These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“Salvation” (last week) affirms our status and relationship with God through Jesus. But “sanctification” (this week) spells out the gradual changing process that takes place in us. As Paul says elsewhere, we “are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Salvation, or perhaps more correctly justification (peace with God) happens instantly when we hear and accept the good news of God’s love and acceptance of us. Sanctification is a lifelong process whereby we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), so that we become increasingly what we profess to be.
Paul makes it quite clear that despite his Damascus Road conversion and his joyous acceptance by the Lord, he has a long way to go to be perfect. He writes, “Not that I … am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own …” (v.12). he will continue to “pommel the body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others he should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Although he “knows whom he has believed” and though he has a “sure and certain hope”, he never presumes. Daily he seeks to improve and press on, lest he should fall away and be lost.
But none of this means that Paul is unsure or in doubt. He does not let past failures dog him. As he says, “forgetting what lies behind” he is “straining forward to what lies ahead” (v.13). Where he is at any moment of time is provisional. He must continue to be changed and to become more like his Lord and master, Jesus Christ.
This vision and goal truly energises Paul, and it will do the same for us. Settling down on our laurels will demotivate us. Like riding a bicycle we cannot stand still. We must forever go forwards and upwards. How wonderful to have such a worthwhile task in our life!
Thank you Lord that you accept me in my imperfect development. Inspire me to do better and be better. Amen.
Amidst all the social and ethical issues of seeking to be a person of faith we must not neglect the heart and soul of it all: Salvation. This ‘big’ word contains many strands which include salvation of a people (not just individuals) and salvation of the earth (nature). But it also definitely includes the salvation of the individual. Each one of us is able to know a personal blessing and deliverance from God.
Paul did not only speak in the first person plural, ‘we’, but also in the first person singular, ‘I’. Thus our text today reads, “… that I may gain Christ” (v.8). Whatever our future salvation contains it will not be the absorption or disappearance of the individual.
Paul’s personal salvation was so important to him that he described it as “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. This is why some people correctly affirm that God has no grandchildren; each of us needs to come into that saving knowledge of Christ Jesus for ourselves. As far as he was concerned everything else by comparison was “refuse” (v.8).
This is also why he was so furious when anybody had a message that effectively robbed people of their salvation in Christ. In today’s passage he refers to the ‘circumcision party’. These preachers would not allow faith in Christ alone to be the means of salvation; they had to make people into Jews (by circumcision) and impose Jewish rules and regulations upon them. Paul explained that he himself had tried to be saved/justified by those means. It simply had not worked!
Through his Damascus Road experience he had come to realise that the death and resurrection of God in Christ Jesus was the only means of salvation: forgiveness and new life – a gift. This same gospel is for us too. We cannot add to or make more secure our acceptance with the Father.
Thank you, Lord, for the great gift of salvation in Jesus. May my life be one of honouring and praising you. Amen.
No one should try to live the Christian life on his or her own. We are social creatures, and are designed to live with the encouragement and correction of others. This does not mean we all have to live in community! Many people are quite solitary by nature or can only cope with other people on a limited scale. However, to eschew all company is not healthy.
Other people bring a breath of reality into our lives. On our own we either become depressed or deludedly perfect. Other people enable us to see ourselves as others see us. This can be salutary and challenging. At other times friends can encourage and stimulate us. And this is what Epaphroditus was able to do.
Paul found it costly to send him back to Philippi. He had been sent by them to minister to Paul whilst in prison but in due course he himself was pining for ‘home’. Paul had been strengthened by his presence, but now it was time to release him and send him home. This was especially so because the young man had nearly died! We do not know how this came about, but it was a result of fulfilling his mission to Paul.
Helping others can be far more costly than we might imagine. But Epaphroditus was willing to go that extra mile. However, now he could go home; this would bring comfort to him and joy (v.28) to his home church in Philippi. We need one another. The Lord loves us and his Spirit strengthens us, but so often he works through other people. We should never be too pious or too proud to let others minister to us.
Similarly, is God prompting us to minister to someone? It may be costly, but it will be a privilege. As the Bible says: “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Thank you, Lord, for friends and for those who love me. May I also be a good friend to others. Amen.
How do we “hold fast the word of life” (v.16)? We don’t want to be tricked out of it or deceived. We don’t want to water it down. We don’t want to forget it. But most of all we don’t want to know it and yet fail to put it into practice.
Paul writes: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (v.12). This does not mean that we are responsible for saving ourselves! We cannot do that. Our salvation is a gift from our loving God. However, it does mean that we have to work out, what he has worked in. If he has given us his life, his word and his Spirit, then we are responsible for our response; we need to allow our lives to be transformed.
It is not usually ignorance that lies at the root of our lives, but disobedience and neglect. Ignorance will rob us of much that God wants to give us or warn us about. But disobedience “grieves” the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), or “quenches” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
If the Spirit of God within us is grieved or quenched, he withdraws and recedes. His heavenly influence becomes fainter and we succumb increasingly to our unreformed ‘old’ nature.
Paul believes that his time left on earth may be short, so he is concerned that his endeavours on behalf of the Philippians (and other churches) are not going to be ruined by the Christians under his oversight cooling off and falling in love with pleasure or money or any other distraction. So far they are doing well, but they need to be kept up to the mark; it is so easy to lose one’s first love (Revelation 2:4) and to let things slip; they need to hold fast.
Paul is a good and prayerful pastor who tries to pre-empt problems. We will find the Scriptures will have a similar caring and nurturing effect on us.
Lord, take from me a lukewarm heart and renew my passion, my zeal and all that I need to serve you. Amen.
“Have this mind … which you have in Christ Jesus” (2:5) RSV
This is a rich passage that can only receive scant treatment this week. Paul’s plea is that Christians live up to their high calling, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v.27). The result of doing so does not sound too tempting for it will involve “suffering (v.29) and “conflict” (v.30). But the fact is that it is the path trodden by Jesus Christ, and if we are to follow him then we cannot expect better treatment.
We are, in other words, to have the same “mind” or attitude as our Saviour. The word “mind” is used three times in this passage (2:2, 5). The Philippians are to have the “same mind” and “one mind” which they “have in Christ Jesus”. And what was that “mind”? It was, “To empty ourselves of all but love”.
Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross” (v.8). Jesus travelled from Heaven to Hell and back again. It was excruciatingly costly. But he did it out of love. No other motive could have paid the price. The temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness at the start of his ministry and in the Garden of Gethsemane at the end of his ministry show us the painful process of fighting the battle against the Evil which has this world by its throat.
Of course the sacrifice of Jesus (who was God in human form vv.6-8) was not the end of his story. Any sacrifice done out of love will have a happy ending. Jesus died, yes, but Jesus rose from the dead, “death could not hold him” (Acts 2:24). Jesus “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), endured the cross.
God is no man’s debtor. If we give to him and for him, then he will give to us. Eternal and everlasting life lies before us. Let us keep that strongly in mind, as did Christ; it will strengthen us in our time of trial.
May the mind of Christ my saviour live in me from day to day. And may I have the courage to live it out. Amen.