holding on to progress in the faith

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

Paul is referring to the high call of God in Christ Jesus. A cross-shaped life for sure as we see in the passage itself (click above link). All that is contrary to that is to be considered as nothing more than garbage.

It is wonderful to receive insight and make significant changes. And then it may seem that you’re at a new level, which actually may well be the case. But it is remarkable and disconcerting how almost invariably over time one not only can, but will drift back into the old attitudes or actions.

So Paul’s words here are helpful. They shouldn’t be isolated from their context, but still need to be considered carefully. The emphasis is on how we live. And the context for that is the entire book of Philippians, and for that matter we can say the entire Bible, according to the gospel which is its ultimate focus and fulfillment.

There’s no doubt that once we’ve stepped into a new light and air, it is egregious to us to drift back into the old. We can be sure that all of our advances will be challenged by Satan, and we can say, tested by God. Are we committed to the new course come what may? Or will we yield to the temptation to go back to our old ways?

We need to hold on to what we’ve attained, live up to that. That is part of pursuing the high calling of God in and through Christ Jesus.

the good shaking that’s needed

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Haggai 2:6-9

We live during a time when it seems like the very foundations of civilization are being shaken to their core. When one studies history, it has often felt this way given the disruptions taking place.

In the day when this prophecy was written, it seemed like much was lost, that there was little hope for restoration, at least not to the former glory. But God encouraged the leaders of his people to take courage and do as he had directed them. Building the temple, God’s special dwelling place on earth.

This is a good word for us today. The fulfillment is in Christ. What we see going on, sometimes understandably- oftentimes not, is what God is doing or letting happen. With the goal in the end of good: justice and peace. But fulfilled in Christ, who himself is the fulfillment of the temple where humans have access to God, the meeting place of God on earth where heaven and earth come together “in Christ.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against the injustices and evils of our time. Note the prophets who did this, especially against the wrongs of God’s people. Not that we’re prophets and can do the same. But we need to be open to God’s correction from such.

Not only the whole world needs a good shaking, but our world as well. The writer to the Hebrews addresses that with this passage from Haggai with application not only for the struggling believers of his day who were tempted to leave the faith and actually faith behind, and go back to Judaism, but for us today, who can get caught up in something less than God’s agenda for us, and lose sight of what God has done and is doing in Christ.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:25-29

 

 

 

the gospel ultimately destroys all division

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

We in Christ all belong to the household and family of God. We’re one. That doesn’t mean distinctions no longer exist, though the seeds of abolishing slavery are clearly in the New Testament, in this passage, in the book of Philemon, etc.

The gospel destroys all division in the sense of people not being united. We are “in Christ” and therefore united as one in him. That seems so obvious, a truism even, except that it hasn’t always been played out that way. African slaves were baptized when they responded in faith to the gospel. Yet they remained slaves, as if the family status was somehow only spiritual. That flies in the face of the meaning of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. It’s essentially a family, household thing, full heirs of God’s promise in Christ, as the above passage points out. Likewise females who were often either considered inferior to males, or treated as such are equal in being heirs and members of the family.

We are bereft with deep divisions in the world today. And they only seem exacerbated as people live more deeply and advocate their own common unity, or community. It would be good if by common grace people from diverse backgrounds: racial, religious, whatever could find common ground so that they could live well together. But that kind of unity could never approach the unity that is in Christ. It is good and important in its place, but it’s certainly not a full unity.

The unity in Christ does not destroy the diversity present. Women are still women, men, men, cultures, ethnicity is not changed. And such diversity will be a challenge at times. We are one in Christ, in one household, of one family in him, the family of God. Yet living in that one family will require humility as we learn to grow together. And surely the diversity is used by the Spirit to help us grow up in Christ in ways we otherwise would not. We can see diversity as all gifts from God for the whole, similar to the thought in Ephesians 4. To help us toward full maturity in Christ. That same passage tells us that though we are united in Christ, we’re to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. So to live well within that unity, to not become divided is not automatic.

We have to let this unity have its full effect, and that is both passive and active. We receive all God gives us in Christ by the Spirit. And we contribute our part, in return. In love in the unity that binds us all together in and through Jesus.

to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

saved for good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is a classical salvation verse quoted many times, and used to show that our works don’t save us, but faith. Of course the faith that saves us works, as James clearly teaches. James seems to contradict Paul in that he says we are justified by works, whereas Paul says we’re not justified by works, but by faith. I think the point James was making is that our faith is proved genuine by our works. Paul really says the same thing if you read his letters. And this passage points that direction as well. We are actually created in Christ Jesus for good works. The point of the Greek word, peripateō (περιπατήσωμεν), likely means that good works are our way of life in Christ Jesus.

The good works we do are as unique as the new creations, indeed handiwork each one of us are in Christ Jesus. We are all created uniquely different, like different snowflakes. And new creation is the same. Many of us may do the same things, but they have our own signature on them, exactly how we do them. And we also do different things. Some are adept with hammers and nails, others at playing music, still others in solving problems, and the list goes on and on. There are a number of spiritual gifts listed in different places in scripture (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), all involving good works. Whatever our hand finds to do, we’re to do it wholeheartedly and for the Lord as a blessing to others.

Of course what we do is all because of God’s gift to us. We can and should develop what has been given to us, but in the end we have to recognize that it’s 100% a gift from God. So that God gets all the glory as we give him thanks for what we can do, actually often enjoy doing, and with the wonder that it can be a blessing to others.

What we do proceeds from who we are. And who we are can be a mix of good and bad due to creation and sin, true for us at least much of the time even as Christians. We must be humble, knowing whatever is good comes from God. The desire to do so, and the actual work itself. In and through Jesus.

God’s peace together

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

God calls us, his people to unity in heart and mind. But it’s a unity that’s centered in the gospel. And always in harmony with the gospel, the good news in Jesus.

We need the ministry of the Spirit in our hearts for sure, but it’s never just as individuals. We need to work at being at peace with each other.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:3

So many things can and do divide us as humans, even as God’s people.

We need to work through our differences, oftentimes laying them aside in agreement on what is central, and really transcends all, even though it does impact everything. God’s peace for us in this way is present and will persist to bring us into that reality. We have to let that peace have its way. It is meant to help us be united not only to Christ, but to each other. Actually to live out who we are in Christ: one body (see NET note on this verse).

It is a challenge any day, but maybe especially these days. This has to be part of our passion, so that we are satisfied with nothing less. It is a unity in the gospel. Its basis in scripture in the revelation of the Spirit to the church. In and through Jesus.

Jesus is the center

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1

I love the ceiling in an Orthodox church in our area, in which there is an iconic painting of Jesus in the center, surrounded by apostles and prophets. It is such a beautiful reminder of what we’re told in scripture, and quite specifically here, that Jesus is indeed the center for our life and existence in God. He is the one who brings us to God, as the God-Human, and through his incarnation, death and resurrection, along with his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return.

And being center, or the one who has preeminence, or supremacy, our thoughts need to be fixed on him. In him we see the Father. And he is the one hope for the world to bring the needed justice and salvation, indeed the grace and actual kingdom of God. Beginning now even through the church. In God’s love, in and through him.