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Honor Those Who Give Their All for Christ

May 23, 2012 1 comment

After giving the Philippians a further incentive to persevere in their faith by promising to send Timothy to them, Paul then mentions a second Christian who exemplifies how Christians should live: Epaphroditus. Paul plans to send Timothy in the near future, but presently he sends Epaphroditus with this letter back to the Philippians. Paul’s instruction to the Philippians concerning Epaphroditus is to receive him with joy, honoring him and others who give their all for Christ.

The backstory

Verse 25 tells us that Epaphroditus is a trusted friend of Paul: Epaphroditus is Paul’s “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.” That he is Paul’s brother identifies Epaphroditus as a fellow Christian. That Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow worker identifies him as someone who works to advance the gospel. (The designation”fellow worker” places Epaphroditus on the same level as Timothy [1 Thess. 3:2], Mark, Luke [Philem. 24], and others.) That Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow soldier indicates that Epaphroditus has suffered for the gospel.

Specifically, Epaphroditus has suffered by being “ill, near to death” (v. 27). Epaphroditus was the Philippians’ “messenger and minister” to Paul. He was the one who had delivered the Philippians’ “gifts” to Paul (4:18). And along the way, Epaphroditus had “nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life” to get the Philippians’ gift to Paul (2:30).

The reasons to send Epaphroditus now

There are three reasons to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians immediately. The first is because “he [Epaphroditus] has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (v. 26). Epaphroditus wants to be back home with his fellow church members, those brothers and sisters in Christ to whom he was closest. He doesn’t want them to continue to be “distressed” on account of his illness: “God had mercy on him,” and he is better (v. 27)! Epaphroditus loves his fellow believers and wants to be reunited with them.

The second reason to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians is so that they “may rejoice at seeing him again” (v. 28). Since the Philippians are concerned for Epaphroditus’s wellbeing, seeing him alive and well would certainly give them great joy!

The final reason to send Epaphroditus back is so that Paul “may be less anxious” (v. 28). Don’t forget that when God had mercy on Epaphroditus, he had mercy “not only on him but on me [Paul] also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27). Paul is glad that Epaphroditus is better, and he wants to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians so that he “may be less anxious” (v. 28). What is Paul anxious about? He is anxious about the Philippians’ growth in holiness, Christlikeness. Remember that one of the reasons why Paul wanted the Philippians to work out what God was working in them was “so that in the day of Christ I [Paul] may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (2:16). Paul is concerned with the Philippians’ holiness, and that is also why he was sending Timothy later: after Epaphroditus delivers this letter back to the Philippians, Paul was sure that he would be “cheered by news of you [Philippians],” news of their obedience to Paul’s letter, upon Timothy’s return to him (v. 19). So the final (perhaps ultimate) reason for sending Epaphroditus now was for Paul’s letter to reach the Philippians so as to help them grow in the faith.

The appropriate response to Epaphroditus’s return

Concerning Epaphroditus’s return to Philippi, Paul instructs the Philippians to “rejoice at seeing him” (v. 28). They are to “receive him in the Lord with all joy” (v. 29). Because the Philippians love Epaphroditus as a brother in the Lord Jesus, they are to “receive him in the Lord with all joy and honor such men.”

And therein lies the application for us today: there are Epaphroditus-es among us. We all know someone in our church who gives their all for Christ. Maybe, like Epaphroditus, they push themselves so hard that they are ill. Not many people today, at least in American churches, “nearly die for the work of Christ,” but do believers not still “risk their lives” (at least insofar as their reputations) today to serve fellow Christians, as Epaphroditus risked it all to serve Paul? Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40; whatever we do to any “of the least of these [Jesus’] brothers,” we do to Jesus himself. To humble ourselves before other believers and serve them, to unite with fellow Christians in the church even when we don’t have a perfect relationship with them, that is the “giving your all” for Christ that Paul is talking about. This is what denying yourself and taking up the cross daily looks like. And Paul tells us, today, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit who indwells us Christians, today, to honor those Christians who give their all for Christ by receiving them with joy and thus loving them in the Lord.

I first preached these verses in a sermon along with Philippians 2:19-24. You can listen to the sermon here.

John Piper Is Back!

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Praise the Lord, John Piper has returned from his eight-month leave of absence! (And I have returned albeit momentarily after a month off blogging. Haha.) You can read John Piper’s (highly condensed) reflection on his leave of absence here. I highly recommend it to all of you.

I have had an exceedingly productive month of December and start of the new year, and I look forward to blogging in the future about the lessons that God has taught me in the past month alone. It has been great taking my own unannounced (and unintentional) leave of absence from blogging, and I feel refreshed and invigorated to press on in the race before me. (Blogging will still be kept to a minimum … I have more pressing engagements to attend to. I mustn’t make an idol out of this to the neglect of other, higher, God-given responsibilities.)

But I digress. Back to John Piper. He turns 65 Tuesday, and I continue to be amazed by this man’s humble devotion to the Lord. From his leave of absence report:

One could look at this [my age] two ways: 1) it’s the age most people retire, or 2) it’s the age Winston Churchill became Prime Minister and led England and the Western World to victory over Hitler’s aggression. I find Churchill much more inspiring than retirement.

John Piper is aging, but he’s still serving the Lord faithfully. You’ll have to read his whole report to get its full effect, but from reading that report, John Piper’s love for the Lord is clear as crystal. As someone young just entering (youth) pastoral ministry, I pray that God would give me the same ever-growing love for Christ that John Piper has. I pray that one day I will have the humility he had to nurture his and his family’s spiritual health almost exclusively for 2/3 of the year. That takes humility, that takes devotion, that takes a heart that is filled with the Spirit. And John Piper’s faithfulness spurs me to greater faithfulness in the ministry that God has superabundant-graciously given me. I thank God for John Piper, and I thank God for the work that he’s doing in John Piper’s life … and I pray that God would do the same work in me, throughout my life.

Very few of you readers are vocational ministers, but you are all Christians, and thus you all have ministries. I mean that we are all Christians, all disciples of the Lord, and disciples are to make other disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). So I pray that your prayer is the same in substance (that God would make us faithful, to His glory) as John Piper’s, and as mine. I’m excited about 2011, for what God will do in us and through us—his people—this year.

John Piper is back and ready. Are we ready, too, not in our own power but in the power of God’s indwelling Spirit?

Persecution!

November 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Sayed Mossa is a recent Christian convert in Afghanistan. He was arrested at the end of May for his faith in Christ. He has recently smuggled a handwritten letter from prison. Please read this letter below and pray for Sayed. He has a wife and numerous children, at least one of whom is disabled. JD Greear has other suggestions of how we American Christians can help our brother Sayed at his blog. Below is Sayed’s letter to us:

jail1

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The above images were taken from persecution.org. Not everyone in this world has it as easy as we do in America. Please fellow Christians here, “set your minds on things that are above,” and pray for our brother Sayed Mossa, that our Lord would strengthen him in his imprisonment and release him if it be His gracious will.

Celebration of Life Video

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

For those of you who did not attend Christian Schmidt’s Celebration of Life November 7, 2010, the video is below.

<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/16845911?portrait=0" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0"></iframe><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/16845911">Celebration of the Life of Christian Schmidt</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user3738332">david alan sikes</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Thoughts from Sunday

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Happy Tuesday, all. Tomorrow is Wednesday, a big day for me personally. I have the Veterans’ Day program at school in the morning, and I have Wednesday Bible study at Calvary that evening. So this evening I’ll just share with ya’ll some of the blessed things that happened to me this past Sunday.

I began November 7 with a Sunday School lesson at Calvary—thank you to everyone who was there!—and then I went and preached at Macedonia Baptist Church. I preached on Ephesians 5:22-33, “How to Glorify God in Marriage.” You can listen to that sermon by clicking the link here.

Sunday afternoon, I went to Christian Schmidt’s Celebration of Life at Northport Baptist Church. No service had so continuously reminded me of the gospel since Together for the Gospel back in April. It was a beautiful, Christ-centered celebration. Before the Scripture reading began, we sang hymn after hymn. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” filled the large auditorium. We hear the words to such great hymns as that all the time, but this Sunday, it was impossible not to listen to those words and internalize them personally. KJ Pugh of Open Door Baptist Church read various Scriptures after the first round of hymns were sung; his prayer thereafter was appropriate and moving. Brandon Hall sang “I Will Rise” by Christ Tomlin later in the service, and Christian himself spoke to us in a video, and in that video he did what he always did: he presented the gospel.

Christian’s Celebration of Life was truly a celebration of God’s grace to us in the gospel, but it was a sobering experience for me. As I said in my sermon that morning, Christian’s death reminds me that I am not invincible: that I, too, am mortal. Christian’s death reminds me that not even preachers—not even young preachers—are exempt from dying … nor even are exempt from dying young, as he did. That’s a sobering thought. A sobering thought. And in the week (it’s only been a week? Yes, exactly that) since Christian’s passing from this life to the eternal, one phrase has repeated itself multiple times a day in my mind: “Don’t waste your life.” It’s like a broken record I can’t shut off: “Don’t waste your life. Don’t waste your life. Don’t waste your life!”

And as I think about Christian’s life and about the legacy he left, I know he didn’t waste his life. He truly lived every day for the glory of God. His mantra to the end was “Soli Deo Gloria” … to God alone be all glory. But as I think about Christian’s life and legacy, I also stand face-to-face with all the wasted minutes and moments of my own life. His death stares me down and says, “You’re not promised tomorrow. You’ve wasted so much. Will you keep on wasting your time, or will you do something for God’s glory?”

You who know me may say, “You’re not wasting your life, Jordan.” You may point out that I’m a youth pastor, that I’m a “good example,” that I’m smart. But those are public things … those are outward things. And those things are all gifts from my Heavenly Father; I haven’t brought a single one of those about. I’ve wasted so much time in my life on trivial things that please for a moment but have no eternal merit. I’ve wasted so much time. And I don’t want to waste anymore. Will I? Yes, because I’m not yet perfect (and won’t be until I’m with Christian in heaven). But I don’t want to waste anymore time.

I’m a guy with hopes and dreams, and those are scary things. Because hopes and dreams are things of the future, things that may not even really exist. We hope, we believe, we trust … but we cannot know if a dream is from God or not until it is realized. That’s scary. That’s why there’s faith. I quoted Hebrews 10:35-11:1 in Sunday’s sermon, and I’ll quote those last two verses here: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I have hopes, and I have dreams, but I don’t see them; they’re not real (yet). And so I have faith, that God will work all things to my good and His glory.

I love Mark 9:24 when the father with the son who has been demon-possessed from childhood says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief!” Last night I listened to a sermon by John MacArthur on this text, and Dr. MacArthur pointed out that “help me” literally means “run to me.” The father had faith, but he also had doubt—and he wanted Jesus to run to his doubt and overcome it. And Jesus did. Dr. MacArthur points out a helpful fact about how much faith is required. What kind of faith is sufficient to call down the power of God?

The Lord is not expecting you to be some person of great faith, magnificent faith, all pervasive faith. Or you’d have a hard time getting going in your Christian life, wouldn’t you? All it takes is the faith of a grain of mustard seed [Matthew 17, a parallel passage to Mark 9]. And you know who the model of that is? The father…the father. The miracle was done on the basis of the father’s faith. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. I believe my faith is mixed with doubt. I want more faith. Run to the rescue of my weak faith. Help my unbelief.” That was sufficient faith.

Christian’s life and legacy exhorts me: “Don’t waste your life. Just do something! Take risks because God doesn’t!” And by God’s grace, I won’t waste my life, I will do something, I will take risks because He doesn’t. Even after an emotional roller coaster of a week, in which I have seen abundantly clear the grace of God in countless ways, I still nevertheless echo the father’s words of Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Until Glory, Christian

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Some of you may recall Christian Schmidt’s guest posts here a few months ago. Others of you may be readers of Christian’s blog. For those of you unacquainted with Christian, he was a godly man. Young … but godly. He fought and overcame cancer once, and it stayed away for a while, but it returned almost a year ago. This time Christian did not overcome cancer physically, but he definitely overcame it spiritually. Christian preached sermon after sermon on glorifying God in the midst of suffering, and he even preached other varied sermons, as well, in his last year alive. I heard two of those sermons, myself, and was greatly blessed by them. But this morning, Christian overcame cancer spiritually by “shuffling off this mortal coil,” by leaving this body of sinful flesh, and by being absent in body “to be present with the Lord.” Christian Schmidt is in heaven now, and I will greatly miss his encouragement and faith.

I messaged Christian last night, actually, and obviously he could not reply. His physical state degenerated suddenly and mortally in his last days, but before this fatal decline, Christian wrote a note on Facebook, exactly one week before he fell asleep to go be with his Lord. I encourage all of you to read that note in its entirety, here. For those of you without Facebook, I reprint his concluding paragraphs below:

At this point, I am ready for death. I’m actually afraid of getting healed because then all my hopes for heaven will have to wait several years. My body is in constant pain, which isn’t completely true because they have given me some pretty strong meds and I almost have no pain when I have a comfortable position, I can hardly breath, and these are just a few of my symptoms. It’s hard, sometimes nearly impossible, for me to get up, walk, and lay down. I can do almost nothing on my own, but my loving parents are there for me whenever I need something. I am almost eager to die because most mornings I seem to say, “I can’t do this anymore,” but God is there to lift me up and help me with all of my struggles because of his mercies are new everyday and He is our portion (Lamentations 3:23-24). I am now living the idea of “Live Weak” to the fullest expression (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The more my weaknesses are displayed the more God is glorified.

The verse at the top [Colossians 1:28-29] has been really important these last few days. Verse 28 speaks of doing everything possible to present everyone mature in Christ. The next verse speaks of toiling to do this. Toiling is not just helping people here and there but using everything that God has given you to complete this task. For me, since I will be unable to do almost all physical activity, I will toil by writing, speaking, when I can, witness to everyone, which I don’t see too many people, but that could make it easier to focus on some more than others, and finally offering any kind of counseling and encouragement to whoever needs it. I may not always have the strength to do these things, but that didn’t stop many of the early missionaries that would grow sick on the mission field and lose their children and wives. They persisted on because it was not their strength, but God’s strength with them. Some may say that I don’t need to push myself too hard, but this is looking at my strength rather than seeing it as God who strengthens me, “with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Besides, if I push myself too hard, then I will get to go to heaven sooner. It is a win-win situation regardless of how you look at it. Praise be to His holy, righteous name. I rejoice that I have been chosen to suffer to for the glory of God.

What faith, fellow Christians! Does it not make you cry for its God-given beauty? Christian wanted to glorify God in both life and death. He has certainly done so. When Christian first stood before God in Glory earlier today, I am quite sure he was able to echo Paul’s words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” But of course Christian would’ve added, “to Your glory alone.” That was, in fact, the title of Christian’s last Facebook note: “Soli Deo Gloria [To God alone be the glory] to the End.” Job well done, Christian. Job well done. Christian, you have indeed made it to heaven, and yes, “soli Deo gloria.”

Let’s honor Christian’s memory by honoring Christian’s God, by adopting the lifestyle that Christian adopted, which he writes about at the end of his note:

Toiling is not just helping people here and there but using everything that God has given you to complete this task. For me, since I will be unable to do almost all physical activity, I will toil by writing, speaking, when I can, witness to everyone, which I don’t see too many people, but that could make it easier to focus on some more than others, and finally offering any kind of counseling and encouragement to whoever needs it. I may not always have the strength to do these things, but that didn’t stop many of the early missionaries that would grow sick on the mission field and lose their children and wives. They persisted on because it was not their strength, but God’s strength with them.

Those are Christian’s last words to us. Will we listen?

Until I see you in glory, Christian Schmidt, Soli Deo Gloria!

For those of you who would like to attend the Celebration of Life for Christian Schmidt, it will be at Northport Baptist Church beginning at 2 P.M. this Sunday, November 7. Come celebrate Christian’s life and ministry, and come minister to his family, if you would. “It is better to go into the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” –Ecclesiastes 7:2

Lay the end of all mankind to your heart, fellow believers. May we live every day for God’s glory, as did Christian.

“Praise be to His holy, righteous name. I rejoice that I have been chosen to suffer for the glory of God.” –Christian Schmidt, July 24, 1989-November 2, 2010

What the Gospel Really Is to John Calvin

August 4, 2010 2 comments

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian recently posted on his blog an English translation of John Calvin’s preface to Pierre Olivetan’s French translation of the New Testament. Being from Northwest Alabama, I am well aware of the stigmatism that is Calvinism. I am well aware of the outrageous caricatures of John Calvin and of those who continue to believe the doctrines of grace that (misleadingly) bear his name (to go backwards from him, Augustine was also a grace-man, as were the NT writers … but I digress). But I also realize that many people who deride him do not really understand him and they also misunderstand his beliefs. Pastor Tchividjian is right to refer to Calvin’s preface, though, (which I fully quote below) as a “nugget of gospel gold.” This poetic explanation of the gospel by John Calvin is truly Calvin at his best. As Pastor Tchividjian concludes: “Do your soul a favor and read this over and over and over. It just doesn’t get more nutritious than this!”

Without the gospel
          everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel
          we are not Christians;

without the gospel
          all riches is poverty,
          all wisdom folly before God;
          strength is weakness,
          and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
          children of God,
          brothers of Jesus Christ,
          fellow townsmen with the saints,
          citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
          heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
                    the poor are made rich,
                    the weak strong,
                    the fools wise,
                    the sinner justified,
                    the desolate comforted,
                    the doubting sure,
                    and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was
          sold, to buy us back;
          captive, to deliver us;
          condemned, to absolve us;

he was
          made a curse for our blessing,
          [a] sin offering for our righteousness;
          marred that we may be made fair;

he died for our life; so that by him
          fury is made gentle,
          wrath appeased,
          darkness turned into light,
          fear reassured,
          despisal despised,
          debt canceled,
          labor lightened,
          sadness made merry,
          misfortune made fortunate,
          difficulty easy,
          disorder ordered,
          division united,
          ignominy ennobled,
          rebellion subjected,
          intimidation intimidated,
          ambush uncovered,
          assaults assailed,
          force forced back,
          combat combated,
          war warred against,
          vengeance avenged,
          torment tormented,
          damnation damned,
          the abyss sunk into the abyss,
          hell transfixed,
          death dead,
          mortality made immortal.

In short,
          mercy has swallowed up all misery,
          and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

And we are
          comforted in tribulation,
          joyful in sorrow,
          glorying under vituperation,
          abounding in poverty,
          warmed in our nakedness,
          patient amongst evils,
          living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

Even if you are the most battle-hardened Arminian imaginable, surely you must be able to appreciate the beauty of Calvin’s above poetic explication of the gospel. Perhaps Calvin’s writing here softens your heart toward him and his legacy. At the very least, I pray that Calvin’s beautiful treatment of the gospel would deepen your love for Christ and would help you to know Him more fully. I know that’s what Calvin’s above commentary does to me. I reiterate Pastor Tchividjian’s exhortation following his quotation of Calvin’s gospel commentary: “Do your soul a favor and read this over and over and over. It just doesn’t get more nutritious than this!”

You can read Pastor Tchividjian’s post at his blog.

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