Monthly Archives: November 2013

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013 – Do Nothing from Selfishness

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4

We are all hard-wired egoists.  That is we are all born with an innate propensity to look to our own self-interests above all else.  That’s just how we are in our natural state, so when Paul writes to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit,” he is instructing them to do something which is not natural.

Paul is able to make such an outrageous command because he is writing to those who have crucified their sinful nature, their natural egoism, and have been born into new life in Christ. Paul’s words are, therefore, as much a description as they are an instruction.  Those who pattern their life after Christ Jesus will be neither arrogant nor demanding of their own way. Instead, “in humility” they will consider “the interests of others,” that is they will count others as worthy of their care and attention. 

Paul is writing to anchor the Philippians in faith and to remind them of the Christ-like posture of disciples both in times of ease and in days of difficulty.  Of course, even persons of great faith need coaching.  We all need to be reminded “not to think more highly of (ourselves) than (we) ought” (Romans 12:3).  When our natural tendencies rise up, we depend both on the grace of God and on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us be Christ-like in motive and deed.  It’s not easy.  It’s not even natural.  By the grace of God, it’s supernatural.

Lord, I confess that I am a sinner by nature and by choice, and I am daily dependent on your grace and power to raise me above my self-serving ways.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston.

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Monday, November 25, 2013 – Complete My Joy

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. – Philippians 2:1-2

It was not easy for the Philippians to claim faith in Christ.  Paul does not tell us the details of their suffering, but he makes it clear that, like him, these men and women of faith were well acquainted with hardship and persecution.  Paul writes of his awareness that the Philippians “not only believe in (Christ) but also suffer for his sake” (v. 29).  Furthermore, Paul recognizes that he is bound to them by their common persecution – “the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine” (v. 30).

How does Paul respond to these persecuted people of faith?  He seeks to help them anchor their faith in their relationship with Christ Jesus and their relationship with Paul.  He does this with a series of rhetorical expressions – “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.”  This teaching is huge not only for the Philippians, but also for you and me.  When we are facing difficulty, trouble, or adversity, Paul encourages us first to anchor the experience in our relationship with Jesus Christ, then to call upon God’s provision of his Spirit to give us power and peace, and finally to remember that we are not alone in our struggles.  We should draw confidence and courage from the assurance that others – past and present – know our pain and share in it with us.

Paul tells the Philippians that as they rise above the struggles they face, as they refuse to cower in the face of threats, as they stand firm in their faith, they will “complete” his joy. What a fascinating thing to say!  Paul is joyous that these men and women have faith, but his joy will be complete, as their faith remains strong throughout life and even in the face of death, just as his does.  He is not asking anything more of them than he is of himself.  He just wants them to be united with him and with each other, ”being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Few of us will ever face the type of persecution which Paul and the Philippians faced; however, every time our shared faith and binding fellowship encourage us in the face of uncertainty, difficulty, and struggle, we find courage to prevail and we too “complete” Paul’s joy.

Good Father, you never promised us that our life of faith would be easy.  What you do promise us is your presence and power even in the face of overwhelming struggles. Help us to honor you and bring glory to your name both in seasons of struggle and in seasons of ease.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Friday, November 22, 2013 – The Dangers of Faith

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine. – Philippians 1:29-30

Is it more dangerous for someone in Christ to live in a culture which accepts and even encourages faith or in a culture which is indifferent or hostile to faith?  Most of us include in our list of the blessings for which we are thankful that we can worship free from any threat of harm. Such has not been the case for persons of faith through the centuries and is not the case in certain parts of the world today.  Claiming and proclaiming a transforming faith in Christ Jesus have often been accompanied by threat of danger and suspicion.

The Apostle Paul certainly knew such a culture.  He and many others in the first century experienced the vicious oppression of a hostile culture, which imprisoned, marginalized, tortured, and martyred persons of faith.  In fact, Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was in custody in Rome, a short time before he would be martyred.  In it, he offered encouragement to those who believed in Christ Jesus and knew what it was like to “suffer for his sake.”

For the most part, our experience is quite different from that of Paul and the Philippians. However, that does not mean that we face no danger.  There is a down-side to living in a faith-friendly culture.  While we may not face the prospects of the seizure of property, the robbing of our liberty, or the taking of our lives because of our beliefs, an encouraging culture presents us with real danger.  Since we face little resistance, our faith can grow weak, lose vitality, go undefined, and seem unimportant.  An encouraging culture can cause us to take the broad way and the easy path which lead to destruction, to gain ”the whole world” and forfeit our soul, to confuse following the Lord with merely following the crowd, 

You see, danger accompanies faith – danger from hostile cultures, in which faith is discouraged, and danger from faith-friendly cultures, in which faith may be neglected.

Physical harm or spiritual atrophy – which do you think is more dangerous?

Lord Jesus, we thank you for our freedom to worship, serve, and find life in you.  May we use this freedom to develop our faith, to live in truth, and to grow in grace.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013 – Worthy of the Gospel

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel – Philippians 1:27

Paul was well-versed in classic Judaism. “Walk in the way of the Lord,” He had read and learned and practiced for most of his life.  He had sought to earn his place among God’s people by following a strict moral code and by practicing rigid ritualized piety.  When Christ Jesus encountered him on the road to Damascus, Paul began to see the world and the kingdom of God no longer in black-and-white, but through the technicolor lens of God’s grace.  He came to understand that it is not that we earn salvation through our efforts, but that salvation comes to us through God’s action.  Paul also learned that as we live in God’s good care through the power of the Holy Spirit, we grow in grace and into God’s likeness. Paul found freedom in his faith and no longer lived under the threat of a harsh, cruel, demanding standard which robbed his life of its joy and goodness,   In his new-found freedom, he was able to express his love for God and for others in creative, life-giving ways.

Paul found that while it is easy to make rules which designate transgressions and prescribe punishment, it is nearly impossible to codify compassion, force friendship, or legislate love. In encouraging the Philippians to grow in faith, to live honorably, and to form a community of love and peace, Paul, therefore, replaced life-robbing rules with an appeal to a high ideal of citizenship.  Paul did not produce a long list of things they should not do.  Instead, Paul simply offered this watchword: “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Paul knew that Philippi had been designated as an official Roman Colony by Caesar Augustus.  He also knew that such a designation afforded privilege and created civic pride. In just the same way that the Philippians had been encouraged to live in ways that would befit Roman citizens, Paul instructed those in Christ to live in ways that would bring honor to their Lord, ways that are “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

By expressing Christian piety and morality in this way, Paul made it clear that good, moral, and righteous acts are freely offered in response to God’s grace, not in an attempt to earn it. That God’s grace is freely given is, after all, the very essence of the Gospel.

We might express this thought in this way, “God has already accepted you as his child.  Now, go live in a way that will make him proud.”

Good Father, thank you for accepting us, loving us, and empowering us live in ways that may bring honor and glory to your name.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Monday, November 15, 2013 – Whether by Life or by Death

It is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. – Philippians 1:20-23

While he was waiting to be martyred, the Apostle Paul brimmed with confidence and joy.  He was not anxious about whether he would live or die, even though he knew that he might well be executed.  His great faith disarmed his enemies and rendered them powerless over him. How can you defeat a person who says, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”?  Paul was not worried about his legacy.  He was not worried about winning. He was not even worried about dying. Paul’s only concern was that he did not want to dishonor Christ Jesus in his remaining days either in the way he lived or in the way he died.

Paul knew he would not dishonor Christ Jesus by renouncing his allegiance.  He knew he would not dishonor Christ by losing his faith.  He knew he would not dishonor Christ by giving up on God.  He was not concerned that God would not prevail. He was not concerned that God might turn away from him.  He was just concerned that in the days and hours immediately before his death he might appear weak or cowardly in a way that would not “be worthy of the Gospel.”  Paul’s fear was not about death but about dying.  He simply wanted God to be glorified in every aspect of his life to the very end.

Paul was in prison in Rome, but from his writing we can tell that Paul was absolutely free. The prison, the fetters, the guards were only able to hold his body.  His mind and spirit were with his churches, with his friends, with his Lord.  That’s why Paul’s prayer was that just as Christ was being honored in his mind and spirit, so too Christ would be honored in his body.

Paul’s teaching is powerful.  The more we bind ourselves to Christ Jesus, the freer we become.  As we continue to grow in grace and faith so that our passion becomes glorifying God, the stronger we become in the face of opposition, and the more confident we can be in living out our faith.  Our only concern, not unlike Paul’s, will be to honor God in the way we live and in the way we die.

“Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.”  Amen

A Bible-study Devotional Blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, November 7, 2013 – High Living in Low Places

I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14

It is easy to forget in reading Philippians that Paul was in prison when he penned these words.  He speaks of being “in chains,” earlier in the letter, but as he moves to update the readers on his condition – as is typical at this point in Greco-Roman letters of the time – he speaks openly of his imprisonment.  He has been in and out of jails in various places before, but Paul is in a Roman prison at this point, and we know that he will not leave Rome alive. 

The reason it is easy to forget that Paul is in prison when reading this letter is that the tone and content of his words are incredibly joyous and confident.  He sounds neither frightened nor desperate.  In fact, he even views his misfortune as an opportunity to glorify God and advance God’s good work. “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,” Paul writes, “So that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

We can learn much from Paul in these simple, confident words.  First, Paul so completely identifies with the grand and mighty work of God that he evaluates the events of his life not so much by how they affect him personally as by how they may impact the spread of the Gospel.  Second, Paul differentiates the things which are under his control from the things which are beyond his control.  He cannot control what others do, but he can surely control his own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  He chooses to live at the highest level of faith even in the lowliest circumstances.  Finally, he has an overwhelming trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness in life, in death, and in life-beyond-death.  It is that faith which fuels his confidence.

Paul’s faith has set him free to live in Christ and for Christ.  No chains or prison can bind his spirit.  Thanks be to God!

Good Father, we thank you for Paul’s witness even through difficult times.  Help me learn from him that I may trust you fully and live with faith, hope, and love even when difficulty and disappointment come my way.  Amen.

A Bible study blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013 – Partakers with Me of Grace

It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God..  - Philippians 1:7-11

Paul expresses great personal affection for those in Philippi.  Such affection is totally appropriate, Paul asserts, because they are partakers of God’s grace, just as he is.

Paul’s emphasis here is that there is no distinction among those in Christ in any ultimate or eternal sense.  The only distinctions Paul makes have to do with functionality. In other letters, such as Romans and 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes that the differences among followers of Christ are akin to the differences between the eye and the ear.  They serve different functions, but they are both part of the same body, both dependent on bodily functions to survive.  Each has something to contribute; neither is able to survive on its own. So too, Paul asserts, the only distinctions among those in Christ is the function each serves. When it comes to status in the kingdom of God, we are all simply partakers of God’s grace.

Paul’s word is as important to those in Christ today as it was when it was first penned twenty centuries ago.  None of us is able to claim a righteousness on our own.  None is without sin. Some sins are more difficult to hide than others.  Some sins have greater consequences than others.  Some are sins of weakness; others are sins of malice.  There are clear differences in the sins we commit, but God’s grace is sufficient in every case.  We are all sinners by nature and by choice.  We are all dependent on God’s grace.  If we are in Christ, we are fellow “partakers…of grace” with the Apostle Paul and all others.

Over in Romans, Paul writes, “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).  That statement can sound condemning and it can sound freeing.  We can hear judgment in it, and we can hear acceptance in it.  So it is with grace.  Our attempts to earn righteous status on our own merit are as fruitless as trying to fish the moon’s reflection out of a pond.  However, when we allow God to have his way with us, our sinful nature is crucified and we are made new. God’s grace floods our lives, love abounds, and we are ”filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Let us partake gladly with Paul of the grace of God.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come.
‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Monday, November 4, 2013 – Finishing What He Begins

I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

Paul begins his Letter to the Philippians with a word about finishing.  After the introductions and a word of thanksgiving for them, Paul writes, “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Paul is wonderfully encouraging, as he dares to assure the Philippians both that God is at work in them and that their destiny is to be completed and perfected by the grace of God.

In a pastoral and prophetic way, Paul proclaims to his readers that God is up to something bigger than they can imagine both within each individual and within the entire community. God’s desire is not simply for each individual to be a little better, a little kinder, or a little more religious.  Oh no!  God’s desire is that every individual be Christ-like in spirit, motive, word, and deed.  Such a vision out-strips our own smug ideas of what it means to be religious.  Our limited thinking is challenged by such a God-size undertaking.  Paul’s word: God has begun it; God will do it.

LIkewise God’s desire is not simply for the world to be a little kinder, fairer, or less violent. Oh no!  God envisions a new creation, in which his people form the beloved community, which Christ Jesus began – a transformed and transforming community of faith, hope, and love.  Such a vision out-strips our own limited ideas of what it means to be a church.  Our limited thinking is challenged by such a God-sized undertaking.  Paul’s word:  God has begun it; God will do it.

Perhaps we all face the temptation both individually and as the church to set our sights on far less than God’s plan or God’s will.  But Paul reminds us that God has not begun a limited work of little significance.  God has begun a mighty work, a transformational work, a God-sized work – in you and me. Paul encourages us to surrender fully to God’s will and align our lives confidently with God’s big plan, because God tends to finish what he begins.

Good Father, forgive me for distorting your truth and taming your mighty work so it will fit my little life.  Instead, continue what you have started within me, and fit me for your mighty work.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston