Trash Heap Lives

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead. ~Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV)

Jesus once asked the question: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? (Luke 9:25)

Paul took this question to heart. Before he came to know Jesus, Paul was a rising star with great potential as a religious leader over the Jews (3:2-7). But once he encountered Jesus, his aim forever changed. It was no longer notoriety, education, or power that drove him. No, he weighed everything in the balance and decided that a trash heap life was better.

A trash heap life compares everything the world has to offer to Jesus and says, “Jesus is infinitely greater.” It understands that gains in this world, while potentially useful tools, do not result in eternal gains. What good is it to have great education, much wealth, and fame and notoriety if it gets you nothing in the end?

The one inevitable that every man and woman faces is death. Most do all they can to delay death, but eventually it catches up to us. Then, everything we worked so hard to gain is let loose from our grip. We came into the world with nothing, we leave the world with nothing. Everything we earned and gained passes on to someone else. With enough time, even our memory is forgotten in history (with very rare exception).

A trash heap life realizes these realities and says, “I want more.” It realizes that the only way to get the more is through Jesus. So, Paul could cry out in passion, “I want to know him!” For Paul saw that the benefit of knowing Jesus wasn’t just for this life, but for eternity beyond. To know Jesus as Lord and Savior is to have a part in the resurrection to life. That is, one day our bodies will be raised uncorrupted and incorruptible, glorified by and together with Jesus, that we might experience unending joy.

The trash heap life longs for that day. If we have education or money or fame, we look at these only as tools to help guide us and guide others to Jesus, who infinitely matters. If we lose those things in this world, we still put our hope in Jesus who will give us much, much better things in the days of eternity to come. So, we cry out along with Paul: I want to experience the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus!

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Having Everything, Needing Jesus

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else things he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the Law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. ~Philippians 3:2-7 (ESV)

Some of the opponents that Paul faced were those who claimed superiority because of their Jewishness. This was a problem evident throughout many of Paul’s letters. He wrote to churches that often contained a majority of people who had come from a Gentile, or non-Jewish, background. Therefore, these followers of Jesus had never been under the Old Testament Law and did not possess the covenantal mark of the people: circumcision.

Early on in the life of the church, the decision was made not to burden Gentile believers with the necessity of circumcision (see: Acts 15). Yet, some would come into the fledgling churches and say: “You believe in Jesus, that’s well and good, but to truly be right with God you must be circumcised like us Jews.”

Paul responded by calling such teachers dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. Righteousness, he argued elsewhere, had nothing to do with fleshly circumcision but everything to do with the circumcision of the heart, this being accomplished by faith in Jesus. Therefore, to add this physical burden upon the Gentile believers was to go against the very heart of the gospel they claimed to teach.

To emphasize his point, Paul described how he wasn’t speaking as an outsider. He was a Jew. In fact, he had been a rising star among the religious leaders of Israel and had been a zealot for the cause. Yet, there had come a day where he realized that everything he had meant nothing.

His ethnicity, education, leadership positions, and zeal did not earn him God’s favor. Though he possessed all these things that could make others jealous, he lacked faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior-King, and therefore he lacked the one thing that mattered most.

So, Paul looked at his gain and said, “I count it as loss. Give me Christ!”

This is how it should be with us: Jew or Gentile, black or white, male or female, rich or poor, high school drop outs or doctoral students, teacher or student, whatever we think we have that makes us superior or inferior to others ultimately matters not. Whether or not we have Jesus by faith matters eternally. We can have everything life has to offer and miss out because we don’t have Jesus. But if we have Jesus, then we have everything.

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Joyful Reminders

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. ~Philippians 3:1 (ESV)

This single verse, about halfway through Paul’s letter, gives a strong reminder of Paul’s purpose in writing to the church. He wanted them to experience the great joy of God through Christ in all things. He wanted them to join him in looking beyond the ups and downs, troubles and pleasures of each day and set their gaze firmly upon the solid rock of joy: Jesus.

So, he said, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me.” Repetition is how we learn and grow. Hearing and doing the same things again and again is how we develop lifelong habits, either bad or good. In this case, Paul’s reminder was good. He knew the outcome of it would be greater attitudes of joy on a daily basis. Therefore, he had no qualms about reminding the church over and over of joy in Christ.

Paul also said, “…and is safe for you.” We live in a world of distractions, and that hasn’t changed in 2000 years. The forms of distraction shift with time, but the fact remains that we face plenty that tries to take our eyes off of Jesus. A regular reminder fights against these distractions. We need to be reminded that Jesus is the greater Savior-King, answering our deepest needs due to our sin.

Being reminded of the work of Jesus to save us and being reminded of the eternal joy Jesus brings us through salvation serve as a strong anchor of the soul. Let yourself hear and heed the reminder to rejoice in the Lord.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Honoring the Letter Carrier

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. ~Philippians 2:25-30

Another faithful coworker to Paul was Epaphroditus. This man was a messenger from Philippi. He would deliver news and correspondences from the church to Paul and then return to the church on behalf of Paul. Likely, he was the one who carried this letter to the church.

Such was not easy business. In days where travel was difficult and grave dangers could be found through the elements, animals, other people, and disease, there were many risks involved in delivering messages. So, Paul said of those who performed what we might mistake as a common or menial task: “Honor such men.”

Those who put their lives on the line for the sake of the gospel were worthy of honor. Paul might have been the apostle writing the letter as the Holy Spirit inspired him, but the letter would have not done much good if no one ever read it. The church needed the message, but it also needed the messenger to deliver it.

So, let us look to those who give freely of themselves for the sake of the gospel. Let’s recognize their importance, even if they’re “just” delivering a letter. And let us receive them and honor them with great joy in the Lord.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Be Like Timothy

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. ~Philippians 2:19-24

While in prison, Paul had to rely upon the help of others in caring for the churches. Some proved more faithful than others. Some, like Demas even went so far as to abandon the cause (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:10). Yet, one young man remained faithful to the mission and earned Paul’s trust.

Timothy looked to Paul like a spiritual father. Paul’s second letter to him tell us that it was Timothy’s grandmother and mother who led him to faith and had great spiritual influence over him in his youth. But along the way, Paul took Timothy under his wing, teaching and giving guidance that he might mature in the faith and be productive in ministry.

So, Paul gave Timothy high praise to the church at Philippi. He was faithful, he had proven worth, he had served well in the gospel, and he had genuine care for the people he encountered. Timothy didn’t see his work simply as a job or an opportunity for advancement, rather he sought to show great love and concern to others around him, especially in regard to their salvation and spiritual growth.

Therefore, when Paul would be able to send Timothy to them, he hoped that they would receive him well and that when the young man returned, it would be with good news to cheer Paul.

In your life, seek to be like Timothy. Seek to be a person who is faithful, loving, and other-focused. Serve others not for what you can gain but for the sake of what you can help them gain.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Be Shining Lights

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. ~Philippians 2:14-18 (ESV)

Paul’s heart for the church at Philippi comes out deeply again in these words. Even in the midst of suffering that could very well lead to death (and Paul, ultimately, did die because of his faith), he took great joy in the church. He also longed for them to finish well. When Jesus returns, Paul desired to stand before him, proud of what the church had done.

So, Paul called the church to “shine as lights in the world.” This is the very same thing Jesus called all his followers to do in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16). The world, Paul wrote, is a dark place—twisted and crooked with sin. In such an environment, we as Christ-followers are to bring hope.

One way we do this is by living “blameless and innocent” as the children of God. Not that we distance ourselves from sinners who need Jesus, but that we distance ourselves from our own sinful ways. We then live to love and serve others as Jesus loved and served us.

With this, we are to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Or, to put it positively, we are to do all things with thankfulness and seeking for peace. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:20 that we should give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father.” Every good thing in our lives is a gift from God’s hand. Even the bad things in our lives, God will correct and turn for good in the end.

Grumbling, then, refuses to acknowledge God’s work and hand in our lives. Disputing is a refusal to disagree well with others. It is arguing our will in order to be right, not giving ear and deference to others in order to serve and edify them. As Christians, we should seek to be free of both negative attitudes.

When we live thankful-to-God lives and seek for peace, it tells the world a better story. We shine a brighter light into the darkness, drawing people from their sin and to Christ.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Pursue Growth

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. ~Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)

Who is responsible for your spiritual growth? Who sees to your maturity? From what Paul told the Philippians church, the answer is you and God.

In 1:6, Paul wrote, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” So, the first spark and the final product in our salvation and maturity comes from God. Bringing us to Christ through faith, God will finish the work he started. Those whom God called will be those whom God glorifies, it’s a guaranteed finish (Romans 8:30).

Yet, this does not make us passive participants in our spiritual growth. Paul wrote that God indeed works in us for his will and good pleasure, and this is the foundation for the command to work out our own salvation. However, if we come to the end of our life on earth and we have not grown spiritually, the problem is not God’s work but our failure to pursue growth.

We must engage ourselves in the Bible to hear God’s voice. We must go to God in prayer, entrusting him with our praises and requests. We must choose to gather with other Christians and edify one another as we sing songs of praise. We must feed ourselves on the word and pursue being fed by godly teachers in his church. But it is God who empowers and accomplishes the growth in our lives as we pursue these things.

Let us not grow complacent or lax in this pursuit, and let us also remember that spiritual growth is a weighty thing. Paul didn’t merely say to work out your own salvation, no, he included the phrase with fear and trembling. We make our pursuit with an attitude of awe and reverence for God, especially because, as Peter wrote, “…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-20).

It was no light task for Jesus to save us from our sins, nor is it a light task for us to grow to be more like him in love and character. See the glory, the love, and the beauty of God through Jesus. Fix your eyes firmly upon him. Then pursue spiritual growth, and know that all along God is empowering each step.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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