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The Source Of Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

Considering his wrongful imprisonment by the Romans, Paul’s admonition is astonishing. In the clutches of a legal system that was sometimes impaired by corruption, the apostle’s fears might well consume him. Instead, he puts his cares in the hands of his infallible and omnipotent Father in heaven, and so is able to exhort his fellow-sufferers to “be anxious for nothing.” In doing so, he reminds us of the true source of thanksgiving: God’s person and work.

Public Domain by KRK

Public Domain by KRK

Why Worry When You Can Pray?

Bobby McFerrin’s infectious 1988 pop hit “Don’t worry, be happy” expresses the philosophy of many people when they face the trials and troubles that inevitably attend life in this fallen world. Christians are not exempt from problems and fears, but they can cast their care upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7.) Rather than say: “Don’t be anxious,” full stop; Paul says “don’t be anxious – pray instead.” This reflects a confidence in God and is a tacit acknowledgement of His power and faithfulness. Because the Lord is both sovereign and good, the believer can trust Him to work out His purposes for their ultimate, eternal blessing (Rom. 8:28-29.) Spurgeon points out that He is the only proper ground of the saints’ trust:

Is his heart faint? Is his arm weary? Is his eye grown dim? If so, seek another God; but if he be infinite, omnipotent, faithful, true, and all-wise, why gaddest thou abroad so much to seek another confidence? Why dost thou rake the earth to find another foundation, when this is strong enough, and broad enough, and deep enough to bear all the weight which thou canst ever build thereon? Christian, be single in your faith; have not two trusts, but one. Believer, rest thou only on thy God, and let thine expectation be from him.[1]

Habitual Thanksgiving

This passage also exhorts believers to bring their requests “with thanksgiving.” Giving thanks should come naturally to them, as a couple of nineteenth century commentators declare:

‘The temper of the Christian should always be one of thanksgiving. Nearly every Psalm, however deep the sorrow and contrition, escapes into the happy atmosphere of praise and gratitude. The Psalms, in Hebrew, are the Praises. All prayer ought to include the element of thanksgiving, for mercies temporal and spiritual’ (Note by the Dean of Peterborough). The privilege of prayer is in itself an abiding theme for grateful praise.[2]

  Why does Paul link thankfulness with prayer and supplication? First, looking to our God for help reminds us of all He has done for us in the past. He purposefully created us and presently maintains our physical lives (Acts 17:28.) He providentially provides health, food, friends, and family (see Psalm 104.) Most of all one thinks of “His indescribable gift,” He provided His Son as a propitiatory sacrifice, offering a liberating redemption payment and giving a new righteous standing in the Father’s sight (2 Cor. 9:15; Rom. 3:21-26.) In the future, He will complete the work He began in believers by returning to take them to Himself and transform them into resurrected form. They will then reign with Him in the Millennial kingdom and the eternal state to follow (Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:11-23; 1 Cor. 6:3; 1 John 3:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4-6.)

Gratitude ought to be a daily, moment-by-moment attitude of human beings, yet it is often forgotten – especially in the presence of troubles. People often react to problems with introspection – or sometimes even self-absorption. But if one knows who God is and all that He does for us, then thankfulness is the logical and spiritual response. As Albert Mohler, Jr. recently wrote: “Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act, rightly understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is a theology in microcosm – a key to understanding what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.”[3]

Ingratitude: A Native Human Weed

Historically, forgetting the Creator and ingratitude have gone hand in hand, as Romans 1:21 explains: “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In fact the original fall of Adam and Eve may be seen as a lack of thankfulness towards God’s bounty and a corresponding desire to have fulfillment outside of obedience to His will (Gen. 3:1-6.) Fixing one’s mind on God cultivates thankfulness; ignoring Him leads to thanklessness and foolish independence.

Admittedly, not giving in to fear is sometimes easier said than done. One writer notes that “Be anxious for nothing” is “an admonition that touches the quick of every person.”[4] Yet these verses are practical, being battle tested in the cauldron of multitudinous sorrows. In prison cells, on sickbeds, and in the face of various tragedies large and small believers still demonstrate that the Almighty exchanges fear for faith and worry for peace. Only the reality of God’s power and love as manifested at the cross can give one the patience and equanimity to endure hard circumstances. Because the Son of God died and rose again defeating every enemy, there is no trial that can withstand His effectual working (1 Cor. 15:51-56.) Only His throne of grace is a sufficient place where one may take one’s cares and needs. Commenting on Philippians 4:6-7, F.B. Hole well summarizes this truth: “We may be anxious as to nothing, because prayerful as to everything, and thankful for anything.[5]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Words of Expostulation,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 7. Originally preached on January 20, 1861. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1861), 70.

[2] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Philippians, With Introduction and Notes. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893, 112f. [Italics original.]

[3] Albert Mohler, Jr., “They Did Not Honor Him Or Give Thanks – Why Thanksgiving Is Inescapably Theological,” on the blog, accessed on 11/24/15 here:

[4] Maxie D. Dunnam, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 31: Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982, 308.

[5] F.B. Hole, Philippians. Electronic ed., accessed here: Accessed on 11/28/11. [Italics original.]

The School Of Adversity

Saturday, February 19th, 2011


But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Philippians 1:12

Paul was probably the most effective Christian missionary in history. His dynamic evangelistic and Bible teaching ministry resulted in many conversions and the subsequent formation of several Asian and European churches. Far from robbing the apostle of his effectiveness his imprisonment actually led to the advancement of the gospel. First, Paul diligently witnessed to his captors who were taken from the ranks of the elite palace guard (Phil. 1:13; in this verse “palace” is literally Praetorium, i.e. the place of the powerful  royal bodyguards.) Second, the curtailment of his public preaching ministry, coupled with his resolute courage in the face of danger, motivated other Christians to begin proclaiming the good news of Christ in place of the incarcerated apostle.

Paul’s example leads one to ask oneself: Am I willing to suffer that the gospel may progress to lost souls? Do the problems of life open up avenues to glorify the Lord? Christians must pray to discern how they may use every occasion to witness to the lost, as well as grow in personal dependence on the Lord. A good friend once told me how terminal cancer opened doors for him to share the good news of Christ with many people that he otherwise would not have met. I can testify that my personal affliction of cerebral palsy has taught me much about the Lord’s powerful mercy, as well as providing numerous opportunities to share Christ with people who suffer physically. Praise God that He sovereignly uses the hard things of life to bless and save people!

Originally published on (The website of Carryduff Gospel Hall, Carryduff, Northern Ireland.)

The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel (1)

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Originally published in Precious Seed, Vol. 65 Issue 1 (2010.)

The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ holds the answer to the momentous problems facing mankind today. In spite of this, the good news encounters opposition wherever it is proclaimed. The Adversary, Satan blinds men’s minds against it, 2 Cor. 4. 4, the world system allures people away from it, 1 John 2. 15-17, and the flesh rebels against its claims, Gal. 4. 29; 5. 17. The Lord Jesus foretold this sobering situation, saying:

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me, John 15. 18-21.

Paul taught the same principle to his converts, affirming that ‘…all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’, 2 Tim. 3. 12; see also Acts 14. 22. Elsewhere he told his ‘child in the faith’, Timothy, to ‘…endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’, 2 Tim. 2. 3. John puts it succinctly: ‘Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you’, 1 John 3. 13. Of course, the apostles were not ‘armchair theologians’ who lacked the knowledge of the vicissitudes of real life. They themselves suffered for their identification with Christ and His gospel. For example, Paul’s experience of persecution and hardship for the progress of the glad tidings is clearly set forth in his epistle to the Philippians. What is more, this encouraging letter demonstrates the unassailable joy that the believer possesses in Christ in spite of the difficulties that serving Him brings about in this life.

Gold, Politics, And Geographic Advantage

Philippi was an important city in the Roman province of Macedonia. Founded by Greeks in the sixth century B.C. as Krenides (‘Springs’), it eventually was wrested from the Thracians and renamed Philippi in 356 B.C. by Philip II of Macedon – famous for being Alexander the Great’s father. Thanks to gold mines in the vicinity, in those days it was a ‘boomtown’. It was also strategically located about ten miles away from the Aegean Sea. Macedonian control eventually gave way to the Romans, who incorporated Macedonia and its holdings into their advancing empire in 148 B.C. It was located along the prominent highway the Via Egnatia. By that time, gold was no longer prevalent and the population dwindled. Nevertheless, world events again revitalized Philippi after Julius Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius were defeated outside the city by Octavian (later known as Augustus) and Antony. By 27 B.C. it was declared a Roman colony, meaning that its residents enjoyed the rights and privileges of Roman citizens.[i] One writer describes the city’s affinity for the imperial capital in these words:

In every way the colony was a reproduction of Rome. The city of Philippi was laid out in the same patterns of Rome, and style and architecture were copied extensively. The coins produced in the city bore Roman inscriptions. The local magistrates liked to term themselves praetores (strategoi), in the Roman manner. The Latin language was used and its citizens adorned themselves in Rome dress. In every way Philippi was a “little Rome” when Paul first traversed its streets. Although it was not the general capital of the province (Thessalonica was), Philippi was a leading city and the first station of the famous road the Via Egnatia, which Rome built to link its eastern territories with the Empire. This road ran directly through the middle of the city and divided it into a lower and upper city. The lower city contained the agora and library while the upper city situated on the side of the mountain was the location of many of the temples.[ii]

In short, it was a cosmopolitan place, which was an ideal base for establishing a gospel beachhead in Europe.

An Inauspicious Beginning

At the commencement of his second missionary journey, Paul was overtly forbidden by the Spirit to preach in Asia Minor; instead, he was called to evangelize Macedonia, Acts 16. 6-10. When the missionary party arrived in Philippi, it did not appear to be a fortuitous place to begin a new work for God. After all, the apostle’s normal approach consisted of going to the local synagogue, making contacts among fellow Jews, Gentile proselytes, and “God-fearers” (one step below a proselyte). Philippi seems not to have met the rabbinic requirement for a Jewish house of worship, however, for it does not appear that there were ten Jewish men residing in the city. Accordingly, upon arriving they made their way to a place where Jews were known to gather for prayer. There they encountered some devout women. Despite the initial lack of a formal congregation Paul and Silas preached to these dear souls, resulting in the conversion of a Thyatiran businesswoman named Lydia and her household, Acts 16. 14-15.

The next victory in the gospel was drawn from the world of the occult. A certain enslaved fortune-teller, who derived her ‘second sight’ through demon possession, daily accosted the missionaries with her misleading cries. In response, Paul cast the unclean spirit out of her, thereby depriving some local businessmen of their lucrative ‘property’. Consequently, they did what any opportunistic, aggrieved entrepreneur would do: they took the heralds of the gospel to court. Like the high priests and Sanhedrin before them, they denounced the Christians as dangerous threats to peace and Roman law. Since the famed Pax Romana (Roman peace) was built upon the Lex Romana (Roman Law), these charges were taken quite seriously and resulted in the preachers’ imprisonment, Acts 16. 16-24.

Rather than hindering the gospel, this turn of events actually led to one of the most dramatic conversions in the New Testament. Under these difficult circumstances, Paul and Silas displayed a remarkably resilient attitude, praying and singing within their cell. The stocks held their feet, but their ebullient spirits could not be restrained. With hearts full of His love, their voices were profitably employed in communion with their Lord. Astonishment must have seized their fellow inmates, for when an earthquake opened the prison’s doors and loosed the prisoners’ bonds no one fled, vv. 26-28. Clearly God was at work within this place of confinement. This uncommon turn of events terrified and transfixed the jailer. He and his family believed in the Lord Jesus Christ that very night. Between Lydia’s household and the unnamed warden, a fledgling assembly was established. Amidst the harsh treatment of the business and legal communities, the gospel produced fruit for God’s glory (Paul refers to this ‘shameful’ treatment in 1 Thess. 2. 2). It was a harbinger of what was to come in his later written ministry to the Philippians.

A Postal Bible School For Serving The Lord

At the time of the writing of Philippians, Paul was once more in prison. Scholarly opinion is divided over the location of his incarceration – Rome, Ephesus, and Caesarea being the suggested possibilities. Regardless of the location, like before, his imprisonment failed to stop the gospel. On the contrary, Philippians makes it clear that Paul possessed a jail-proof joy that transcended trials due to the knowledge of God’s incontrovertible purposes, e.g. Phil. 1. 6; 4. 4.

Paul could not go to Philippi to preach, so he took up his pen in order to exhort them. Chiefly on his heart was their unity in Christ leading to participation in the furtherance of the gospel. He notes their fellowship in the gospel and refers to his great affection for them, 1. 3-11. Nonetheless, their assistance in the ministry was imperiled by a lack of unity within the assembly, which seemed to stem from self-centred behaviour among the believers. Therefore, the apostle devotes a large portion of the book to exhorting them to be more unified, selfless, and Christ-like, 1. 27; 2. 1-11; 4. 1-3.

Outlining Philippians

General Outline

Chapter 1: The Gospel’s Progress Against Opposition & Suffering

Chapter 2: The Gospel’s Selfless Proponents

Chapter 3: The Gospel’s Selfish Enemies & Their Defeat

Chapter 4: The Gospel’s Uniting & Providing Power

Detailed Outline

Phil. 1. 1-11: Introduction

1. 12-26: Paul’s imprisonment & its effect on the gospel

1. 27-2. 5: Exhortation to live worthy of the gospel amidst suffering & embrace the mind of Christ

2. 6-11: Christ’s selfless example

2. 12-16: Exhortation to work out their salvation and live consistent with it

2. 17-18: Paul’s selfless example

2. 19-24: Timothy’s selfless example

2. 25-30: Epaphroditus’ selfless example

3. 1-2: Answering Self seeking false teachers

3. 3-14: Paul’s past, present & future regarding righteousness

3. 15-21: Exhortation to a godly walk in view of Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of their bodies

4. 1-9: Exhortation to unity among the saints

4. 10-19: Thanksgiving for their financial gift

4. 20-23: Closing salutations

Other Prominent Themes Of The Book

Philippians repeatedly mentions joy, but it is far removed from erroneous human conceptions of pleasure. This epistle’s joy emanates from God’s goodness, love and power. As one writer says: ‘It is the joy that comes from complete dedication to the will of Christ which brings about a willingness to even go to the point of death for the sake of the gospel’.[iii] The book also has much to say about ‘the mind’, 1. 27; 2. 2, 3, 5; 3. 15, 16, 19; 4. 2, 7. Thankfulness is also an important topic, 1. 3; 4. 6, 10. The third chapter focuses on the important subject of true and false righteousness, but the positive aspects of that subject also appear elsewhere, 1. 11. Likewise, discernment and fellowship run through the epistle like underlying threads, 1. 5, 9-10; 2. 1. In order to effectively serve the Lord for the advancement of His gospel, the saints need to grasp these important concepts, which are also essential for the Christian life.

Almost two millennia after it was written, Philippians continues to challenge, encourage and comfort believers in various circumstances of life. The apostle’s temporary hardship produced a letter which is being used by the Holy Spirit to edify the saints and advance the glad tidings of Christ. It contains beautiful promises of God’s material and spiritual provision for His people, as well as reminders of the Lord’s incomparable condescension and sacrifice. It refuses to succumb to melancholy sentiment or discouragement; instead advocating joy in the midst of trials. Most importantly, it views the events of life through the spiritually enlightening lens of being in Christ.

[i] For a good overview of Philippi’s history see Herbert W. Bateman IV, “Were The Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?”. (1998). Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 155 (155:40-43).

[ii] James L. Blevins, “Introduction to Philippians’, Review and Expositor Volume 77 (1980; vnp.77.3.312).

[iii] Ibid., p. 320).

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Philippians – pt1

The Death of the Cross

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Phil. 2:9i
To modern people the cross is at best a ubiquitous Christian symbol or at worst a mere piece of jewelry. In the ancient world things were far different. In Bible times the cross was a form of execution, “…reserved for the most notable and notorious ne’er-do-wells of antiquity.”ii It was not something one spoke about in polite company; nor was it a desirable end to one’s life. Every facet of crucifixion was meant to demean and demoralize the condemned one. Though it meant a lonely, tortuous death, the Lord Jesus willingly went to Golgotha and laid down His life in obedience to His Father. To fathom the profound shame associated with this act, modern sentimentality about the cross must be stripped away. To appreciate what Christ did for His people one must perceive the humiliation connected with this form of execution.
The Old Rugged Cross
In order to properly understand Christ’s gracious work one must survey ancient opinions on His manner of death. To the Romans, crucifixion was an odious, humiliating process, kept in store for society’s vilest dregs. One writer describes their revulsion in this way: “Origen called crucifixion mors turpissima crucia (‘the utterly vile death of the cross’), and Cicero called it, ‘that most cruel and disgusting penalty.’ It was reserved for rebellious foreigners, violent criminals and robbers, and it was considered the typical punishment for slaves.”iii Another adds: “…Cicero…expresses his feelings about crucifixion as follows: ‘Far be the very name of a cross, not only from the body, but even from the thought, the eyes, the ears of Roman citizens’.”iv A third writer comments on the problems with which early Christians were confronted by pagan adversaries:
The shame of crucifixion was in fact to be widely utilized in precisely this fashion in later anti-Christian polemic. Caecilius, Minucius Felix’s pagan interlocutor, reasoned as follows: ‘To say that their ceremonies center on a man put to death for his crime and on the fatal wood of the cross is to assign to these abandoned wretches sanctuaries which are appropriate to them and the kind of worship they deserve.’ Tacitus had already utilized the dishonor of the crucifixion of Jesus to cast aspersions on the Christian movement. ‘Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.’ The resulting ‘disease’ (malum) found its way to Rome, ‘where all things horrible or shameful [pudenda] in the world collect and find a vogue.’ For Christians in Philippi, the sharp verticality of their social world would have served only to accentuate the foolishness and shamefulness of worshiping a crucified Christ.v
Suffice it to say that speaking of death by crucifixion in a Roman colony like Philippi would link the executed one with the lowest type of shame.
The Jewish Opinion of Crucifixion
The Jewish view of the cross was just as bad as the Greco-Roman estimation of this gibbet of shame. Deuteronomy 21:23 affirms: “…he who is hanged is accursed of God.” As Martin points out: “…[it] meant that the victim was outside the pale of Israel, and that he was under a ban of excommunication from God’s covenant. It was this thought which proved the stumbling-block of the cross to the Jew (1 Cor. 1:23)…”vi The Dead Sea Scrolls link this verse in Deuteronomy with crucifixion.vii Later Jewish literature scornfully refers to Jesus as Ha-Talui (“the Hanged One”), emphasizing that He died as a condemned and accursed One.viii Before, during, and after the time of Christ crucifixion and crucified people were repugnant to the Jewish mind.
Given the universal abhorrence of crucifixion in the ancient world, Philippians 2: 9 reveals the astonishing fact that the Lord Jesus voluntarily submitted to this sort of treatment. His unparalleled obedience to the Father’s will is demonstrated by His willing self-sacrifice in such a humiliating way. He subordinated His own well-being to the overarching divine plan of redemption. So that the Father might be glorified, the Son laid down His life and abased Himself. His reputation was put in the dust that the Father’s name might be exalted. God must be revealed as Just and the Justifier of the repentant sinner (Rom. 3:25-26.) God’s love was unequivocally declared and His fathomless grace demonstrated for all of the universe to see (Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 2:7; 3:10.)
Through the resurrection and ascension, the Father exalted the Son to the highest position in the universe for His selfless obedience, which previously led Him to such depths of humiliation. He who went lower than any other, is now exalted over all creation. Every human and angelic being will one day be compelled to confess His position at first place, declaring His peerless Lordship (Phil. 2:10-11.) Thus Christ’s death on a cross is the unlikely launching point for the greatest rise in world history. Paul aptly used this truth to exhort the Philippian Christians to greater selflessness, mutual love, and unity. Elsewhere, he points to the tremendous blessings that comes to every believer and him through Christ’s ignominious death. The benefits of His crucifixion are so vast that the apostle refuses to boast in anything else (Gal. 6:14.)
Oh, my Saviour crucified, Near Thy cross would I abide, Gazing with adoring eye On Thy dying agony.
God is love I surely know, In the Saviour’s depth of woe; In the Sinless, in God’s sight, Sin is justly brought to light.
In His spotless soul’s distress, I have learnt my guiltiness; Oh, how vile my low estate, Since my ransom was so great.
-Robert Cleaver Chapman
i Emphasis mine; all Scripture references are from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
ii Ben Witherington III, Friendship & Finances in Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press, 1994, p. 64.
iii David J. MacLeod, “Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 158:631 (July 2001), Dallas: DTS, p. 328f. The quotes from Origen & Cicero may be referenced at Origen, Commentary on Matthew (27:22–26), quoted in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), xi; & Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.165, quoted in Hengel, Crucifixion, 8, n. 15.
iv Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 11, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
v Joseph H. Hellerman, “The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 160 (Oct. 2003). Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 2003, p. 427ff.
vi Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 11, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987, brackets mine.
vii Gerald G. O’Collins, “Crucifixion,” in Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1996, p. 1207.
viii A google search of this term reveals that it is still a common slur against Jesus in certain quarters.