused to put Christ’s work before their own interests.
A real commitment to Christ means a willingness to place the welfare of God’s kingdom before our own personal pleasures, dreams and desires.
The apostle Peter wrote, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19) We commit ourselves to the Lord despite difficult circumstances, outside pressures, or anything else that may be deemed impossible. We “set before” (commit to) the Lord our lives as one who commits someone or something valuable for safekeeping.
For instance, when a parent commits a child to another adult to care for, there must be a high degree of trust. If I were to commit a valuable jewel or an important document into your hands, I must be able to trust you. The same Greek word is used when Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Paul and Barnabas committed disciples unto the Lord for safekeeping (Acts 14:23). We obey the Lord and His gentle leading and commit our lives, our dreams, and our plans into His hands.
Even though Timothy was a young man, he was spiritually mature. He had “proven” his faithfulness and reliability. The Greek word used here means to put someone to the test for the purpose of obtaining approval. Paul uses this same word in Romans 5:3b-4 when he writes, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Timothy has suffered for the gospel and has not only “proved” himself by his character, but has also been strengthened in his character as a result of those experiences. He shared in Paul’s total commitment to Jesus and the preaching of the gospel.
When we band together with other brothers and sisters in Christ, there a common bond forged by the Holy Spirit that simply strengthens our own faith and commitment. This was the same type of relationship between Paul and Timothy. In fact, Paul compares their relationship as a father working with his son. Committed Christians have a way of finding each other.
An amazing adventure always awaits those who band together with like-minded individuals.
We finally notice in this section that Paul expresses confidence that he will be released soon. Tradition tells us that Paul was released after writing this letter and served several more years in the ministry. Paul was an ambitious and goal-oriented person. This has always been his personality. In other letters, we see him sharing his dreams and goals to visit churches, even the prospect of going to Spain.
Paul also expresses supreme confidence in the Lord. If it was the Lord’s will for him to continue his work, he had total confidence that it will be accomplished through him. I believe this is why the Lord created us to be goal-oriented. Dreams, visions and purpose are what drives us to accomplish things in life. However, we can be easily side-tracked by strictly adhering to our own agenda without seeking the Lord’s will.
We see Paul was purpose-driven, but he was also flexible. He recognized that God may have other plans for his life and he would rejoice in whatever plan or circumstance that is placed before him.
Let us follow Paul’s example and be totally committed to God — to His ways, His purpose and His plans for our lives. By doing so, an amazing adventure awaits that far exceeds any other dream or desire.
When we share the message of the gospel, we hope and pray for an immediate conversion. We conjure up in our minds a wonderful scenario of a person, perhaps a loved one, joyfully receiving salvation and life everlasting. When those golden opportunities to share God’s Word are rejected, we go away disheartened and disappointed. Perhaps we even blame ourselves that may lead us to be reluctant to ever share again.
The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
The fruit of patience is seen in a person who has the power to exercise revenge or retaliation, but instead uses restraint. Affirming His desire to extend a time of grace to make room for all people to come and receive salvation by faith, our Lord is patient.
We, too, can be patient, trusting in God’s Word to work in hearts according to His timetable. Coming to faith is typically a process. God uses our words and actions to further the process along. In the meantime, we exercise patience – recognizing that ultimately, coming to faith is the Lord’s work, not our own.
Armed with this understanding, we can go to the Lord and pray;
“God, what love and patience You have – wanting everyone to come to repentance! Help me stay grafted into You so that Your love and patience may flow through me also. As I bank on Your promises, let Your fruit be evident in me as I share You with others. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.”
Christians are called on to do things that do not come naturally to us.
When presented with opportunities to display our love for Christ through our words or actions, our natural tendency is to grumble, complain or come up with excuses. Like an out of shape athlete, we groan and complain when our coach tells us to work out more or to run an extra lap.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life – in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” Philippians 2:14-18
The Lord does not want us to “argue” or “complain” like the Israelites constantly did in the desert. Their grumbling brought grief to God and He ended up punishing them as a result. Grumbling is really rebelling against what God wants Christians to do. A grudging obedience ends up being no obedience at all.
God does not want us second-guess Him or think about how we might escape our responsibilities as Christians. It really becomes an attitude of the heart. The Lord lovingly corrects our heart-attitude if it needs to be made. And sometimes, He allows us to go through a process of difficult circumstances to grow in our faith and trust. This is why the Bible teaches that the Lord disciplines those he loves.
Although the process of being disciplined can be very painful, there is a reason for it. When we accept our circumstances, knowing God has placed us here for a specific reason and purpose, we can rid ourselves of complaining and arguing. This is a process that allows us to be “pure and blameless” in a crooked and depraved world.
What does it mean to become blameless and pure?
To be blameless is to be without fault— a high moral standard. To be pure means to be innocent or simple. The Greek word for simple could be used to describe “pure water” or “unalloyed metals.” In order for water or a metal to be pure, it must go through a process. We remember that Paul’s purpose for this letter is not only for them to develop and mature in the faith, but also to be a witness to unbelievers.
What does it mean to be children of God, without fault?
The Greek word used for ‘without fault’ was sometimes used as a tombstone inscription describing the character of young child who had died prematurely without the stain of life. We are all children of God by faith. In the same sense, we will die as children “without fault” despite the ugly stains of this world. Through Christ, we are considered pure and blameless before God.
What about the metaphor of a person shining like a star?
The contrast between believers and unbelievers should be like daylight and darkness. In the days of old, a navigator of a ship could look out into the starry night to guide their ship. The stars shined so brightly in the dark sky that you could not miss them. The world ought to navigate their course to God by the shining example of Christian believers.
Have you ever noticed that when you live in the city, it’s very difficult to see the stars at night. Only when you are away from the competing lights of a city can you see how brightly the stars shine. In the same way, Christians need to be “set apart” or “made holy” from the city lights in order for people to see how brightly our lights are shining.
What do you call a person who has the leading role in a movie? What do you call an athlete who is the best player on the field? Typically we call them a movie star or a sports star. People love to follow their celebrities and be associated with them. They go to their movies and listen to their songs. They watch them on TV and buy their jerseys. God is asking us to be His star. He wants us to stand out in a crowd by being different. Like any star, people will notice you and want to be like you. Through Christ, we can shine our faith like a flashlight as we hold out the word of life. Our light will allow people to see the right path God has set before them and not stumble into sin and unbelief. This light we “hold out” to others is the “word of life” or the gospel message.
Is Paul’s boasting an appropriate Christian response?
Paul boasts not out of pride on what he has accomplished, but what God has accomplished through him.
On Judgment Day, “the day of Christ”, Paul will finally be able to glory in the fact that all his labors in Philippi had not been wasted. Like a coach who has trained is young athletes to run for the prize, there will be a sense of elation when the athletes he trained receive the crown of glory. Like a father who sees all of his adult children remain strong in the faith and become mature Christians, there will be a cause of boasting in what Christ has done.
Paul’s sacrifice was worth it
A drink offering was part of the daily sacrifices the Israelites performed to share in their devotion to the Lord. Animals would be sacrificed and wine would be poured on top of the sacrifice. All his life, Paul has sacrificed his life for the purpose of the gospel. Now, writing in prison, he recognizes that his life may come to an end. His life would be poured out like a drink offering on top of the sacrificial service of the Phillippian church.
Paul regarded believers’ lives of obedience to the gospel as living sacrifices to the Lord. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).” At this prospect, Paul rejoices and encourages the church to rejoice with him.
As a result of what Christ has done for us, Paul wants all believers to continue in the faith and carry out God’s purpose for each of our lives.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Paul was a powerful spiritual leader. As a result of his absence, Christians were beginning to stray in their commitment. Aware of this dilemma, Paul wants them to be even more concerned and alert about their spiritual well-being.
Like a father expressing concern when any of his children go off to college, he knows they will no longer be in his presence or under his charge. He knows the temptation will be to exercise their new freedom. Like Paul, a father will want to encourage his children to be concerned of their spiritual life in a new and challenging environment.
What does it mean to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”?
It’s hard to work on something that’s already been done. It’s like washing dishes after they have gone through the dishwasher or changing the oil after coming home from Jiffy-Lube. What’s the point? It’s already been done!
This verse does not tell us to work in order to earn our salvation, but to work out and get in shape. By doing so, we mature and develop spiritual muscles to overcome the challenges and temptations of life. When we consider the consequences of losing our faith, there is an element of “fear and trembling.”
The Apostle Paul urges us to train as if we are preparing to compete in the Olympics (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Training takes time and self-discipline. We read in 2 Peter 1:5, “make every effort to add to your faith.” Why? Because this is the process or means the Lord has given us to persevere, grow, and mature in the faith. This process keeps us “from being ineffective and unproductive” (2 Peter 1:8) in carrying out God’s purpose for our lives.
Remember, you have been chosen to be on God’s team. This is a privilege and an honor. Work, train, and prepare to play well.
What is God’s greatest purpose is for our lives?
To glorify Him. This is the reason why we were created. The problem is that we can’t glorify God on our own. By faith in Christ, we receive forgiveness of our sins and in turn, glorify God.
If God’s primary purpose for our lives is to glorify him and we can only accomplish that through faith, then what would be a primary goal in life?
To share the message of salvation with others so they, in turn, can glorify God. When we are working out our salvation “with fear and trembling” and carrying out God’s purpose in life, there becomes within us a sense of adventure and a greater meaning in our lives.
A commentator once wrote, “When the glorification of God becomes the highest human ambition, there you will find man at his best.” Not only is God glorified because we are “salt” and “light”, but something happens within us that transforms us to becoming a new person and a fervent messenger of grace.