Grace to You & Peace | Philippians 1:1-2

The letter of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in the city of Philippi. Paul, traveling with Silas, Luke, and Timothy, planted the church in Philippi, and Acts 16 describes a few of the city’s first believers, like Lydia, the jailer, and their families. Paul was imprisoned, probably in Rome, at the time of writing his letter, which is a response to the Philippians sending Epaphraditus with a gift for Paul. The tone of Philippians, therefore, is quite different than many of Paul’s other letters. Here the apostle is not primarily writing to correct false teaching or rebuke rampant sin; instead, he is writing to further encourage the Philippians to continue growing in their faith. Even though the Philippians were apparently suffering some form of persecution (1:28) and Paul himself was imprisoned, his refrain throughout the epistle is a command to rejoice. No matter the external circumstances, Paul is confident that his readers will find joy and contentment in Christ.

We begin by studying the greeting of Paul’s letter. As was typical of ancient epistles, the author (Paul) is stated first, followed by the recipients (the Philippians), and then a greeting was given (grace and peace). Although these two verses may seem fairly simple and easily overlooked, they are filled with Christ-exalting truth, setting the tone for the remainder of the letter.

SERVANTS OF CHRIST // VERSE 1

Paul’s epistle to the Philippian church begins in the traditional style of an epistle: by stating the writer first. Since we are explicitly told which men this letter comes from, let us meet Paul and Timothy.

Who is Paul? 

The Apostle Paul casts an enormous shadow over the Christian faith, who arguably shaped Christianity more than anyone except for Jesus Himself. But who was Paul? Originally named Saul, the apostle provides a helpfully condensed version of his testimony in Acts 22, while speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem. Born in Tarsus, Saul was raised in Jerusalem where he became a Pharisee under the tutelage of Gamaliel, the most renowned Pharisee of his time. When Christianity began to expand after the events of Pentecost, Saul zealously persecuted the heretics, capturing and delivering over to death as many as he could find. But while traveling to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him as a bright light, asking why Saul was persecuting him. In Damascus, Saul’s sight was restored through the prayer of Ananias. From that time on, Paul was commissioned out as an apostle to the Gentiles, where he suffered greatly for proclaiming the gospel. Paul explains these trails as such:

2 Corinthians 11:24-28 | Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

These hardships primarily took place while Paul traveled about on his missionary journeys. Of course, life outside of his travels was not easy either. As is the case with the writing of Philippians, Paul spent many of his final years in prison before eventually being executed.

Who is Timothy?

Timothy was a young man that Paul found shortly in Lystra, which was before Paul would travel to Philippi for the first time. With a Jewish mother and a Greek father, Timothy was taught the Scriptures by his mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois (1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy joined Paul, Silas, and Luke as they continued their journey, eventually planting the church in Philippi. Given that 2 Timothy is the last Pauline letter, written just prior to his execution, the intimate father-son relationship between Paul and Timothy can be greatly felt.

Some thought must be given to why Timothy is placed alongside Paul in this greeting. After all, Paul was an apostle who authored Scripture by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but Timothy was not. Is this verse, however, suggesting that Timothy is a coauthor of Philippians? The short answer is no. Throughout the letter, Paul repeatedly speaks of himself in the first person, and in chapter two, Paul speaks of Timothy in the third person. The letter, therefore, is clearly written by Paul. Timothy is likely included for two main reasons. First, Timothy was likely the scribe of this letter, physically writing the words that Paul spoke to him. Second, the Philippians already knew Timothy from their previous travels, and Paul was planning to send Timothy to them again as his representative (2:19, 23).

Slaves of Christ

Now that introductions have been made, let us turn our attention to how Paul and Timothy introduce themselves: servants of Christ Jesus. Servant, while not an incorrect translation, is certainly not the best. Servant often implies someone who is paid for their service, like a restaurant server, a butler, or a maid, but Paul is not calling himself that kind of servant. Instead, slave is a much more accurate translation because slave implies the ownership of another person, not simply the hiring of them. We rightfully wince at the very idea of slavery, especially considering the racial slavery from U. S. history. Slavery in the ancient world, although still more than capable of brutalities, did not come with such racial overtones. Slavery was often a valid option for working off a large debt or placing oneself under a wealthier household. A slave could also often purchase their freedom if they desired to do so. Ancient slavery, therefore, is not a direct parallel with our history of slavery. The basic idea, however, remains the same. A slave is the property of his or her master. To be a slave is to be owned by another. This concept is particularly difficult for an individualistic culture such as ours to comprehend. Personal autonomy flows through everything that we do. If are fish, it is our water. If we are birds, it is our air. The entire abortion industry flows from this line of understanding: “my body; my choice.” We are each, as Henley says in his poem Invictus, masters of our fate and captains of our soul. To be owned by another human being is, therefore, almost unfathomable. The mind can scarcely comprehend it.

Yet Paul happily calls Timothy and himself slaves of Christ. The implications of this are difficult to overstate. Paul did not view himself as being the master of his own fate or even his own body. His individual autonomy had been eclipsed by something far greater, Someone far greater. When we reconsider Paul’s testimony, this only continues to astound. Within one moment, Paul ceased persecuting Christ and instead became His slave. Can you imagine the radiance of Christ’s glory, a glory so beautiful that Paul’s life immediately reordered, a glory so marvelous that all his sufferings were a mere light, momentary affliction by comparison?

John Owen pleads for us to search diligently for this glory:

It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy. (7)

Why is Jesus’ glory so worthy of our pursuit and servitude? Paul uses the word slave one other time in Philippians not to describe himself this time but to describe the humiliation of Christ. Philippians 2:6-11 remind us of Christ’s descent from heaven to become a man, a slave who would be obedient to the Father to the point of death on a cross. But though Jesus suffered humiliation on our behalf, His exaltation is now supreme and total.

Although Jesus became a slave for us, He is now the name above all names, and one day every knee will bend and every tongue confess that He is Lord. In other words, Christ became a slave to save us, so that we can now become slaves to His righteousness. For Him, we willingly lose our lives, knowing that we will find greater life in Him. But while submission to Christ is presently an option, one day that option will cease. Christ will, in the end, reign as Lord and Master over everything and everyone. Those, therefore, who do not willingly embrace the loving and gracious arms of Jesus as their Lord will still find their knees forced to bow to Him as Lord.

Do you submit to Christ as your Lord? Are you a slave of Christ? Are there any aspects of your life that you withhold from Jesus’ lordship?

SAINTS IN CHRIST // VERSE 1

Next, we shift our focus onto the recipients of Paul’s letter: the Philippians.

Who are the saints? 

The address is to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi. The first question that must be asked is: Who are the saints? The Roman Catholic usage of saint is likely to immediately spring to mind. In Catholicism, saints are Christians who displayed in their life an extraordinary amount of holiness and devotion to God. Saints are, in many ways, super-Christians. As you may have guessed already, Paul’s idea of sainthood is quite different. When Paul refers to all the saints of Philippi, he is not addressing his letter only to the best of the best. No, he is referring to all the Christians in Philippi. Throughout the New Testament, saint is synonymous with Christian. Why is this? First, we must understand what exactly being a saint means. In Greek, saint comes from the same root word of holy. In fact, in English, the words saint, sanctify, and sacred all come from the same idea of being holy or becoming holy. A saint then could be called one who is holy.

Now the question becomes: what is holiness? Holiness is best understood as an adjective that can only fully be used to describe God Himself. Because holiness refers to the uniqueness, otherness, or distinctiveness of something, God is the only being who perfectly embodies holiness. Everything else in creation is like something else, at least in the fact that they both have been created. God, however, is totally unique. Even we humans, who were created to be like God, can only dimly reflect His nature. In this sense, God alone is holy. Yet throughout the Scriptures, people and even objects are also deemed holy. How is this? When holiness is applied to people and objects, the meaning is not that they are utterly unique like God but instead that they are distinctively set apart for God. For God, holiness is a statement of His being. For us, holiness is a declaration of God’s ownership of us. To be holy is to be called out of commonality, ordinariness, vulgarity, and profanity into a life exclusively dedicated to God. Saints, therefore, are a people of God’s own possession who have been commission to be His instruments of working in the world (1 Peter 2:9). In other words, if you are a Christian, you are a saint.

At Philippi 

So the saints in Philippi are the same as the believers in Philippi, but notice two other descriptions that Paul gives of them: in Christ and at Philippi. We’ll address their physical location first. Philippi was a city in eastern Macedonia that was conquered and given its name by Philip II of Macedon (more commonly known as the father of Alexander the Great). Philippi later received recognition as being near the battle site of Brutus and Cassius (assassins of Julius Caesar) against Mark Antony and Octavian (friend and adopted son of Caesar, respectively). After the battle and more fully when he became Augustus Caesar, Octavian relieved some of his veteran soldiers for the purpose of colonizing the city. Philippi became highly Romanized and was even modeled on the city of Rome itself. It quickly became a crucial city of the Roman Empire due to its proximity to rich gold mines and its position on the Via Egnatia, which was the major road that Paul would have traveled upon from Philippi to Thessalonica. The founding of the church in Philippi can be read in Acts 16.

In Christ

But the saints of Philippi are not only located at that city, they are also in Christ. Being in Christ is a common concept throughout the New Testament, so we could turn to a multitude of Scriptures for gaining a fuller understanding. Colossians 1:19-22 provides a remarkably concise glance at the riches of our being in Christ:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

What a glorious truth! In Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and by Christ, God is reconciling all things to himself. The peace of this reconciliation occurs via the blood of Jesus on the cross.

But why do we need to be reconciled to God? We were alienated and hostile in mind. This is our great problem. Because of our continuous rebellion against God, we were separated from God, but not merely separated, we were also hostile to Him. Like Adam and Eve before us, our disobedience is nothing short of a proclamation of our own divinity. Sin, therefore, does not merely make us dirty to God. It cuts us off from Him and makes us haters of Him. Sin is not a light-hearted issue; it is evil itself. In Ephesians 2:1, Paul goes so far as to call us dead in our sins.

What then could save us from our alienation and hostility toward God? Christ, and Christ alone. He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. By the death of Christ, we are reconciled to God and made holy, blameless, and above reproach. Jesus does this by, first, taking the due wrath for our sins upon Himself, and then granting to us His righteousness as our own. The process, called propitiation, is how we are reconciled to God. Christ absorbed God’s wrath, while giving us His righteousness. But notice that all of this only takes place in his body of flesh. Our reconciliation with God can occur nowhere other than in Christ. Jesus is now our mediator, bridging the divide of alienation and reconciling the hostility between God and us. This is why Paul commands the Colossians later to consider themselves dead to themselves and alive to God in Christ: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:3-4).

What does it mean then to be in Christ? When we have died to our sin and our life is hidden in Christ, we are reconciled to God, standing before Him holy and blameless. Being in Christ, therefore, is the very essence of the gospel. There is no good news outside of Christ. In Him is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), and there is no other. To be in Christ is life. To be outside of Him is death.

Dual Citizens

It should also be noted that the Philippians dual locations occur simultaneously. Their life may be hidden with Christ in God, but they are still physically present in Philippi. The same is true of us. We exist in a kind of intermediate state. We have been rescued from sin and now possess the full heavenly blessings of God, and yet we still live in non-glorified, sin-ruined bodies. We are not what we once were, but we are also not yet what we will be. We are in Christ. But we are also in this broken, fallen world. We cannot neglect either of these truths. We must live as new creations in Christ, while also continuing to live in our neighborhoods, cities, and towns. Our dual citizenship must ever be before us. Yet we must also note that the problems rarely come from us being transfixed with our heavenly status to the neglect of our present condition. John Piper expresses this thought well:

The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. Name three! The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world. The problem is that professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half enjoying and repairing what they spend it on.

It is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love. It is worldly-mindedness that hinders love, even when it is disguised by a religious routine on the weekend. Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like baubles, and the entertainment of the world is empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person?

He is not in bondage to TV-watching or eating or sleeping or drinking or partying or fishing or sailing or putzing around. He is a free man in a foreign land. And his one question is this: How can I maximize my enjoyment of God for all eternity while I am an exile on this earth? And his answer is always the same: by doing the labors of love.
Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love! It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise — these are the cords that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope.” (Piper, 1986)

How often do you consider your being in Christ? Would you consider yourself heavenly-minded or worldly-minded? How might fixing our eyes on Christ enable us to be better citizens here and now?

With the overseers and deacons

We, of course, cannot continue into verse 2 without addressing the final phrase of verse 1: with the overseers and deacons. I will not spend much time here discussing these two offices, since I have already addressed them in detail through our series, Biblical Leadership. So here is the shorthand information. Overseers and deacons are the two offices of leadership in the church as defined in the Bible. Overseers, who are also called pastors and elders, are guardians of doctrine within the church, tasked primarily to shepherd the congregation through prayer and the ministry of the Word. Deacons are the church’s guardians of unity, who primarily minister to the physical needs of the congregation. Note that both offices are presented as being plural, which is consistent with the rest of the New Testament.

GRACE & PEACE FROM CHRIST // VERSE 2

Now understanding the letter’s author and recipients, Paul writes a common Christian greeting to the church of Philippi. The phrase grace and peace is as loaded with significance as in Christ is. In many ways, these two words represent the entire biblical message.

Peace

The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is well-known, and even though the letter was written in Greek, Paul no doubt had this concept in mind. Shalom, however, means far more than just the absence of conflict or hardship; it also refers to being whole or complete. Thus, being at peace is to be fully satisfied and content, possessing the serenity of perfect security and completion. With God’s peace, there is no fear. No anxiety. No worry. No stress. No want. No lack. No envy, greed, or coveting. The peace of God is being fully satisfied in God.

Grace

Of course, this peace is only given to us through the other word: grace. Grace is best described alongside mercy. Mercy occurs whenever just punishment is withheld, and grace is the giving of blessing instead. In other words, mercy is about not receiving what we deserved, while grace is about being gifted what we do not deserve. As we described above, these two actions form God’s act of propitiation through the cross of Christ. By God’s mercy, the wrath for our sin is withheld from us and transferred to Christ. By God’s grace, Christ’s righteousness is placed upon us, enabling us to receiving the blessings of God, such as His peace.

God our Father

So by the grace of God, we have the peace of God. These come from the hand of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only is God’s wrath kept from us, but God becomes our Father. In Christ, we are able to speak to the Designer of centripetal force, wombats, and mangos as our Dad. If we find security in having connections to powerful people, how much more should we be at peace knowing that our Father upholds the universe by the word of His power!

The Lord Jesus Christ

And this relationship was purchased for us through the death of our Lord, our Master. To bring everything full circle, how can we not serve Christ as His slaves when He has died for us, showered us with His grace, and given us the peace of having God as our Father? Surely He has been proven to have our best interest at heart. We are far richer and far better off serving Christ than any other lord, even ourselves.

May we, therefore, be slaves of Christ who are in Christ by the peace and grace of Christ to the glory alone of Christ.

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Depressing Joy: a thousand year search for meaning

Back in 2012, I taught through the books of Ecclesiastes and Philippians together, attempting to show how they both present that true joy is only found in Christ. Since I am now preaching through them again (finishing Ecclesiastes this Sunday), I’m sharing the essay that I wrote in 2012 to explain the connection between these two books.


The nature of joy should not be mysterious to us, yet it often is. C. S. Lewis claims, in the book Surprised by Joy, that pleasure, happiness, and joy share a commonality. This common trait, Lewis remarks, is that after one has experienced them he or she will spend the rest of their life searching for them again. However, though they share this link, joy is significantly different from pleasure or happiness. For instance, the alluring aspect of happiness and pleasure is that they are both enjoyable, yet that very enjoyment of happiness and pleasure is meant to be found within the context of joy. The word “enjoy” means, after all, to find joy in something. Thus, joy is the means by which and the purpose to which we are meant enjoy pleasure and happiness. We often seek happiness and pleasure themselves as sources of joy, but if we sought joy first, then we would already have the context for accepting pleasure and happiness. Joy should be given primacy. Happiness and pleasure could best be described as momentary glimpses of joy, whereas joy is a state of being that transcends throughout the emotional spectrum. Thus, we can be joyful and happy, but we can also be sorrowful and full of joy.

The lasting appeal of joy, I believe, derives from its interconnection with satisfaction. When we are joyful, we are satisfied. Or, it could better be said that when we are satisfied, we are joyful. As Moody notes, “if man is dying for want of bread, and you give him bread, is that going to make him gloomy?” Most, if not all, of our negative emotions can be traced to an outcome that deviated from our original desire. I will not enjoy a meal fully if it is Chinese food and my desire was for Mexican. When our desires are fulfilled, we find joy and satisfaction.

The implication of this thought is enormous because most people strongly desire to live a satisfied life. We often long, deep within our souls, for a joy that gives us true satisfaction and contentment, and we are best able to find that joy by seeing our desires fulfilled. However, if our greatest desire is to achieve joy and satisfaction, then such joy can only be found by finding… joy. And it is within this vague cycle of sought-out meaning that many throw away their search for joy. They become lost in the quest for satisfaction and, as a result, pursue one source of fleeting pleasure after another. Instead of finding lasting joy, they do their best to be satisfied with lesser things, with mere hints of the meaning and contentment that could be had.

This triviality is not lost on God nor on His chosen people throughout history. In fact, there two books within God’s Word that search out and answer how we might find a meaningful and satisfied life. The first of these is the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by Solomon, the king of Israel after succeeding his father David, Ecclesiastes is traditionally believed to be his dying thoughts. After living a life of unparalleled wealth, pleasure, and wisdom, Solomon wrote what many consider to be the most hopeless and depressing book of the Bible.

It is easily understood how one can arrive at such a conclusion. The bulk of Ecclesiastes is Solomon presenting various avenues of hope only to describe their shortcomings. However, the overarching vanity in life is not Solomon’s ultimate purpose for the book. Instead, Solomon hopes to reveal the Source of lasting joy and satisfaction, but he does this primarily by showing how other methods fail to offer such joy. In fact, the Israelite king repeatedly states that there is nothing better in life than to enjoy what you have been given by God.

Wait.

Surely the search for lasting joy cannot be that simple.

Are we meant to simply have joy?

Well, Solomon does give an answer for the Source of joy: God. The conclusion of Solomon’s life is that enjoyment, and thus joy, only comes from God. Nothing else gives such lasting satisfaction. Therefore, we must understand that Ecclesiastes is, at its core, about joy and the Giver of joy.

The second book is the widely hailed epistle of joy: Philippians. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians was written towards the end of his life as well. Over the course of his letter, Paul primarily urges the church in Philippi to rejoice (another word derived from joy), despite the church and Paul himself experiencing persecution. In fact, Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned for declaring the gospel of Jesus. But even though Paul was sitting in prison awaiting his death, he wrote with supreme confidence that he had found the complete and total meaning of life: “to live is Christ.” Furthermore, Paul’s central focus upon Christ gives contentment and joy in any situation and grants him the ability to view death as gain. The joy of Christ delivers unparalleled joy and satisfaction, while stripping away the sting and fear of death.

Though Solomon and Paul were separated by roughly a thousand years, the central theme of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians remains eternally tied together. These two godly and wise men present to us a thousand year, Spirit-inspired look at humanity’s quest for meaning, satisfaction, and purpose in life. But even more importantly, they present the answer to that quest; therefore, over the next couple of posts, we will explore the connections and relations between these two beautiful, but challenging, books.

Two Roads

A belief that I hold is that there are two paths to hell. If eternal judgment is your desired destination, rest assured that you have at least two choices to take: the road of the “sinner” or the road of the “religious.”

You see, the only method of actually securing the eternal wrath of such a loving God is to follow your own prideful heart, to reject His grace and His Son. This is the only means of sealing one’s damnation because we know that anyone who turns from their sins and follows Christ shall be saved.

However,  though pride is the only means of earning a hellish afterlife, such a life plays out in two broad forms, both are methods of proclaiming your own glory instead of God’s. As one could probably guess, both of these views are discussed in Ecclesiastes and Philippians.

First, you can become a “sinner” and adamantly reject the inherent moral compass that God has placed within us. This way of life will almost always become some form of the philosophical thought known as hedonism. This is because, as stated above, pleasure gives us a sense of enjoyment, which we will often relentlessly pursue. When we are centered upon ourselves entirely and deny any real morality, we will seek our own happiness through various means.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us the very epitome of this “sinner” approach to life. His hedonistic quest is listed in the second chapter and is basically a dream fulfilled to anyone. Is music enjoyable? Solomon hired his favorite singers and musicians to play personally for him, whenever he wanted. How about laughter? He had the best comedians around him at all times. Animals? He had the best farms and his own personal zoo. Money? Solomon made 666 talents of gold each year just for being king. That would be a salary of about $750,000,000 in today’s currency! With all of his possessions included, Solomon is widely considered to be the wealthiest person to ever live. How about sex? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines whose only job was to satisfy any fantasy that the king had. Most men today would have great difficulty building a virtual harem that large, let alone an actual harem! He ordered the building of one of the wonders of the ancient world, the temple in Jerusalem. His philanthropy was also unmatched. Surely all of those activities gave him pleasure!

And actually, it did.

But it was only a fleeting, momentary pleasure. Disillusioned by the inability to find lasting satisfaction in any of those avenues, Solomon gives himself over to despair in the very same chapter! Though he sought joy, the end result is nothing but depression.

Or we could choose to become “religious.”

This route is no less prideful than the “sinner’s” road, though it often appears to be so because of the false humility that likely follows. In many ways, this path is no less hedonistic than the “sinner.” While “sinner” ignores the moral laws and seeks pleasure outside of them, the “religious” accepts morality and hopes to find pleasure in being a good person. Following this route, our satisfaction becomes contingent upon our good works.

In Philippians, we find this other path toward damnation played out. In the third chapter, Paul gives us his religious credentials. Paul was born into one of the more prominent tribes among God’s chosen people. When it came to obeying the laws that God gave to the Israelites, Paul was a Pharisee. This group literally devoted their entire lives to obeying God’s Word, and Paul was quickly becoming one of the best. Another aspect of religiousness is passion, or zeal. Many today will argue that it does not matter what you believe so long as you believe with your whole heart and passion. Paul had unrivaled zeal, displayed in the fact that he killed those considered to be heretics. It is difficult to imagine a greater passion than the willingness to kill for your beliefs. And interestingly enough, Paul does not say that this failed to give him pleasure or satisfaction. In fact, this form of life can certainly lead to a fulfilled existence; however, the end result will not be even remotely pleasant. Jesus informs us that at the end of time many will stand before Him and confidently sight their resume as justification for their entrance into God’s presence. Shockingly, they will promptly be denied. Why? They will be sent away because all of their efforts were for their own pride and glory, not the glorification of Christ.

Nevertheless, Paul does not reiterate Jesus’ words. He does not even state that all of his best efforts were in vain. Instead, he is more concerned with what he has found to be the greatest source of pleasure and meaning, which consequently is the same conclusion that Solomon also arrives to at the end of the second chapter in Ecclesiastes. Solomon’s claim is that the ability to enjoy life is a gift from God, and Paul’s conclusion is that everything else pales in comparison to Jesus Christ. Solomon’s hedonism and Paul’s hedonistic legalism both spring from the sin called pride and its rebellion against God. Yet both also find their hope and true joy in God and the radiance of His glory Jesus Christ.

Finding Contentment

Yet even if hedonism and religious legalism are both truly dead ends, we are forced to ask once more why people pursue these ends.

Why do we relentlessly chase after the pleasures of hedonism to the degree of ignoring our God-given conscience?

Why practice the asceticism found within religious legalism so that precious little happiness and pleasure is left in life?

Both roads are meant to accomplish the same end: contentment. A satisfied, fulfilled, and purposeful life is the goal to which almost every philosophical outlook aims. Most of us seek to live a life that is full of meaning, a life that has not been wasted.

Solomon, with all of his divinely granted wisdom, was no exception. Ecclesiastes is the Israelite king’s reflection on all of the various quests that he explored to find this contentment, this meaning in life. Though he pursued many possible means toward that end, the thesis of Ecclesiastes is that he only found one path that leads to true meaning and satisfaction in life.

In the twelfth and thirteenth verses of chapter three, Solomon states simply that there is nothing better than for us to “take pleasure” in all of our toil. He would rephrase this idea later by saying that we would do well to accept our lot in life. Thus, we have to wonder if such is the extent of Solomon’s wisdom. The wisest man to ever live, at the end of his life, reaches one conclusion: to find contentment and satisfaction in life, be content and satisfied with life.

Is the answer to the question truly the content of the question itself? Fortunately, Solomon grants us more to guide us than the advice of simply being content. Instead, Solomon reveals to us the Source of contentment. He concludes the verses mentioned above with this tell-tale phrase: “this is God’s gift to man.” From whence can such contentment and purpose in life come? According to Solomon, it can only come from the hand of God, gift to humanity that He alone can give.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is not without its parallel in this matter.

Given the apostle’s circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine how he could find complete and total satisfaction with life. He was locked away in prison, knowing that he could be executed at any moment. And this is after most of his missionary journeys, which saw him shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and flogged. Luke the physician likely stayed by Paul’s side primarily out of necessity. After such difficulties and sufferings, is it possible for Paul to write about having contentment and satisfaction? Amazingly, he does!

In verse eleven of chapter four, Paul declares that he has learned “to be content” in any situation. Even so, this claim will inspire nothing but envy within us unless Paul is able to disclose the Source of his contentment. The thirteenth verse of the same chapter is one of the most famous and quoted verses of the entire Bible, and it is there that the answer is found. It is through “him who strengthens” that Paul finds the ability to be satisfied within difficult circumstances. We understand from the context of the letter and chapter that the “him” is Christ.

Therefore, Paul is making the same claim that Solomon made 1000 years prior. They have both found the same conclusion to one of life’s greatest questions, and the answer is that only God can give us contentment and satisfaction with life.

The Pursuit of Joy

We have now arrived at the Source of a content life. We have discovered that God alone, through Christ, is able granted us the satisfaction that our souls desire. However, if we stop merely at the Source of our satisfaction, then I believe that we will miss an opportunity to see the glory and goodness of God at work.

You see, part of the glorious nature of God’s gift of contentment is the means by which it is given. God, being God, could easily have granted us a form of contentment that offered no level of pleasure. He could have simply given us the ability to be completely satisfied with our lot in life, while also being quite unhappy. Yet, this is not how He chose to operate. God Himself is the Source of our contentment, but joy is the vehicle, the mode, through which His gift is given. This thought gives heart to what was discussed at the beginning: joy leads to satisfaction, which we know now to be because God ordained it as such.

In bringing the ideas of joy, contentment, meaning, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness full circle, we may once again turn toward Ecclesiastes’ and Philippians’ persistent mentioning of joy and its derivative words.

Solomon continually reinforces that the only means of lasting value is enjoying life via the free gift of God.  Paul pleads throughout for the Philippians to rejoice in Christ, even in the persecution that they were experiencing. Thus, over the span of a thousand years, Paul and Solomon both urge, through radically different writings and lives, that finding enjoyment and rejoicing in God are the only means to achieving lasting contentment and satisfaction in life, and enjoyment and rejoicing can only come from God Himself.

Therefore, God is the Source, the Receiver of the means, and the Objective that we hope to arrive upon. In short, joy, contentment, and meaning are only in God the Father through Jesus Christ. The circular quest for purpose has but one answer: the One who is, in and of Himself, the Beginning and the End. He is the summation of the very purpose of our lives.

Thus, we enjoy and rejoice because He is good and sufficient, and in Him, we are completely satisfied. It is this biblical line of thinking that inspired John Piper to form this condensed description of his theology: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Being satisfied in Him necessitates enjoying and rejoicing in Him.

All of this is to say that the chief end of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians is that immeasurable joy can only be found in God, which will lead to a content and satisfied life, and a life that is completely joyful in Him will be supremely glorifying to Him.  Let us, therefore, glorify Christ Jesus along with Solomon and Paul, for His glory will also become our greatest joy.

How to Waste Your Life

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 ESV

Ten years ago, I graduated high school. With aspirations for studying the Scriptures and writing books, poems, stories, or really anything of significance, I instead spent much of my time becoming moderately proficient at Halo 3 and Rock Band. Don’t get me wrong, the LORD was merciful on me in high school to keep me from many activities that could have done me a great deal of harm. But still I wasted so much of my time, so today I would like to give you the message that I would give eighteen-year-old me.

THE VANITY OF LIFE

The primary message of Ecclesiastes can be summarized as follows: everything under the sun is vanity. Once we understand what Solomon means by vanity, we will begin to understand why some consider Ecclesiastes to the be the most depressing book of the Bible. Other English translations of vanity include meaningless, futility, a vapor, or the merest of breaths. Hopefully, those words capture the idea. Vanity in Ecclesiastes is meaningless, futile, empty, pointless, worthless, fleeting, here-today-gone-tomorrow, transient, and momentary. To say then that the connotation is negative is an understatement.

So what does Solomon describe as being vanity?

Everything. Solomon says, “All is vanity.” Life is futile. Work is meaningless. Sex is a vapor. Laughter is momentary. Everything is pointless, like chasing after the wind.

Come on, Solomon. Why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

The remainder of these verses give a brief summary of Solomon’s reasoning behind his conclusion: why is everything vanity?

First of all, the sun has been rising and setting since the world began, but we humans can barely manage to live to be 100-years-old. Even the greatest of us cannot beat these inanimate objects. Alexander the Great accomplished enough for history to permanently remember him as being great, but despite the vastness of his empire and the brilliance of his leadership, his body is now nothing more than dust, just like the poorest of peasants under his rule. But the sun that beamed upon his head over the Persian desert is still the same more than 2000 years later.

Although it doesn’t presently benefit him, Alexander is at least remembered today. Solomon reminds us in verse 11 that the same cannot be said for the majority of people. Even though we often live as though we are the center of the universe, the harsh reality is that within a hundred and fifty years hardly anyone will remember that we ever existed, while even fewer will know or care anything about us. This is difficult for most of us to hear because we want to believe that our name and legacy will live beyond us, but while I am thankful for my great, great grandfather, I know nothing about this essential limb of my family tree except that his name was Floyd.

With such a harsh reality attempting to stare us in the face, we shouldn’t be surprised at humanity’s obsession with heroes. Superheroes, for example, allow us to imagine the fantasy of being great, of being more than human, of having a clear sense of meaning and worth. Driving home from the latest film, we don’t immediately begin talking about what we would do as a regular person living in a super-powered world. No, we identify first with the heroes, the larger-than-life characters, the ones who have left normalcy in the dust.

Ecclesiastes feels depressing because its goal is to destroy the fantasy world that we have made for ourselves. We cover ourselves with an onslaught of entertainment in order to hide from the terror of silence, that sinking feeling in our gut whenever we get a momentary glimpse at our own mortality. The looming inevitability of death can keep us grounded in reality like nothing else can. It reminds us that because our days are short, they should not be wasted. Because we are not promised tomorrow, we should make the most of today. Truly Moses was right when he prayed, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Unfortunately, the thought of death is also unpleasant. It reminds us that we are finite instead of infinite, that we are creatures instead of gods. So we hide ourselves from the inevitable, and often waste the precious amount of time that we have been given.

HOW TO WASTE YOUR LIFE

Throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes how he chased lasting purpose and meaning under the sun. He does this by pursuing many things that we often make the supreme goal of our lives. His conclusion after each is that nothing but vanity can come ultimately from living for (fill in the blank). Allow me then to describe three of these pursuits and why they lead to a wasted life. We will then conclude by looking upon the one goal of life that will never result in a vain and wasted life.

Self

First, and probably most often, people pursue their own self-interests as the supreme goal of their life. Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-actualization are the gods we serve. Decisions and plans are made with self primarily in mind. To be fair, within a post-modern and materialist frame, self-interest makes sense. If life doesn’t have a Creator or an ultimate purpose, then I don’t have a purpose. I only know that I am here now and that I might not be tomorrow, so why should I not try to do and get everything that I want? Let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die, right?

Unfortunately, simply from a practical standpoint, we tend to be terrible judges of what is actually good for us. For instance, much debate has raged around a study that suggested that there are three steps for avoiding poverty: graduate high school, get a full-time job, and get married and have a family. The study found that of all the people surveyed who completed those three steps (in that order) only two percent lived in poverty. The debate surrounding the study is whether the relationship between the steps and avoiding poverty is of causation or correlation, and of course, even if it is causal, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, the statistics indicate a clear benefit from doing hard things like holding a job and maintaining a family. Yet selfishness can very easily whisper in our ear that graduating high school isn’t worth the hassle, that working a job that you might not enjoy isn’t a valuable use of time, or that settling down with a spouse and kids is too much work. The point is that we rarely understand what is truly good for us.

A subcategory of self-interest is the pursuit of pleasure. Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure is found in chapter two, where he claims that he did not deny himself anything that his eye wanted. Do you want a good home? Solomon built a palace. Want a nice garden? He planted entire forests and designed whole parks. Want to avoid physical labor? He had 35,000 servants. How about sex? Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Does music make you happy? His personal singers would act as his ancient iPod. Since this is the Bible, you might expect Solomon to claim that none it gave him the pleasure that he was looking for, but instead he says, “I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (2:10). He sought pleasure and found it. The problem was that pleasure alone didn’t last. Pleasure is a momentary vanity; therefore, it fails royally whenever we make it our lifelong goal.

Another route of self-interest might be the pursuit of self-actualization. This is the general path of many philosophies and religions. The overall goal is to keep improving yourself, to continue mastering yourself, your desires, and your passions. While this sounds great in theory (and the Bible certainly calls us to be self-controlled and disciplined), it too is vanity as the main goal of life. The sobering fact is that you will never fully become the person that you aim to be. Illustrative of this point is the title of a blog post I read a couple of months ago that was something along these lines: “If the you from 5 and 10 years ago was an idiot, what does that say about present-day you?”

Wealth

Second, many are tempted to pursue wealth as the driving force of their life. Money, possessions, and the power that surrounds them are quite appealing. If anyone had the right to speak about the effects of money, it is Solomon. If the accounts of 1 Kings are correct (and since they are within the Bible, let’s go away and make that assumption), then some have estimated Solomon’s networth to be around $2.1 trillion, making him the richest man to ever live. To put this in perspective, Rockefeller comes in at number two with a networth of $600 billion.

So what does the richest man to ever live say about money? “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (5:10). Notice that Solomon isn’t calling wealth or money evil. In fact, he goes on to say in verse 19 of the same chapter that it is a gift of God whenever anyone is able to enjoy the wealth and possessions given to him by God. But sadly, not everyone is able to enjoy the wealth that they acquire, and in verses 1-6 of chapter six, Solomon claims that it is better to be miscarried in your mother’s womb than to have blessings and not be able to enjoy them. But that is how the love of money works. You become so obsessed with having more that you cannot enjoy what you already have.

Family 

Finally, we might try to our family the goal of our lives. This is a particularly difficult one to grasp because it feels like the right thing to do and Hollywood seems hell-bent on teaching this valuable lesson (at times…). And of course, the Bible calls us to love our families well. Paul tells us that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Clearly, family is serious business, but still it is not ultimate. If this sounds wrong, just consider the clear reality. If your spouse is the center of your life, what happens when he or she passes away, or worse if they betrayed you and left you alone? If your kids become your reason for living, what if they die, or what happens when they get married and have families of their own? As much as I love my wife and daughter, they are not God. If I make them my gods, they will be crushed under the weight of my expectations for them. Family is not eternal and will eventually fail, so family cannot replace God.

Of course, there are plenty more things that people make the goal of their lives, but we don’t have time to even attempt addressing such a never-ending list.

TO LIVE IS CHRIST

Take a moment to notice that self-interest, wealth, and family are not evil things. Each is a good gift given by a good God. The problem comes whenever we make them our gods, whenever the gifts usurp the Giver. While they are good to have, they are not eternal and, therefore, cannot truly satisfy us. Given enough time, they will each eventually fail us. God, however, cannot fail us. Augustine describes this trading of the Giver for His gifts as being like a hungry man who keeps licking a painting of bread instead of asking a baker for a loaf. Or we could say it is as ridiculous as writing and giving a thank you card to the gift itself instead of the giver. Doing so is foolish, as insane as trying to catch the wind in your hand.

This is why Solomon repeats throughout Ecclesiastes that true and lasting enjoyment of life is a gift from God. Enjoyment cannot be earned or bought. It is a gift that can only come from the hand of the Giver. Therefore, Solomon is constantly trying to force us to fix our hope above the sun, beyond this life, and onto the Author of life. All is vanity under the sun. A life lived exclusively under the sun is a wasted life, but a life given over to God is a life of true and lasting joy.

The Apostle Paul famously expresses a similar message in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Often it is the second part of that verse that sticks out in our minds. We quote it as a reminder whenever we start to cringe at the thought of leaving this world. It comes with a lump in our throat as we hear stories of martyrs for Christ throughout history. Indeed, the blessed hope of the Christian faith is that Christ will return to resurrect our bodies so that we will live forever in His presence. Yes! Let “death is gain” be the Christian’s dying words! But the first phrase is just as important: “to live is Christ.”

What does Paul mean by saying “to live is Christ?” He means that all of life belongs to Christ. Our very state of existing is now the property of Christ. As Christians, we have been bought by God with a price, so we are called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). That price was the very death of God upon a cross as a substitute for us. Because of the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).

As a Christian, your life is not your own; it belongs to God. This is why Paul tells us twice to glorify God in everything that we do, in our eating or drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31) and in our words and deeds (Colossians 3:17).

And why would we not want to do so?

He is Author of life (Acts 3:15).

“In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

All of creation was created by Him, through Him, and for Him, so that He is preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:15-20).

The universe itself is upheld by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

And one day, every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will proclaim Jesus as Lord and bow before Him to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

If living for the gifts of God is utter foolishness, then living for the Giver Himself is the wisest action we can take. But having God be the great purpose of our lives is for our good as well as His glory. After all, if we long to live for something greater than ourselves, who fits that category better than God! If we want to live lives that matter and have a real purpose, where else can we turn except to Him who formed all of existence?

But practically, how can we live for God’s glory?

If you are not a Christian, then the path toward living for God’s glory begins with repenting and believing the gospel (Mark 1:15). First, repentance is far more than simply apologizing for sin. Repentance is the heart-broken confession of sin, followed by turning away from it. Repentance is the renouncing of sin. Second, believing the gospel means understanding the good news that Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection saves us from our sins. The gospel is that even though we deserved the full and just wrath of God for our sins, the death of Jesus paid that penalty completely and gives to us the righteousness of Christ in its place. The good news is that we who were once objects of God’s wrath are now His children (Ephesians 2:1-10).

If you already a follower of Christ, other than continuing to repent and believe the gospel, here are some basic actions for being a disciple of Jesus. These basics are pray, know the Scripture, love the church, and obey Scripture.

Relationships cannot exist without communication, so how can we have a relationship with God without speaking to Him in prayer?

With God’s self-revelation in Scripture, we can quickly find ourselves praying to a god fashioned within our minds if we are not rooted and grounded in the Bible.

Many claim to love Jesus but can’t stand the church. The church, however, is the body and bride of Jesus. You can’t love Jesus and not love His church.

Finally, Jesus Himself said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This does not mean that you will ever perfectly obey in this life, but it does mean that you should want to obey the commands of God.

Of course, living a life for God’s glory does not mean that you must be called to full-time ministry; instead, serve God wherever He places you in life. If you are a nurse, then be a nurse to the glory of God by working as though you are working for Christ (Colossians 3:23) and proclaiming the gospel whenever a door is opened to do so (Colossians 4:3). If you are a mechanic, then be a mechanic to the glory of God by working as though you are working for Christ and proclaiming the gospel whenever a door is opened to do so. In other words, be missional where you are and with what you are doing.

If that sounds like a boring and inconsequential life, consider the first 300 years of Christianity. Throughout that time, Christians faced some of the worst and most intense persecution found throughout history, and yet by the early 300s Rome had its first Christian emperor and in 380 Christianity was the official religion. How did Christianity become so powerful even in the midst of persecution? Church historian Justo Gonzalez notes that Christianity spread on the backs of ordinary and long-forgotten Christians, slaves and business-people alike, who took the good news with them wherever they went. Of course, Acts also tells us this fact as well: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (8:4). After Stephen’s death and Christians became persecuted in Jerusalem, many fled the city, but they did not stop sharing the gospel.

The world’s greatest empire was overcome by normal and ordinary believers living their common and seemingly un-noteworthy lives for God’s glory. May we too give our lives to that one focus. After all, nothing else comes close to the value, meaning, purpose, and worth of exalting the name of Jesus Christ.

The Vanity of Community Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 4

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 4:6 | Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.   

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 | Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

OPENING THOUGHT

Ecclesiastes is a unique book both within the Bible and outside of it. Written by the Preacher (probably Solomon), it aims to analyze and evaluate everything under the sun to see if any lasting meaning, joy, and purpose can be found in this life. The Preacher’s answer is that everything under heaven is vanity, nothing more than passing vapor.

The bulk of Ecclesiastes is composed of Solomon’s report of his inquiry for meaning under the sun. So far, he has evaluated two broad topics: pleasure and time. Because pleasure makes us feel good, this was the logical place to begin, but the Preacher said that he only enjoyed pleasure for a moment. It offered nothing lasting.  The Preacher also concludes that time is vanity since it consumes the rich and poor alike. Even the greatest of kings and kingdoms succumb to the inevitability of their time running out.

The issue of community is Solomon’s primary focus within this chapter. Although he will highlight the benefits of being in community, much of this chapter is devoted to how we sabotage community with our selfishness. To give structure for interpreting this chapter, we should understand that verses 4-12 cite a personal, ground-level view of community, while 1-3 and 13-16 bookend the chapter with a broad view of how those in authority relate to those below them.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 4 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 4 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Why are two better than one? How were we designed for community? What are some examples from your own life of the blessings of community?
  3. What are some ways presented in this chapter that we can ruin community? Which of these do you find most common in your heart and life?
  4. How can we redeem community through the gospel? What practical steps can we take toward making Philippians 2:3-11 true in our hearts?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?

The Heart of Wisdom | Proverbs 4:20-27

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23 ESV)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of Proverbs is all about learning to live wisely. Unfortunately, biblical wisdom is a term that most people are pretty unfamiliar with, so it is important to know that wisdom is the skill of living life well. Living wisely, according to the Bible, means being able to navigate through life’s twists and turns in God-honoring ways. Wisdom, therefore, is incredibly valuable for everyone.

And graciously, God invites everyone to get wisdom. In fact, God promises that wisdom will be given to everyone who asks Him for it. The problem is that most people are not willing to humble themselves to ask God for wisdom. They refuse to trust and submit themselves to God; instead, they rely upon their own understanding. God calls this foolishness, the opposite of wisdom, and it is also a refusal to fear, love, and honor God.

Within our present verses, Solomon dives into wisdom’s heart. While we have already been given the command to write these words of wisdom on the tablet of our hearts, he now commands us to keep (or guard) our heart vigilantly because from it flow the springs of life. Solomon gives this command because he knows that our heart is the core of our identity. If our heart is wise, our actions will be wise, but if our heart is foolish, everything we do will be foolish.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 4:20-27 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 4:20-27 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is? What do they teach you about Jesus?
  • What does the Bible mean when it refers to the heart? Why is the heart important? Why does Solomon tell us to guard it vigilantly?
  • How do the verses surrounding verse 23 teach us to guard the heart? How do the Scriptures guard our heart? How do our actions impact (positively or negatively) our heart? In what ways do you guard your heart with what you say, what you see, and where you go?
  • Why is it impossible to keep your heart with all vigilance? How does the gospel guard our hearts?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Do Not Be Anxious | Matthew 6:25-34

Week 11 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:30-34)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

OPENING THOUGHT

The Sermon on the Mount contains some of the most popular portions of Jesus’ earthly teachings, but its primary purpose is teaching His followers about living within the kingdom of heaven. So far we have studied the characteristics that ought to define a citizen of God’s kingdom as described within the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaimed the purpose of His disciples as being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Christ established how the Old Testament commandments fit into His kingdom, and He informed us of the right and wrong ways of giving to the poor, praying, and fasting.

Last week, Jesus taught on storing earthly treasures or heavenly treasures. This picked up His thought on seeking a reward for our good works from the Father, not from other people. If we seek any kind of treasure on earth, we know that it is temporal, since we and everything on earth will pass away. Thus, Jesus encouraged us to make an investment toward heavenly treasure, which is eternal. For Christ’s followers, it is black and white: we will either serve God and gain an eternal treasure, or we will serve lesser gods and gain a temporary treasure.

Today’s text is immediately tied into the previous one through the word therefore. If our treasure is eternally secure in God Himself, we will truly be able to live a life without anxiety. Or perhaps I should more accurately say, ONLY if our treasure is eternally secure in God will we ever be able to obey Jesus’ command: do not be anxious about your life. Ultimately, Jesus is inviting us to surrender our worries about life over to the Father. Since we know that God upholds the universe by the word of His power, this should be an easy decision, but these verses are just as challenging as they are encouraging. Will we truly surrender control of our life to the sovereign God?

Read verses 25-33 and discuss the following.

  1. After telling His followers to store up treasures in heaven, Jesus then states, “THEREFORE, do not be anxious about your life.” How does last week’s text (verses 19-24) provide the groundwork for conquering anxiety?
  2. Jesus gives two examples, birds and lilies, to illustrate God’s provision and providence. How do these examples point to the futility of worrying?
  3. Verse 33 is a very well-known verse, but what are some ways that we might seek God’s kingdom first? What does “and all things will be added to you” mean?

Read verse 34 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Jesus tells us not to be anxious about tomorrow because each day has its own trouble. In what ways can we practically live this verse? How does it relate to James 4:13-16?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Make a list of things that tend to cause you to be anxious. Recalling Jesus’ statement in verse 27, does your worry over those things ever help?
  • Pray. Following Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:6-7, bring your anxieties before God in prayer and supplication and ask that God would grant you peace in Christ that surpasses understanding.

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part four

We have now arrived at the Source of a content life. We have discovered that God alone, through Christ, is able granted us the satisfaction that our souls desire. However, if we stop merely at the Source of our satisfaction, then I believe that we will miss an opportunity to see the glory and goodness of God at work.

You see, part of the glorious nature of God’s gift of contentment is the means by which it is given. God, being God, could easily have granted us a form of contentment that offered no level of pleasure. He could have simply given us the ability to be completely satisfied with our lot in life, while also being quite unhappy. Yet, this is not how He chose to operate. God Himself is the Source of our contentment, but joy is the vehicle, the mode, through which His gift is given. This thought gives heart to what was discussed at the beginning: joy leads to satisfaction, which we know now to be because God ordained it as such.

In bringing the ideas of joy, contentment, meaning, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness full circle, we may once again turn toward Ecclesiastes’ and Philippians’ persistent mentioning of joy and its derivative words.

Solomon continually reinforces that the only means of lasting value is enjoying life via the free gift of God.  Paul pleads throughout for the Philippians to rejoice in Christ, even in the persecution that they were experiencing. Thus, over the span of a thousand years, Paul and Solomon both urge, through radically different writings and lives, that finding enjoyment and rejoicing in God are the only means to achieving lasting contentment and satisfaction in life, and enjoyment and rejoicing can only come from God Himself.

Therefore, God is the Source, the Receiver of the means, and the Objective that we hope to arrive upon. In short, joy, contentment, and meaning are only in God the Father through Jesus Christ. The circular quest for purpose has but one answer: the One who is, in and of Himself, the Beginning and the End. He is the summation of the very purpose of our lives.

Thus, we enjoy and rejoice because He is good and sufficient, and in Him, we are completely satisfied. It is this biblical line of thinking that inspired John Piper to form this condensed description of his theology: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Being satisfied in Him necessitates enjoying and rejoicing in Him.

All of this is to say that the chief end of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians is that immeasurable joy can only be found in God, which will lead to a content and satisfied life, and a life that is completely joyful in Him will be supremely glorifying to Him.  Let us, therefore, glorify Christ Jesus along with Solomon and Paul, for His glory will also become our greatest joy.