There must have been times when the Apostle Paul asked, “So, Lord, remind me again. Why am I here in prison? Why am I not out in the world sharing the message of Christ with others?” He must have felt that he was benched by the Coach – his gifts and talents forgotten. It would have been easy to pout, be frustrated and give up. But this was not the case with Paul. He remembered his time of preparation in the desert (Gal. 1:17-18) before embarking on his work for the Lord. He knew there would be times of trial, difficulties, even suffering.
Even though imprisoned, Paul’s heart-attitude was one of thankfulness and a confidence that his time and his talents were not being wasted. Paul used his time to write letters of encouragement and instruction to churches he started – including the church in Philippi.
“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:7-8)
Can you see the affection Paul has for the church? Like a father whose children have all grown up, Paul expresses affection to those whose faith was birthed in Philippi. My four children are growing up. As a father, I will want to express my affection and encourage them to grow and mature in the faith. What joy there will be to see my children become strong Christian adults and active in a church. We see these same feelings from Paul toward the Christians in Philippi.
Notice Paul compares his affection to that of Jesus Christ. The gospels regularly reveal Jesus’ affection for all people who came in contact with him. The Greek word used in the Bible for affection surprisingly means “bowels” or “inward parts.” This may not sound particularly attractive, but this was a common term used to express feelings from within the deepest part of a person’s emotions. According to the Greeks, our inwards parts contain all of our emotions. So, Paul is saying, “I care for you from my deepest bowels.” I think my children would die of embarrassment if I ever expressed my affections this way in public.
The Apostle Paul demonstrates a special affection and fond memories for the young church in Philippi. Many times, he may have recalled the amazing conversion stories that helped launch the congregation. He ponders all the good reports he has been receiving and the number of times the church provided for his needs during his imprisonment in Rome. With a heart overflowing with love, he pours out words of thanksgiving to the Lord this special church.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:3-6)
It is essential for a missionary to have partners in the work of their ministry. They need people to support them through their prayers, financial gifts, and in some cases, to serve with him in the difficult work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. A missionary will always remember with joy those who had supported his work. From this letter, we can see that the church in Philippi is a living and active church that is very involved as a partner in Paul’s ministry.
A church can only be effective in reaching out to its community when there is a sense of partnership among its members. A healthy church will worship, pray and study God’s Word together. They will consider each other as important members in the body of Christ. They will mutually encourage one another and are helpful in all aspects of the ministry. There is a measure of joy in their work and will readily accept opportunities to serve. A healthy church will welcome the spiritual gifts and the willingness of young adults to serve along side them. It is vitally important for young believers to become a part of a healthy congregation and feel they are part of the ministry.
Paul, who is never afraid to use bold words, is “confident” that the Philippians will continue to be partners with him and serve the Lord until that “day of salvation” when Christ returns. Paul was not confident in their ability, nor does he have self-confidence in his own tenacity and commitment. He was confident that they were going to fully rely on the Holy Spirit to persevere and be loyal servants until the end.
Characteristics of Great Missionaries
God likes to use the most unlikely of people to achieve his greatest purposes.
The Apostle Paul was once a passionate, fiery young man. He was probably considered “the most likely to succeed” among his peers. His zeal and intelligence promised a great future in the echelons of Jewish hierarchy.
He earnestly sought to make his mark for the church by becoming a notorious persecutor of the early Christian church. His unsuspecting raids and imprisonment of believers caused great fear and trepidation. In God’s eyes, Saul was the ideal candidate for a very important job. He made an offer the young man couldn’t refuse.
By miraculously appearing before Saul on one of his journeys to combat treachery and treason, the Lord Jesus Christ dramatically redirected Saul’s life and his passion. Saul became the Apostle Paul and his life and our world would never be the same.
His new passion and zeal was spreading the message of the resurrected Christ to all people. Instead of power and prestige found in the upper priesthood of Judaism, Paul would find sacrifice and suffering being God’s faithful servant. Miraculous escapes, sickness, fierce storms, shipwrecks and beatings would make a Paul a weathered man bound and preserved by the hand of God.
Those who fearlessly follow God and His ways share common characteristics found in the great missionaries throughout history. They are stubborn, cause headaches for those in authority (especially mission boards), and will bend or even ignore rules that may be considered obstacles to expanding God’s kingdom.
Great missionaries could be considered as rebellious teenagers at heart. Their undeniable passion and fearlessness to place themselves at the center of God’s will, no matter what the cost, have a way of finding themselves in trouble.
The Apostle Paul, who is considered the greatest missionary in the history of the church, was often in trouble. Wherever he went, he encountered the wrath of religious authorities who strictly adhered to rules and traditions. Unfounded accusations against Paul incited riots and deflected the message of Christ’s fulfillment of all rules and laws.
Though people intended to destroy Paul, God will use his difficult circumstances for a much greater purpose – to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
How to be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman
Many standards are offered by the world on how to be the perfect woman. They include television, movies, magazines, books, billboards, even a husband’s desire. Another standard presented is even more difficult than what the world offers. It is found in Proverbs 31 of the Bible. Many women cringe to the standard presented. Read just some of her attributes:
“Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.”
“Works with eager hands”
“She gets up while it is still dark and provides food for her family”“She sets about her work vigorously, her arms are strong”
“She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”
“She is clothed with strength and dignity”
“Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her”
Talk about depressing. Women are dealing with enough guilt already. Why pile it on even more? I think many women would agree that a man must have written this proverb.
When basking in the gloom of not measuring up to a certain standard, I am reminded of the purpose behind such passages. We look in the mirror and see failure in our efforts to meet our own standards, but also the standards placed by others (family, media, etc..). Then, we are confronted by the standard set by God. He desires for us to be perfect. To be perfect is the only way to receive God’s stamp of approval. The message God desires for us to know is that we need to stop trying to measure up to a worldly or a self-imposed standard. God’s standard is tough enough! But, fix our eyes on the only way we can achieve that standard and that is through faith in Christ.
Faith means surrendering our self, confessing that we fall way short of God’s standard and that we need His help. Through our weakness, faith receives the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ dwells in us and we are perfect. How can that be possible? Because this is what Christ did for us on the cross. He became our substitute and through His life in place of ours, we are perfect. The removal of self allows the fruit of the Spirit to pour forth. We become a new creation. We begin to respond to life, to people and to difficult circumstances with peace, patience, joy, gentleness and self-control.
So, to all those woman who groan at the words written in Proverbs 31, I have a encouragement for you. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are perfect. Not because of who you are, or what you are doing, but what Christ has done for you. With this confidence and assurance of God’s promises, we can begin to experience the fruit of a surrendered life.
Overcoming the Fear of Witnessing Christ part 2
When the thought of witnessing Christ to others, we have a tendency to shrink back in fear. We easily succumb to our sinful flesh. To combat fear, we are given a solution in God’s Word. One of those solutions is to exercise our faith.
The Apostle Paul encourages us to “work out our salvation” (Phil. 2:11) by also stating in verse 13, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
One of the glories of the Gospel is the new relationship we have with God through Christ. We no longer fear, based on what we have done or not done (sin), but we love and trust, based on what God has done for us. We are forgiven. We are perfect and acceptable children in his sight.
Our new relationship with God overcomes the bondage caused by the chains of fear.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).” The perfect love we receive from Christ drives out all fear (1 John 4:18). So, when God expresses his desire in Scripture for us to carry out a task like witnessing, our new response in Christ is not one of fear or reluctant obedience, but an attitude of the heart based on love for our Savior.
When we are carrying out God’s purpose of sharing the true gospel of salvation; when we are regularly exercising our salvation with “fear and trembling”, there becomes within us a singleness of purpose in response to God’s grace. This is the Holy Spirit working in us. With God’s purpose in our heart and soul, there becomes a sense of adventure and a greater meaning in our lives. Not only is God being glorified by our words and actions, but the Holy Spirit transforms us into a new person and an effective messenger of grace.
There is power in the message
In my years of being a cross-cultural missionary, I am recognizing something more the Lord provides for us. Not only does God provide the message and the willingness to serve, but the Lord also gives us unique opportunities to be His witnesses. The Apostle Paul realized this truth when he recognized how doors were being opened by God’s hand to share the Gospel (1 Cor. 16:9). Paul also says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5) This verse suggests a correlation between taking advantage of opportunities the Lord gives us and creating opportunities through our words and actions. With a spirit of adventure and new-founded purpose, we “go” out into the world. We interact with “outsiders” and allow the Lord to give us those unique opportunities to witness. Together, with the Holy Spirit, we deliver the Good News with confidence that the Word works and the Lord has prepared those hearts in advance.
Even though it is God who gives us the message and the opportunities, I still wish it were much easier. I wish that every time I shared the gospel the person would respond positively. I wish I didn’t get discouraged so easily. The Apostle Paul knew that God was the cause of all miracles of faith. His confidence rested on the simple, yet powerful message of Christ’s death and resurrection, not on himself.
Sharing God’s Word is not natural for any of us. It is quite unnatural. Like riding a bike for the first time, we are a bit shaky at first. Yet, over time, riding a bike becomes quite natural and something we never forget. With full knowledge and assurance that we have been chosen to be God’s instruments in carrying out his message, we respond with love, thanksgiving and a sense of willingness to be used by God. The Lord takes our willingness and provides opportunities specifically designed for us. A faithful servant has the confidence in knowing that God will provide everything we need to carry out His work. He provides the talent (however big or small), the message, the opportunities, and even the courage. Faithfulness becomes far more important than accomplishment, for the Lord is in control of results.
Continue to study God’s Word. Go and establish relationships of trust with unbelievers. Pray for opportunities to share God’s Word and be prepared to speak the truth in love with the sincere hope and trust you have in Jesus. At just the right time, at just the right place, God will use you. God is Immanuel. He is with us. His Word always works even though we may never see the results.