Tag Archives: Philippians 1

Passive or Active? – I have a choice…

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. what can mortal man do to me?…I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank-offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(Ps 56.3&4,12&13)

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

(Ps 119.1-8)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life….

(Phil 1.27, 2.12-16)

We are a resurrection people; we live in the light of an empty tomb and a risen saviour. Not only do we believe these things, but we live because of them! By faith in this Jesus, we live free from guilt and the burden of shame; free to love generously and expect nothing in return; free to pursue holiness and godly living not as a grim attempt to earn salvation, but a joyous expression of love and gratitude to the God who has saved us and called us to live with him….but sometimes it doesn’t feel easy, sometimes the temptation to indulge the old habits of thought and action are very strong. 

When I am faced with major challenges to my faith and trust in God, it is easy to succumb to the habits and attitudes of the world around me. Self pity, complaining, fearfulness and resentment at God for permitting these trials all come so easily. I am sorely tempted to indulge that weakness which consists of blaming God for making my life harder than I like or feel is reasonable.

The bible has no room for such self-deluded behaviour, but insists I recognise it for what it is – sin; a refusal to live as though I believed what God has revealed about himself and what He has promised to do. I don’t like being exposed as a willful sinner, but that is what I see in the psalmists words and in Paul’s words to his beloved Philippian church.

The gulf between God’s standards and my choices is stark, and I cannot take refuge in the claim that I can’t help myself, because the whole point of our new life in Christ is that I can, and must! I have a will, a conscience, and the common sense which God has given his children. All these things are now under the lordship of Jesus – as a beloved minister of my youth used to say, ‘use your sanctified common sense!’ Each situation that arises is another opportunity to live in ‘a manner worthy of the gospel’, to speak and act and think to God’s glory and the furthering of the kingdom. I have to ask myself, “Am I honouring the price which has been paid for me? Does my conduct here bring the reality of Jesus transforming power to view?” All too often, the answer would have to be ,’No’. When I choose to indulge my complaints, to feed my doubts, to wallow in self-pity, I dishonour the gospel. When I choose instead to exercise my will, and common sense by taking my troubles to Christ and acknowledging my weakness and doubt, and ask for his help to stand for him and walk by his light, then I honour the gospel.  Which is it to be?

Thanks be to God, who is working out in me the salvation to which he has called me; I am not a passive agent in my circumstances, but active. I have the capacity to choose obedience and trust, and as I pursue these things in every area of my life, so I will indeed walk in the ‘light of life’, in the fullness and peace which God promises to those who seek first his kingdom and glory.

And by the way…

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

(1Thessalonians 5.23&24)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 1.3-6)

I think I have written before about how I have been blest throughout my christian life by teachers who believe that all of scripture is God-breathed and necessary to my growth in faith and godliness. I am thankful to them for their faithfulness in helping me to study unattractive texts, and learning how to hear God’s voice as I read lists in Numbers, and gloomy, violent curses in the minor prophets!

But there are bits of the bible which I find much easier to learn from than others – namely the Psalms, and the apostolic letters in the new testament (basically everything after the book of Acts, but possibly not Revelation!). The writers of the letters to the young churches were urgent and focussed in their messages, and every phrase counts. The letter to the church in Rome is perhaps the ‘meatiest’ in that it requires careful reading and thought to follow all Paul’s reasoning. Some of the others are more direct and even pithy, as the authors fire out clear instructions to the young believers about how to live godly lives, to recognise and deal with heresy, and to bear witness under severe persecution.

I love instructions, for every area of life! I am the person who is most unhappy when faced with a responsibility or task for which she can find no ‘this is how to do it right’ kind of manual, so it is perhaps understandable that these relatively short letters appeal to me so much. Of course, the fact that the instructions are so clear does not mean that they are easy to fulfill – how many of us can truthfully say that we are always ‘alert and self-controlled’, or that we always ‘live in peace with each other’? But these types of writings do help us enormously to see what christian love should look like, when lived out with God’s help, in our daily lives. They help us to put high-sounding sentiment into hard demanding action, dealing with the sometimes brutal realities of life for ourselves and other people.

In his letter to the very young church in Thessalonica, Paul has been principally concerned to encourage and strengthen them in the face of persecution, and self-doubt, and the whole tone of the writing is full of wonderful affection for the new believers whom he had to abandon so early in their growth in faith. The latter half of the final chapter however is an almost breathless list of things which Paul asks them to do. One can almost picture the apostle realising that he has only limited space or time left in which to complete his writing, and so his thought becomes concentrated on the really important things he wants to say – and how briefly he can say them!

After firing out ‘respect those who work hard among you;‘ and ‘help the weak, be patient with everyone‘, he goes on to even briefer and harder hitting phrases, ‘ be joyful always‘, ‘test everything‘ and ‘avoid every kind of evil‘. We are left almost breathless, and certainly rather daunted by the weight behind his bullet points! Who could ever hope to keep up this level of perfection in the daily battle of following Jesus in a world which rejects him, where the remnant of sin in our own selves so easily drags us off course?

And so the great apostle suddenly changes tack, the whole tone of the writing changes again, as his compassion for his audience swells up and he remembers that they – like himself – are still frail human creatures, easily discouraged and vulnerable to despair. He launches into a great prayer to God on their behalf, a prayer which puts all the burden back where it belongs, into the hands of their Creator, Redeemer, Father and Lord. It is God who is called to make them perfect – to ‘sanctify them’ and to make sure that when Jesus returns, they are still safe within his grasp.

We are called to the utmost effort in loving obedience, but it is God who is responsible for creating perfection in us – what a relief! And what joy and peace there is for us in those wonderful words, ‘The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!’ 

Amen Lord, so let it be!