Saturday, June 28, 2014

"How to 'REJOICE in the Lord!' ..."

Day #183:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 29th

Scripture Reading:  Philippians 3 - 4 ...

Living as a follower of Jesus Christ in this world is never easy.  It never HAS BEEN easy!  We who know Jesus and who have the Spirit of God within us desire to be like Christ, to be perfect, to be focused on serving God in all that we do.  But we are bombarded with temptations from our own flesh, from the world and from our enemy, the devil.  We struggle ... yet, we REJOICE!!  Why?  How?

As Paul writes his letter to the Philippians from prison we have seen that he believes that "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1:21).  He has no illusions that he is about to slip into a nice, quiet, peaceful retirement after his missionary journeys.  He also understands that he is not the only one who is suffering or who is struggling to live for Christ.  His affection for the believers in the churches he had helped establish motivated him to help them understand how to find joy in the Lord in spite of their circumstances.  So he writes in chapter 1, verses 29-30, "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have."

Unlike some who preach today, Paul had no "pie-in-the-sky" view of the Christian life, so when he calls the Philippians to "rejoice in the Lord" he is teaching them that it is possible to rejoice in the midst of the struggles and trials that we face here on the earth.  He makes it clear at the beginning of chapter 3 that his rejoicing does not come from trusting in his own goodness.  He says, "We ... put no confidence in the flesh" (3:3).  Rather, "whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (3:7). The basis of Paul's joy, and of ours, is in possessing a "righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (3:9).  KNOWING that we are righteous in Christ in the sight of God motivates true believers to be like Christ.

Some today think that if we know we are saved by faith, apart from works, there is no motivation to overcome the flesh and to serve God, but just the opposite is true.  Those who know that Jesus paid our debt and who have the Spirit of God within us "want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings" (3:10).  Paul's desire to "attain to the resurrection from the dead" doesn't mean that he was trying to earn eternal life, but that he wanted to experience the fullness of Christ in him.  This is made clear in verses 12-14:

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

God's goal, as Paul stated in Romans 8:29, is that we who believe will "be conformed to the likeness of His Son."  So Paul writes, "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things" (3:15).  This is how true believers think.  We want to be like Jesus.  Others "live as enemies of the cross of Christ" (3:18).  "Their mind is on earthly things" (3:19).  "But OUR citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, WILL TRANSFORM OUR LOWLY BODIES so that they WILL BE like His glorious body!" (3:20-21).

We WILL reach our goal - GOD's goal!  "THEREFORE ... that is how you should stand firm in the Lord" (4:1).  The result of this assurance is peace of heart and mind.  Paul picks up his theme of rejoicing in chapter 4, verse 4:  "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!"  Knowing that God is with you, that "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (2:13), we who believe have a peace that the world knows nothing about, for it is found in Christ Jesus.  Paul encourages them to "put into practice"  what they have learned and heard from him and have seen in his example.  All of us should be able to say that.

The "secret of being content" is found in knowing that your strength comes from your relationship with Christ.  He is always with you.  You are never alone.  "And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (4:19).  When your desire is to bring glory to the God who saved you, peace is yours, for He is at work in your life from beginning to end.  So Paul concludes, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen" (4:23).

Desiring to be like Christ is the key to rejoicing in the Lord ... first, because of God's promise to complete the work He has begun (1:6), and second, because thinking about being like Jesus, desiring to be like Jesus, straining toward being like Jesus helps you to THINK right thoughts ... thoughts that lead to right actions:  "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things!" (4:8-9).  Occupying your mind with the things of God changes your thinking AND your living, giving you peace in the midst of your daily struggles ... and that leads to JOY!

Don't let your mind and your heart get bogged down with the "stuff" of this world.  All of us have to deal with things we don't like and we would rather avoid, but God gives His children all we need to overcome the negative thoughts that so easily creep into our minds.  Ask Him to help you today to set your mind on being like Christ and remember that you CAN do what God calls you to do, through the strength that is yours through your oneness with Christ.  "To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (4:20).

"Father, You have given me joy in the knowledge that the righteousness of Christ is mine by faith.  Now I desire to be like Christ, to think and to act as He did as He walked and lived in this world.  Fill me with Your Spirit and help me to find my peace and contentment in trusting You and serving You.  Thank You, Father, for Your promise to me and to all who believe that when Jesus returns we will be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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