Tuesday, February 26, 2008

All things work together for good?

Dan Wallace with an excellent post on Romans 8.28.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The 'heavies' post on 'Love for Truth'

Tired of being outdone, I've brought in a few friends of my own to blog on Love for Truth. I may not have the likes of Robert Thomson contributing, but I'll enlist the best I've got! So William Barclay, Warren Wiersbe, Gordon Fee, Markus Bockmuehl, and N.T. Wright, go to it! [Of course, this is all meant in fun. Seriously.]

William Barclay on Philippians 1.12-18
Paul was a prisoner but so far from his imprisonment ending his missionary activity it actually expanded it for himself and for others. In fact, the bonds destroyed the barriers. The word Paul uses for the advancement of the gospel is a vivid word. It is prokopÄ“; the word which is specially used for the progress of an army or an expedition. It is the noun from the verb prokoptein, which means to cut down in advance. It is the verb which is used for cutting away the trees and he undergrowth, and removing the barriers which would hinder the progress of an army. Paul’s imprisonment, so far from shutting the door, opened the door to new spheres of work and activity, into which he would never otherwise have penetrated.

His imprisonment had opened the way for preaching the gospel to the finest regiment in the Roman army. No wonder he declared that his imprisonment had actually been for the furtherance of the gospel. All the Praetorian Guard knew why Paul was in prison; many of them were touched for Christ; and the very sight of this gave to the brethren at Philippi fresh courage to preach the gospel and to witness for Christ.

Paul’s bonds had removed the barriers and given him access to the flower of the Roman army, and his bonds had been the medicine of courage to the brethren at Philippi.

There is a lesson for us here. Paul knew nothing of personal jealousy or of personal resentment. So long as Jesus Christ was preached, he did not care who received the credit and the prestige. He did not care what other preachers said about him, or how unfriendly they were to him, or how contemptuous they were of him, or how they tried to steal a march upon him. All that mattered was that Christ was preached. All too often we resent it when someone else gains a prominence or a credit which we do not. All too often we regard a man as an enemy because he has expressed some criticism of us or of our methods. All too often we think a man can do no good because he does not do things in our way. All too often the intellectuals have no truck with the evangelicals, and the evangelicals impugn the faith of the intellectuals. All too often those who believe in the evangelism of education have no use for the evangelism of decision, and those who practise the evangelism of decision have no use for those who feel that some other approach will have more lasting effects. Paul is the great example. He lifted the matter beyond all personalities; all that mattered was that Christ was preached. (The letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians)

Gordon Fee on Philippians 1.12-18
Quoting J.L. Houlden:
In getting himself put in prison, in Rome above all, he has acted the Trojan horse, entering into the very heart of the Gentile world to which Christ had dispatched him as an apostle.
Short quotes:
…and his lordship over Caesar is already making itself felt through the penetration of the gospel into the heart of Roman political life. Here is one [Paul] for whom the gospel is bigger than his personal role in making it known.
Application of the passage:

It would be easy to dismiss this passage (vv. 12-18) as Paul's simply putting the best possible face on a bad situation. But that would be to miss too much. Paul can write things like this because, first, his theology is in good order. He has learned by the grace of God to see everything from the divine perspective. This is not wishful thinking but deep conviction--that God has worked out his own divine intentions through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that by his Spirit he is carrying them out in the world through the church, and therefore through both Paul and others. It is not that Paul is too heavenly minded to be in touch with reality or that he sees things through rose-tinted glasses. Rather, he sees everything in light of the bigger picture; and in that bigger picture, fully emblazoned on our screen at Calvary, there is nothing that does not fit, even if it means suffering and death on the way to resurrection. Such theology dominates this letter in every part; we should not be surprised that it surfaces at the outset, even in this brief narrative.

Second, and related to the first, Paul is a man of a single passion: Christ and the gospel. Everything is to be seen and done in light of Christ. For him both life and death mean Christ. His is the passion of the single-minded person who has been apprehended by Christ, as he will tell the Philippians in 3:12-14.

Third, Paul's passion for Christ has led him to an understanding of discipleship in which the disciple takes up a cross to follow his Lord. Discipleship, therefore, means to participate in the sufferings of Christ (3:10-11), to be ready to be poured out as a drink offering in ministry for the sake of others (2:17). Paul's imprisonment belongs to those trials for which "we were destined" (1 Thess 3:3) and thus come as no surprise.

Interestingly, these three theological realities are what also make for Paul's largeness of heart. True, he lacks the kind of "largeness" for which religious pluralists contend. Is that because such pluralists have not been apprehended by Christ and the gospel, as God's thing--his only thing--on behalf of our fallen world? Unfortunately, and ironically, such pluralism often has very little tolerance for the Pauls of this world! But in Paul's case it is his theological convictions that lead both to his theological narrowness, on the one hand, and to his large-heartedness within those convictions, on the other--precisely because he recognizes the gospel for what it is: God's thing, not his own. And that, it should be added, also stands quite over against many others who think of themselves as in Paul's train but whose passion for the gospel seems all too often a passion for their own "correct" view of things.

At stake for the Philippians--and for us, I would venture--is the admonition finally made explicit in 4:9: to put into practice for ourselves what we hear and see in Paul, as well as what we have learned and received by way of his teaching. (Paul's Letter to the Philippians, last quote copied from the IVP edition

Markus Bockmuehl on Philippians 1.12-18
Quoting Karl Barth:
To the question how it is with him an apostle must react with information as to how it is with the Gospel.
On verse 17:
Certain others, however, are driven by the poisonous fantasies of jealousy and selfish ambition: in contrast to verse 16, their actions arise not from what they 'know' but what they (wrongly) imagine. They also proclaim Christ, but theirs is a petty, territorial vision; their aim is naked self-advancement. The robe of 'Christian ministry' cloaks many a shameless idolatry. (The Epistle to the Philippians)

N.T. (Tom) Wright on Philippians 1.12-18
The first problem is, of course, that he's in prison. For a travelling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.

The soldiers were used, of course, to the 'gospel' of Caesar—the supposed 'good news' that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different 'gospel': that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him. Having Paul in custody meant they couldn't ignore this new message. They were having their noses rubbed into it. And Paul can see that already the other Christians...(the 'family', his brothers and sisters in the Messiah) are taking courage from his example. They can see the impact he's having even on hardened soldiers. Why shouldn't they seize the moment and speak about King Jesus to their friends and neighbours as well? (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters)

Warren Wiersbe on Philippians 1.12-18

The secret is this: when you have the single mind, you look upon your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel, and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do....Paul's chains not only gave contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. (Be Joyful)

This post is part of the "Fridays in Philippians" synchroblog.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Unfrustratable joy

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice...(Philippians 1.12-18a, ESV).

Allow me a Piper moment: we all want to be happy. We choose the things we'll pursue based on the joy we believe these things will kick back to us. But we're not always happy, which means one of two things has gone wrong. Either we've grasped the thing that was to make us happy, and it turned out it didn't, or our circumstances frustrated our attempts to grasp it, so that the thing we believe will make us happy has thus far eluded us. Obviously the critical matter in this pursuit of happiness is that we choose something that will indeed give us joy when we've attained it, and that we choose something that is attainable.

We have to remember in Philippians that we are reading a letter. And in a letter people sometimes tell their friends how they are doing. That's exactly what Paul is doing in 1.12-26. He tells them how he's doing regarding his present circumstances (vv.12-18a) and regarding his future (18b to 26). The Philippians will be listening with great interest to this part. They know Paul is imprisoned, and they love him dearly. How is he doing? Is he down or discouraged? It must be so hard for him, he always likes to be on the move. He won't even be able to do what he loves the most: preach.

To their relief, the word back from Paul is extremely positive: "I rejoice" (1.18a). How is this possible? How can someone be happy in prison? Even a Canadian prison? Especially when the man is innocent of any crime? Doesn't he know that he has rights that have been violated to be indignant about? What has he chosen to pursue that can give him such joy in such unenviable circumstances, and is attainable in such circumstances?

Thankfully, Paul does not leave us to guess the answer to that question. But before he gives us the answer, he'll fill us in on the details of the situation a little more. First, those outside of Christ are against him, and he is imprisoned under Rome. And secondly, to make matter worse, there are some from the inside, from his own family, the Christians, who are trying to rub salt in his chain-wounds to increase his pain. Some of his own brothers are preaching "out of envy and rivalry...not sincerely, but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment" (vv.15 and 17).

Of course, the situation isn't all bad. Some of his brothers are preaching "from good will" (v.15) and they're doing it "out of love, knowing that [he is] put [there] for the defense of the gospel" (16). Which leads us to the reason Paul gives for his still being joyful in this whole thing:

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice... (v.18).

In that I rejoice. In what? In that Christ is proclaimed. Not only that, but Paul rejoices in every way that Christ is preached. These are the ways that Paul is referring to:
  1. Christ is being preached by Paul in prison: "it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ" (v.13).
  2. The Lord <1> is using Paul's imprisonment to make the other Christians more confident, so that they are "much more bold to speak the Message without fear" (v.14).
  3. Many of these Christians with extra boldness are preaching Christ out of love for both Christ and Paul (vv.15b and 16).
  4. Some of these Christians are preaching out of a desire to further afflict Paul (vv. 15a, 17).

So, Paul's greatest goal and passion is Christ, and thus also the proclamation of the good news of Christ. Because that is his pursuit, he is in chains. But because this is his pursuit, he is rejoicing in chains. Paul has chosen a pursuit which cannot be frustrated by any circumstance. He has chosen a pursuit which is the very pursuit of God himself. Thus, the only thing that can frustrate Paul's joy is that which can frustrate the efforts of the Sovereign omnipotent God of the universe:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28).

I used to follow hockey. I loved the Winnipeg Jets. I can remember listening to the games on the radio (we didn't have TV!) and wanting them so badly to win. If you know anything about the Jets you know how often I was frustrated! My pursuit of pleasure was consistently being frustrated by circumstances completely out of my control (I couldn't, in good conscience, even pray for them!). So it is with everything else. Wanna live a long life? Be rich? Be successful? Have a family that loves you? All these pursuits can be frustrated in an instant by circumstances we can't manage. But when we adopt God's pursuit as our own, we can be sure, that while life's circumstances remain as uncontrollable to us as they are to everyone else, we have Someone with infinite power and wisdom who will work out every circumstance to the progress of our pursuit.

As Gordon Fee has observed, and as I noted in my one of my first posts in this series, Paul is doing more than just telling his friends how he's doing. He sees in his own situation deep parallels with his friends' situation. They too are suffering from Rome on the outside, and are experiencing some rivalry amongst each other on the inside. Thus Paul is gently offering himself as a paradigm to them and to us. If our common goal is Christ and his Message, no circumstance—persecution or internal tension—can rob us of our joy, for this is God's goal too. When our joy is gone, it is never because of our circumstances <2>; it is always because of our goal.

<1> I take it that it is not "brethren in the Lord" (KJV) but "many brethren, in the Lord waxing confident".

<2> I do not say this naively. At least, I hope I don't. In Philippians 2.27 Paul reveals that, if Epaphroditus had died, he would have had "sorrow upon sorrow". We're talking about a deap-seated joy here as in 2 Corinthians 6.10, "sorrowful yet always rejoicing."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No more yellow stickies...

Download NoteScraps, a solid little piece of software developed by Logos. See their blog post.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The greatest thing about checking out books from a library...

...is that you have to take them back.

God is greater than Shakespeare

Until now, I could only dream of putting these thoughts into words.

Now the reason we have a problem with God’s control of free actions is that we do not want to say that men are nothing more than puppets. But the assumption of "puppetry" is a false inference. God's relationship to us is not that of a bully on the playground making others do what he demands. It is more like Shakespeare and Macbeth -- the more Shakespeare writes, the freer Macbeth gets. Macbeth never wonders how he wound up in such a coercive play.

Objections to this illustation come quickly. Yes, but we are much greater than two-dimensional literary characters. What about that? Well, God is much greater than Shakespeare. And His greatness surpasses that of Shakespeare much more completely than ours surpasses that of the characters in the plays. So the analogy does break down, but not in the way we would like. And further, the analogy of the playwright and play is in no substantive way different than the scriptural illustration of the potter and the clay, and the same objection can be brought, and answered the same way. We are greater than a lump of clay. Yes, but God is much greater than a Potter.

And besides, if God's control of human actions annihiliates the freedom of those actions, then this means that the orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is destroyed. Is Romans the word of Paul or the Word of God? You have, by this objection, established the fact that it can't be both, right? So which is it?

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A prayer for discernment

Paul, with emotion that many would be embarrassed by, has just told his friends how he yearns for them all "with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1.8, ESV). And how will Paul's emotional love manifest itself in action? He will pray for their love.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (1:9-11)

Paul's prayers can speak to us in at least two different ways. First, they can teach us how to pray. This includes the what and why of our prayers. But this prayer of Paul's is also a prayer prayed for us. And prayer is the greatest revealer of one's greatest priorities. When people pray, they ask for what is most important to them. Thus God gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Philippians 1.9-11: to listen in as the Apostle to the Gentiles prays a Spirit-inspired prayer for us, revealing to us what the Spirit of God himself wants more than anything else for us.


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (1.9).

(1) He prays for our love to grow. While it is of course true that God wants our love for him to grow, likely the emphasis here is on our love for one another. We base this in part on two passages from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians:

12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10).

In so leading Paul to pray for the growth of their love, the Spirit shows unity of priority with the Lord Jesus, who could tell his followers: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

(2) He prays for our love to grow with knowledge. Which seems strange to us, for surely these two things, love and knowledge, could not be prayed for together in the same breath. However, here Paul and the Philippians understand this word knowledge as being far deeper than mere cognition of a collection of facts. Knowledge in this context is the deep, personal, experiential knowledge of relationship—relationship with the God who created all relationships. Knowledge—that knowing of God—which needs continuously to grow until that day when it is perfected by a face-to-face encounter with Christ Jesus:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

(3) He prays for our love to grow with knowledge and all discernment. "Moral insight into God's will" is the meaning Fee manages to tease out of this word. Along with our love of each other and our knowing of Christ, our discernment and perception is to abound more and more. Colossians 1.9 offers us a good parallel to help us understand:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.


(1) The penultimate reason: so that we can choose what is best.

"so that you may approve what is excellent" (1.10a).

When our love for each other grows in deeper knowledge of God and in moral discernment, we will be better and better at choosing or approving what is best <1>. That's what Paul wants for us. That's what the Spirit wants for us. To more and more approve what is best. What is most attractive, what is most valuable, what is most excellent. And to that end the Spirit and the apostle pray. Why? Why do we need help in discerning what is best? Because in Philippians we see a massive upheaval of values.

For instance, in 2.5-11 we are introduced to a King who is pushing a brand-new system of values. Love is in, pride is out. Suffering is in, winning is out. And we are told that God looks at a man stooping to pathetic lows, dying as a weakling slave, and sees the greatest thing he has ever seen (1.9-11). This is a complete upheaval of values! It's a value-system so radically different from what we are used to that nothing short of prayer and the divine power prayer summons will enable us to choose what is now deemed to be best.

As it turns out, this prayer is programmatic of much of the rest of the letter. Let's see how this plays out.

In 1.21-26 Paul is having an awful time trying to decide what is best of two choices: live or die. <2> On the one hand, he knows there's lots for him to do, and so it would be good to keep living. But on the other hand, to die is to live with Christ, and is thus gain. So what does it look like when the prayer of 1.9-11 is making headway in a Christian's life? Discernment as to what is best leads to indecisiveness as to life and death.

In 1.12-26 we see Paul imprisoned by Rome and oppressed by some of the Christians, but he is rejoicing nonetheless. The reason for his joy is that he is discerning what is best (the gospel's progress), which relegates his present discomfort and suffering to a much less significant assignment of value.

We've already alluded to the section of 1.27-2.18. There suffering is seen as a gift (on par with the gift of being able to believe in Christ) in 1.29. Additionally, each of us is instructed to "in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (2.3). No wonder Paul prays that our discernment will grow, for not one of us naturally sees others as being more valuable than ourselves!

In 2.19-30 Paul selects Timothy for a task on a completely different basis from what less-discerning Christians would use. No, King Jesus does not value so much one's gifts and abilities and appearance, but rather one's genuine concern for the welfare of others (2.20). Then Epaphroditus is mentioned, and we are told to honour him (not Sidney Crosby) highly "for he nearly died for the work of Christ" (2.30).

Paul puts before us the language of accounting in chapter 3. Here Paul will look at all his possessions and achievements and he will seek to discern their value. The results are just in, and they're shocking: everything that the rest of his world prized and boasted in turns out to be rubbish by comparison to the supreme value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (3.4-11). That's right. Knowing Christ is of far greater value than possessions or achievements. What a word is this for western consumerism!

We can also see that Paul has chosen the future as being of more value than the past. He "presses on" towards it (3.11-21), flooring the gas pedal while everyone else is cautiously riding the brakes. This is why we need to pray 1.9-11 for each other; how else will we learn to live for the future hope when everyone else in the west is living for the here and now?

Finally, in 4.8-9, we see the passage that Paul's prayer has been pointing to all along. Let us pray for each other, that along with our love for others and knowledge of God, our moral insight into God's will will grow, so that

...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(2) The ultimate reason: so that we will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.

"and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (1.10a-11)

When Paul gets praying like this, you just know that any second you're going to hear him mention the day of Christ. Sure enough, this is where Paul's prayer has been headed all along. Combining this mention with the one in 1.6, we see that the Day of Christ is both the focus and the fuel of Paul's prayers. What is it that Paul sees when he closes his eyes to pray? The Day of Christ!

This is a great secret to help us in our prayers. When we pray for each other, we should picture each other at the Day of Christ! What passion that would give our prayers! And what focus! No more meanderings and meaningless generalities. We'd start praying for our brothers and sisters to grow in discernment, so that they can choose what is best, so that they will be readied for the Day of Christ, "to the glory and praise of God."

<1> It's easy to see how growth in discernment would translate into greater success in approving what is excellent. What is less obvious is how growth in love for others and knowledge of God would do the same. This has led some commentators to see v.10 as taking off from the request for discernment only, exclusive of the prayer for love and knowledge. I propose, however, that Paul intends all three requests to result in choosing what is best. The key to this is noticing what is "best" for Paul. As the rest of the post shows, two things that are "best" for Paul are (1) that the Philippians have "the same love" (2.2) by counting "others more significant than [them]selves", and (2) that "knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (3.8) is by far the most valuable thing in Paul's heart.
<2> Of course, Paul is being hypothetical.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Good News Centre on Reserve

This brought me a lot of joy. Becky Kew has been given keys to an old elder's lodge on a reserve. She will be using the building for spreading the gospel amongst the people there. It's in a prime location for that purpose as it's within "walking distance from the school and right across from the arena and the only gas station on the reserve." Furthermore, the Councillor of Education has stated that he is behind Becky in this endeavour 100%. And best of all, Becky has been told that her cost for using the building is, well, free!


So speaking of the joy in partnering in the gospel, let us all join Becky in praising God for the work he is doing amongst these precious people, and let us all pray for her and for the locals surrounding her. What should we pray for? I'll let her answer that. Speaking of problems that have already reared their ugly heads, she asks

Please pray that Satan will not succeed in hindering this endeavour. Pray that God will put a hedge about this effort and bless for his name sake and glory.

Could also use your prayers for _ School. On Christmas day, a teacher was killed in a head on collision. His parents are also teachers at the school. The school is taking this pretty hard...The teacher who was killed had little girl, who is still in the hospital with severe injuries...The mother has been released. I took about 100 Gospel Cd.s on "Hope in the Storms of Life" and left them in the staff room and offices. Many teachers took them. Please pray that God will speak to souls, "unto salvation", through this tragedy.

Also, I have more and more classes wanting to get in to the Bible time, at...Have to now combine classes. This past week, had 35 Grade one's and two's for one session and in another class over 30 grade 5's and 6's. Please keep praying for these dear souls and for the teacher's and parents.

First two girls to memorize the books of the NT

As far as timing goes, Becky writes "Lord willing by March 1st everything should be set up for activities/meetings at the Good News Center!"

Kids reading the Amazing Gospel Comic

Friendship evangelism

I recently listened to the sermon on Friendship Evangelism by Doug Wilson. You can get at it here (date 1/27/08). There are some notes to go along with it, but much will be missed if you read them apart from the audio.

I have before linked to some people who are doing contact evangelism. This sermon speaks to the other aspect of evangelism: love, friendship, and openness. There is plenty of wisdom to be gained by giving it an ear. Often the news that you can do friendship evangelism (instead of the more courageous kind) is received as gospel itself. "You mean I just have to love people?" But I believe it is harder. We actually have to love people.

(A few minutes can be shaved off the experience by skipping the first bit. The sermon doesn't start until a ways in.)

HT: Doug Wilson

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Marriage a partnership in the gospel

The upshot of my last post with regards to my marriage is I guess this: If I want a joyful marriage, I should want my marriage to be a partnership in the gospel. Which is the same as a Great Commission marriage.