A life in Christ confidently proclaims the truth of God's Word.

Witness Well

How to face our future with eager expectation

The town’s 4th of July parade is marching its way down Main Street. The sirens are blaring, the drums are rolling, and the motorcycles are revving their engines. A young girl with a balloon in her hand is craning her neck to catch the first glimpse of the coming parade. The excitement in her eyes reveal the eager expectation of seeing prancing horses, dancing clowns and beautiful crowned princesses waving to the crowd.

Eager expectation.

These are the words that are used by a man sitting in prison expecting a trial that will undoubtedly rule against his favor. The prospect of death is only a sharp gavel sound away. Yet, we do not see a glimpse of dark depression in his words of what the future may behold, but a “craning of the neck” to catch an eager glimpse of what lies ahead. This is the attitude of the Apostle Paul. He knew with great assurance and confidence that whatever happened, whether by life or his death, God was going to be glorified. And to him, that’s all that mattered.

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:18-21) 

Paul’s greatest and most consuming passion is to glorify Christ. Nothing else mattered. Whatever happens to him will be for his deliverance or “will turn out victoriously for me.” Whether Paul lived or died, he was confident that God was going to be glorified. Note his response to these circumstances? He rejoiced! Paul was confident that the Holy Spirit was going to supply him with all that was necessary to glorify Christ. Jesus Christ was the formula and the pattern for his life. No matter what the circumstances may be, Paul was eagerly expecting or “craning his neck” with anticipation to see how the Lord was going to use Him to glorify His Savior.

An unknown future in the midst of difficult circumstances can be the severest test of faith. Who are you going to trust? Man, yourself or God? If the end result could be life or death as a result of your testimony, where would you place your confidence?

In Paul, we see a confidence that the Holy Spirit was going to use him. The courage Paul expresses comes as a result of knowing that nothing, not even death, would ever break the union he had in Christ. Despite the verdict at his upcoming trial, it was going to turn out victoriously for him — even if it meant his death. Jesus said, “Greater love has not one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” Christ’s love for all people was exhibited in his sacrificial death. Paul exhibits his sacrificial love for Christ by expressing his desire to glorify the Lord, no matter what the consequences may be.   

By trusting in Christ, especially in the midst of life’s difficulties, we can exhibit a powerful testimony to the world. With a spirit of confidence and eager expectation, we can tackle each day with a spirit of rejoicing.  For we know that the Lord has us in the palm of His hand, leading and guiding us according to His good purpose.

Comprehending the sobering reality of eternal hell

Sometimes a person will say, “I don’t mind going to hell because all of my friends are going there anyway.” Or, another person may state, “A loving God would never send anyone to hell.” The Bible makes is pretty clear that there is an eternal existence of hell and it’s someplace that you want to avoid at all costs.   

To begin to comprehend the reason or person behind the existence of hell, you have to keep in mind the definition of a perfect judge. For instance, if a judge looked the other way from the activities of a notorious gang, ignoring their crime and murder, would he or she be a good judge or a bad judge? In the minds of most citizens, this would be a good example of a bad judge. If he or she would be a good judge, then they would do everything possible to make sure that any guilty part would be justly punished. 

If God sees a man strangle to death a friend or loved one, do you think He should look the other way or bring that murderer to justice? It makes sense, that if God is good, He will do everything in his power to ensure justice is done. The Bible tells us that God will punish murderers and that place of punishment is called hell.

In fact, since God is perfect, He will also punish thieves, liars, adulterers, and blasphemers. He will even punish those who have had desires to murder, steal or commit adultery, but never took the opportunity. God even warns us that by hating someone, then we commit murder in our hearts. If we lust, we commit adultery in our hearts. And these are just a few examples. 

Many people have a hard time grasping the reality of hell. I have seen film images and read descriptions of hell as being a hedonistic, pleasure-filled place where a person can engage in all the sensual sins that are forbidden. However, Jesus says that hell is a place of torment where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched (Matthew 9:43-44). I can’t imagine the horror of being in agony with no hope of relief.

People have gone insane if they are merely isolated for a long time from other people. Imagine how terrible it would be if God withdrew all the things we hold so dear – friendship, love, color, light, peace, joy, laughter, and security.  Hell isn’t just a place with an absence of God’s blessings, it is punishment for sin. It is literal torment forever. All the biblical descriptions of hell clearly reveal a place that anybody would want to avoid at all costs.

For all these reasons, God wants us to know the law as written in the Bible.  He desires for us to be completely aware that we cannot, nor can we ever, measure up to God’s standards. Being good isn’t good enough. To be in the presence of a holy God, we need to be perfect. Anything less than perfect is cast out of God’s presence.

Since we are not perfect, God has supplied us with a substitute. That substitute is Jesus Christ, who took up our punishment on the cross. By believing in Jesus Christ, we receive the full forgiveness from God; are adopted as His children, and will live with him forever. Those who reject God’s grace receive the full brunt of the law without any pardon. That is the action of a good, loving and a perfectly just God.

Following Paul’s example in overcoming jealousy in the ministry

Jealousy, envy and rivalry routinely infect the consciousness of those serving in the full-time ministry. When a minister is observing success at another ministry and seeing very little fruit of his own, the pangs of guilt and hurt are real. Our human pride welcomes glory and attention associated with success.  When that glory seems to be focused elsewhere, it is tough for our human ambition to accept. We are prone to privately make excuses for another’s success or publicly shoot it down with cutting words, skepticism or other unfruitful responses. This was probably the case with a group of envious, competitive and selfish Christians who were preaching Christ at the time the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome. 

“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18a) 

A group of Christians who were preaching Christ out of a great love for what God has done for them. These same Christians could also see how God was using the Apostle Paul in amazing ways despite his circumstances. United together by the Holy Spirit, they were a team with a common goal of glorifying God and advancing his kingdom. Another group who were preaching Christ were not on the same team and had a different goal – to glorify themselves.   

Even though Paul must have been stung by these words and actions of envy and rivalry, Paul response reveals a mature and proper perspective — Christ was being preached. With a kingdom view in in mind, Paul could actually rejoice over their work despite his natural inclination to retaliate and club them over the head.

It’s hard to admit that our selfish motives creep into each of us. For most of us, personal recognition is important. There are times we want to shout from the mountaintop how important and meaningful we are to everybody so we can be properly acknowledged. The problem is that nobody typically listens. For this reason, we place our need for significance into the hands of Christ. When we concentrate solely on serving and glorifying him, our need for attention and glory diminishes. 

Jesus was teaching his disciples about accepting an invitation to attend a banquet. He advises them to not look for the seat of honor, but for the humblest seat in the room. If the host insists that you have a seat of honor, then you will be truly honored. If the Lord chooses to honor us according to his will, then a humble heart will use that opportunity to return all the honor and glory back to him.

Defining the hatred of God in contrast to his love

The familiar verse of John 3:16 pronounces God’s love for the world and how He exercises his love through His Son for our salvation. God is a God of love. The plan of sending Jesus to die for our sins is also an example of God’s hatred of sin.

“There is no contradiction in these statements [love and hate]. The difficulty arises when we wrongly assume that God hates in the same way men hate. Hatred in human beings is generally thought of in terms of strong emotional distaste or dislike for someone or something. However, in God, hate is a judicial act on the part of the righteous judge who separates the sinner from Himself.”   (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howell) 

The Psalms say that God hates all who do wrong and expresses his wrath every day. God is actively opposed to everything evil. His wrath remains on those who sin (John 3:36), because sin is contrary to and opposes his holy nature and will. For every sin a person commits, they are storing up God’s wrath for themselves that will eventually be revealed on the Day of Judgment [when Christ returns]. Our stubborn hearts are part of our human nature.  Every person is born with a heart and spirit that is anti-God. Every sin we commit separates us further from God, because God demands us to be holy in His presence, because He is holy. This is the only standard and God hates sin because it creates that chasm between Him and those He loves. 

Out of love, God gave us only one solution to escape His wrath and to be holy in His sight. By believing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, a person receives eternal life and escapes God’s wrath completely. Anyone who does not believe, disobeys God, and will not see life. That person remains under the wrath of God who is perfectly just in every way. The solution: Believe and live.  

The difference an infectious attitude makes on others

My father and mother-in-law were missionaries in Cameroon during the 1990’s when our children were very young. Communication between families was placed as a high premium. The power was typically out for long periods of time. Telephone service was both sketchy and expensive. And email was relatively new. Living in a foreign country, our grandparents wanted to keep informed on the welfare of their children and grandchildren. Due to the danger and afflictions of living in West Africa, children living in the states welcomed news of their health, welfare and work. 

With the same concern of a parent, the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to the church to not only encourage and instruct them in the faith, but also give updates them on his well-being. 

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”  (Phil. 1:12-14) 

It would be easy for us to grumble and complain in Paul’s circumstances. Many of us can’t imagine being in chains for long periods of time. Yet, we see Paul respond to his difficult circumstances with an attitude of enthusiasm and joy. He does not see his imprisonment as a burden or barrier, but a unique opportunity to be a servant for the Lord. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Paul trusts that his imprisonment was advancing the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ even though there may have been days when it certainly didn’t seem that way to him. 

We notice that Paul’s attitude was capturing the attention of a most unlikely group — the palace guards and everyone else who is in contact with him. His attitude captured the attention of the palace guard and they became interested in his case and in his message. The guards realized he had not committed any crime, yet Paul did not seem bitter about his circumstances. His response to life was effectively bending the ears of those around him. The palace guards were dropping their own guard and were intently listening to this new message of grace and truth. Paul’s presence and attitude was also affecting the Christian believers in Rome. They were being inspired by Paul to confess their faith and proclaim the gospel more boldly.   

When difficult circumstances arrive in our lives, and they will, we have the opportunity to respond like Paul. By trusting God with a confidence that the Lord knows what He is doing, we will be used in ways that we cannot fully comprehend nor fathom. We turn over the responsibility of our future into the Lord’s hands while fully giving ourselves over to the tasks that our presented before us, no matter how humble or small it may be at the time.

A life in Christ is never status quo

An aspect of the Christian life is that one can never be status quo. Our faith is either growing or it is dying. Like a vegetable garden in a dry climate, a person must daily provide water or the garden will quickly wilt and eventually die in the hot sun. Our faith life is the same way. We must take the time to water our spiritual garden or it will not be nourished.

The Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church is for members to grow in faith.   

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11) 

The evidence of a healthy garden is found in the fruits of faith. The fruit of love grows in “knowledge” by recognizing how true love can only come from God. Notice how mature fruit trees grow the most fruit, plus they tend to be more appealing and delicious than the fruit of an immature or dying tree. The same could be said for a person who has mature faith that is firmly rooted in Christ. A person who loves, yet is without “insight” or “discernment”, may show great enthusiasm but will not show much perception to make mature spiritual judgments. A person growing in faith and love is more able to make better decisions regarding their lives. This includes making God pleasing choices and guarding themselves against false teachings or world philosophies.

How many times have you seen celebrities our popular athletes profess their faith in Christ but make lousy choices in life? How often do we see ministry make bad moral decisions? They not only ruin their confession, but also the confessions of thousands of other Christians. In my experience, I have had many people object to Christianity because of well-publicized immoral actions of other Christians. For this reason, Paul prays for the saints to have discernment and depth of insight in their love. Not only is it a demonstration of God’s love for others, but people are also closely watching. People demand to see fruits of faith.

On the “day of Christ” (his return), the true character of everyone’s heart will be revealed. In the meantime, the fruits of our lives today will reveal our hearts to others. A mature tree will be filled with the fruit of God-honoring lives filled with the insight and knowledge that the Lord is the true source of our fruit and the focus of all glory and praise.

When you feel like you are being benched by God

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.

How the Apostle Paul identifies the marks of a healthy church

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.