Why Dealing with your Sin is more important than your Desperate Wishes (Mark 2:1-12)

Mark 2:1-12 ESV  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  (2)  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  (3)  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  (4)  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  (5)  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  (6)  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  (7)  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  (8)  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  (9)  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  (10)  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic–  (11)  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  (12)  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The Desperate Wish (1-4)

The first thing we notice in this story is that there is a man here with a desperate wish. He wants to be healed! It’s unspoken, but seemingly obvious. He is paralyzed. He can’t much move on his own…not in the same way that everyone around him can. He has to dependent on four of his friends to carry him to Jesus.

Just for a moment, I want you to visualize what it would be like to be paralyzed in Palestine during this time. There are no wheelchairs, no ramps, no building codes, no privacy stalls in the restroom. You can’t work. You either depend on the charity of your family or the generosity of strangers as you lay out by the street.

You don’t get to look people in the eye, that’s a luxury not afforded to those who can’t stand on their own. Everyone looks down on you whether they mean to or not. And you lay there on the dirty floor. You recognize people not by their faces but by their feet. All day long you see them. You see other people using their legs, their feet, their toes. You look at your own and wonder, why don’t they work? 

There is no doctor to tell you it’s an issue with your spine, your muscles or a birth defect… it is a mystery. There is no surgery or hope of a surgery that can give you back some of your mobility. There is no physical therapist who will painfully manipulate your legs and offer you a hope, painful hope, but hope that maybe you can walk again, or shuffle yourself from one bed to the next, or not have to depend one someone to take you to the restroom. No one in your life can offer you any real sense of hope that you will regain or obtain your mobility.

Then one day you hear the news. Jesus is in town. He has healed people. He cured leprosy (the cancer of the day). He had healed the blind. Maybe he can work on motionless limbs too? All of the sudden, there is hope. So you get a plan. You have to go see Jesus. You have four friends or cousins or friends of friends who also see the hope and they are willing to carry you to see this Jesus. This healer.

You try and hold your emotions in check. Something in you knows that this man can heal you, at the same time you don’t want to get your hopes up. Street magicians have come through town before. Charlatans, fakes, frauds who gather the ill around them, perform miracles and yet somehow the same numbers of people leave on their beds as were carried in. But this Jesus seems different.

You are discouraged when you get there. You see the crowd packed around the house. There is no way that you can even get in, but that doesn’t stop your friends. They run around back of the house where there is an external staircase and they carry you up. One of them listens intently to find out Jesus is in the house and then he starts to claw and pry at the dirt, sticks, and straw that makes up the roof. Then they begin to lower you… and for perhaps the first time ever you are looking down on people, not in a mean way, but for a moment you see them as they have seen you your whole life. You strain your eyeballs to see their expressions.

Then you see Him. You see Jesus. You don’t know what he looks like, but this must be him. He is sitting there in the teacher’s position. Your eyes meet. You don’t say a word, but look with earnest expectation. Finally as your body hits the dirt floor and you find yourself in front of a large crowd staring out at their feet again you wonder what it will be like when you are healed…will it be sudden or will it be slow. So you look up with longing and expectation. Now trapped on the floor, your friends who brought you here didn’t travel with you on this journey. They only came to the roof. You alone descended into now silent shadows of the house. You alone lay helpless before the crowd. You lay helpless before Jesus… Silent and expecting.

And you can see that he is moved by what you and your friends have done. He is smiling. He recognizes your faith in Him. You can see it in his eyes. And as he speaks the first word is so tender, He call’s you “son”. A tear is forming in the corner of your eye, partly out of expectation of what Jesus is about to do and partly because you are so vulnerable. Your weakness is on display for everyone. You can’t crawl away from this. Your deepest wish is either about to be granted or you are to be rejected.

Let’s pull out of the story for a moment because some of you have been here. You have been to this point with Jesus. You have a strong felt need or desire in your life. You are running on empty. You are longing for something to fill you. You know that if you just had that one thing you would be happy. Some days it’s just having a car that would run without breaking down. Some of you seek it in relationships. You bounce from one to another hoping to be filled. Some of you it’s landing the dream job, graduating school, it’s finding reconciliation with a loved one, it’s getting that house. You know that if you just had that one thing that life would be better. It has been the subject of your prayers for nights on end….

so because this man’s one thing is so obvious and you share a desire for God to grant you your One thing, that Jesus says next confuses you…

Jesus says to this man…, “Your sins are forgiven.”… Not “your body is healed” and it looks like Jesus missed the obvious

 

 

The Deeper Issue (5)

Jesus saw what this man didn’t see. He saw the deeper issue of sin. He could heal this man, but he would really just be empty again. It would be just a few short months and he would find something else in his life that would cause him to feel empty. The matter of needing to be healed was a surface issue. It was apparent to everyone that the man came there that day hoping to walk, skip, or at least limp out of there. But Jesus wasn’t as interested in the surface issue as he was the deeper issue.

You see God does have the power to grant all of those requests we see as pressing issues. God has the power to grant us our desperate wishes. But sometimes they would be no favor to us at all.  Jesus is looking at this man and saying I see the deeper issue here and I am going to reward your faith in me by going deeper than you thought I could go. I’m going to the very heart level and I’m going to forgive your sin. I’m going to get to the root of the issue here.

So Jesus doesn’t say, “Be Healed.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And the crowd around him begins to react. There are two issues at stake here that we might miss if we are unaware of the historical context.

One: The people of that day commonly thought that sin and hardship went together. If your car just slung a piston rod, well it’s because you are sinful. If your child is born blind, well, it’s because you did something very bad. So when Jesus here addresses sin, they don’t necessarily see it as an unrelated issue in the minds of the people. And the truth be told, sometimes bad things do happen because of sin but alot of bad things happen because of other peoples sin or they just happen.

Sometimes bad things happen because of our sin and our deepest wish is to undo the hurt we have done to ourselves. Sometimes bad things happen because of other people’s sin, and our deepest wish is to remove the hurt from their actions in our life. And sometimes bad things just happen and our deepest desire is that we wouldn’t have to face this kind faultless adversity.

The second thing we don’t need to miss is that the people in Jesus’ day knew that only God could ultimately forgive sin. Up until this time Jesus was loved by most everyone. He’s a likable guy. People are coming out to see Him perform miracles. They want to be there when a blind guy gets healed. They want to tell everyone what they saw. They listen to his teaching and marvel because it’s unlike anything they have heard before.

But now he just forgave a man’s sin and that is something only God can do. The religious leaders on the edge of the crowd are processing what he just said. They are contemplating that perhaps Jesus just committed blaspheme.  They were mulling over the difference in claiming to be God and claiming to do what only God can do in their minds. They were ready to see the healing, but reluctant to accept that He could forgive sin.  

This leads Jesus to ask a Difficult Question…

 

The Difficult Question (6-12)

Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to tell the man to walk? Think about that question for just a moment. What does this paralyzed man want to hear? What is the desire of his heart? What has he come all the way here carried by four friends, and lowered through a roof for? He has come for healing and so if Jesus just merely wants to please this man all he has to do is tell Him to get up and he’s got a fan.  I bet if Jesus went around answering your desperate wishes that you would be his fan too!

But Jesus isn’t looking for a fan, he is looking to bring real healing into this man’s life a healing that is deeper than this man even knows to look. He has come to heal the rift in his soul. He has come to forgive his sins and reconcile him to God!

Look again for a moment. What does it cost to heal this man? Seemingly it’s just a few words upon the divine lips and this man is restored to health? What does it take to forgive this man of his sin? The story of the gospel of Mark is not over. This pronouncement sets Jesus on a course for the cross. To forgive this man’s sin, he must be obedient where we weren’t. He will be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. No my friends. To purchase the forgiveness of sins was not an easy thing to do, but it was a necessary thing to reconcile us to God!

 But what is Jesus doing here by answering the crowd? They haven’t asked a question? They are just thinking in their hearts… you see. Jesus knows our hearts. He didn’t just come to grant our desperate wishes. While He has no problem healing broken bodies, it isn’t just the sick and the lame that need to come to Jesus. It’s everyone who has sinned against a holy and righteous God… and that is all of us! For this moment, Jesus looks over this broken man and in the silence is asking, why aren’t you coming too?

You will rip open roof’s and labor to carry your friend to the feet of Jesus in hopes that his desperate wish will be fulfilled, but will you do that for the sake of your own soul? Will you do that for the sake of your friends and neighbors or even for those on the other side of the world?

Think about your neighbors and coworkers for a moment. The people you see every day. Think of the folks who don’t know the Lord. They may be healthy. They probably smile and wave in the drive way. They probably seem like they have everything together. What if I were to place a picture of them up here and then were to place a picture of a poverty stricken  Hindu mother half a world away and say to you, “Which one has the greatest need?

You know the answer. They both need the forgiveness of their sins. The Hindu mother has physical need that you might be able to take care of, but both have a need to be forgiven and that only comes from Jesus.

 

 

Observations:

 

Some people seek Jesus for desperate wishes and end up receiving far more than they had ever imagined in a relationship with Him.

Some people are brought to Jesus because they can’t get there on their own.

The only real power to overcome sin in my life,is not found in what I can do, but in what Jesus Christ has already done for me.

How Should You Deal With Anger?

angry-womanAnger is one of those difficult emotions to talk about because many people don’t deal with their anger in a productive way. When we talk about anger it’s common for some people to feel shame either because of the way they have acted out when they were angry or because they feel they are responsible for someone’s actions when they were angry. My goal in bringing up anger isn’t to make you feel bad, but to actually help remove that shame.

The truth is, I’ve been an angry person and there are days that I still struggle with how to deal with my anger. Once when I was in college, I was on the phone with my girlfriend, I don’t remember the conversation, but I do I know that my anger caused me to I crossed a line. There was a split second where in my head I thought, “what she has just said makes me very angry” and I had a choice to make, a stupid choice, but a choice. I could end the conversation and hang up the phone or I could hang up the phone and go into an animal rage… for some reason the animal rage thing seemed like it would make me feel better and so I demolished a 55 gallon trash can. I took a rubber made trashcan and bent it inside out. If it were a person they would have gone to the hospital… My roommates had no idea about the phone conversation came out wide eyed and saw what I did to the trashcan and were like, “Wow, what happened?” And all I could mutter was, “Stupid Trashcan.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I felt so ashamed. I had crossed a line. In my rage I destroyed a trashcan. (Can I tell you that Rubber-made trashcans don’t always bounce back). That isn’t all that my anger destroyed. It destroyed my reputation with my roommates. Once everything calmed down it became a joke around our cottage. Don’t get Jonathan angry he will dent you like a Rubber-Made. Anger has the capacity to destroy.

But don’t think that anger is just a negative emotion, anger can also cause you to do great things. I think anger is a gift from your Creator. I know that Jesus was angry. Take a look at Mark 3:5, “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”
Do you know what made Jesus angry? The hardness of the people’s heart. They had made a rule, a false rule. They had taken God’s rule “to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” and added so many other rules around it that when Jesus, who had the power to heal, walked into town, they forbid him to heal people on the Sabbath! Imagine your sister lying sick on a bed dying of cancer and there is nothing that modern medicine can do for her other than make her a little sicker and hope to give her a few more months to live and Jesus comes to your town on a Sunday. He’s willing to heal, but these guys actually show up at the edge of town and say, “No healing on Sunday’s, we’re watching you mister!”

I’d be angry. Jesus was angry. He was right to be angry. Anger can move you to action faster than compassion. Most people who want to change the world do so not because they are compassionate people, but because they have been angry at injustice. They see the wrong in the world and they feel like they are on a mission to fix it.

The apostle Paul actually tells us to be angry. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV). But we have to be careful about how we are angry. Anger is like handling a loaded weapon. You don’t play games with a loaded gun.

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So anger isn’t wrong, but how we react can be wrong, because let’s face it, not many of us get mad about something and start a charity to provide clean drinking water in Sudan. Usually we get mad about something much more personal and centered on us so we yell, we argue, we punch, we shut down and don’t talk, we glare, we gossip, we tear down, we hurl insults, we cry, we do things we are not proud of and in just a moment we say or do something that we regret. The reason is because we are angry for the wrong reasons.

We feel right in the moment because we have endorphins running through our head. You can say the stupidest things when you are angry and  it will make perfect sense to you. You will feel so right and justified about what you said or did in your mind. You can’t reason with an angry person it’s like they are high on stupid. They just keep repeating the same old stuff like it makes sense… “San Antonio is in California!”

James reminds us though that just because we feel right in our anger doesn’t, it doesn’t make us right. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV). Most of our anger is wrong, because we choose to be mad for the wrong reasons. You see it’s easy to see injustice when it is happening to someone else. It is difficult to see when it’s us. We like to take up to our defense too quickly. It’s like calling your own fouls in basketball. It’s way to easy to be they guy fouling the snot out of everyone else and then calling the slightest bump on you. You don’t have the right perspective because human nature has a tendency to cause us to be lenient on ourselves and harsh on others.

I got into a fight at school one time because a guy accidentally bumped into me. I though he did it on purpose. I got angry and took up for myself. I quickly judged his motives as being accusatory.  Had I been patient I would have realized it was an accident, as it was, I punched him in the face and then asked, “Why did you bump me in the hall way?” And as he nearly knocked me out with his return punch, he said, “it was an accident.” After that I learned that it’s always good to ask questions before you throw punches.

Glass of Milk
When it comes to anger you need to deal with it quickly. It’s like  milk. Milk is initially good and good for you, but if you leave it sitting out past it’s expiration date and you get something different. Your anger is the same way. Hold on to it for too long and it will turn into bitterness! Bitterness can sour everything in your life. Paul says, “be angry and do not sin.” Milk is good for you, it’s good for your skin, your bones, etc. but rotten milk… not so good, at least for your stomach. Deal with your anger quickly. (and by deal with it I don’t mean beat up a rubber made trash can).

Jesus had a great strategy for dealing with anger. It involved going to the one who made you angry and seeking reconciliation. See what he said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)

What is really cool about Jesus’ words here is that he lived them and went beyond them. We were separated from God, isolated by our rebellion, choosing our own way over the design of our creator. God had every right for his anger and wrath to burn against us (indeed it was stockpiling for the day that it would be unleashed), but he choose to send Jesus to endure the wrath we deserved so that we could have a relationship with God. He didn’t wait for us to apologize or to say we are sorry, the bible says that, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It’s important to know that even though God was the offended party, he initiated reconciliation. When we turn from our sins and trust Jesus our sins are forgiven because he has already paid the price.

If you are a believer, who are you to hold on to your anger? Don’t you know that Jesus paid for your sins? If he paid for your sins, could it be that he has also paid for the sins against you? On my best days when I am tempted to anger my heart cries out to God and I am reminded of his great love for me and that his wrath was satisfied in Jesus. So I ask Him that I would be satisfied in Jesus in those moments too. My anger becomes a vehicle to appreciate the love of God all over again. No more rubber-made trash cans and I’d like to think that one day my anger will be more like Jesus’ anger than the trash can destroying variety. Indeed I know it will because I’m promised to be conformed to his image (Romans 8:29).

Philippians 3:12-16 (Devotional Thought)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  (Philippians 3:12-16 ESV)

The Apostle Paul wanted the believers of this church to know that he was not perfect. He was still growing in his knowledge of Jesus and his relationship with the Lord. I imagine that there were still things that God called Paul to do, that Paul wasn’t comfortable with at first. He still had to get out of his “comfort zone” to grow. Sometimes we can think that one day it will all be easy. We’ll be older maybe wiser and we’ll just know what to do or we’ll be so used to doing the right thing that it has become easy for us. Paul reminds us that isn’t the case. In fact real maturity is the ability to press on to what God has next without stopping to stare at our belly button along the way. He says it with three distinct lines.

“Forgetting what Lies behind.” Don’t get caught up in the past he says. Some folks are content to hang out and remember what happened last year or ten years ago or whenever the last significant event in their life was. Paul reminds us, don’t sit back and dream of the good ole days. If you’re alive you not only have a past but you have a future. You can’t change where you come from or where you’ve been, but you can change where you are going.
“Straining forward to what lies ahead.” He reminds us to press on that God has great things in store for us. He didn’t just act in the past and forget about us. He’s still got great plans for us. No matter what our circumstance, no matter what our situation there is a way forward, when we trust in Jesus. We were not created to just talk about the things that have happened in the past. He’s also called us to be involved in good works of the future.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” There is a way to lose at life and think you’re winning. Imagine playing a video game where you get to battle trolls to fill your backpack with all kinds of useful items for a long journey. Ultimately the point of the game is to rescue a princess and that’s why you need the items, but what if you just went around battling trolls collecting items and you never took the journey to rescue the princess? You’d fail to meet the requirements to win the game! The Apostle Paul reminds us that life isn’t about stacking up possessions (who has the coolest MP3 player, video game system, etc.), social status, or takes the most trips to Disney Land… Ultimately life is about bringing glory to God.

Today as you pray, pray through this formula. You might say something like: “God help me not to be held back by my past, but help me to be excited for what you have in store for me. I don’t want anything to compete with my desire to worship you and tell others about you.”

Philippians 2:12-18 (Devotional Thought)

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18 ESV)

“Let go and Let God.” Have you ever heard someone say that? This passage actually teaches us something completely different. The Apostle Paul says that if you are a believer God is already working in you and so you should join God by going to work with him.

Think of it like this. A farmer prays to God and asks for a big harvest with lots of fruit. He gets an answer and knows that God will work and cause a great harvest. Does he still need to plant the crops? Does he still need to keep pests away? Does he still need to make plans to get help for the abundant harvest when it comes in? YES!!! He probably needs to work even harder now if he knows that God has guaranteed a large harvest!

In our society we tend to look at Salvation as a one time event like a wedding, but sometimes scripture speaks of it as an ongoing event like a marriage. You don’t show up to a wedding, marry someone and then never see them again (you could, but it would be really weird). You usually marry someone and are continually married. In other words the marriage lasts way beyond the wedding. The way the word Salvation is mentioned here is similar its something that continues past the initial event. It’s like being born and being alive.

So Paul says because we know that God is already doing some cool stuff in your life if you are a believer you need to be diligent to join God at work. We know God is the one who does the real work and who is guaranteeing the results but it still requires us to partner with God to see those things truly come out. It requires us putting faith ahead of our feelings.

So Paul lists a few things here. He says to put aside “grumbling and complaining.” I don’t know about you, but this is hard for me. There is no way I could even think about not grumbling or complaining unless I knew that God were at work in my life already to extinguish these characteristics that really don’t do anyone much good.

He also says that we need to hold fast to the word of life. That means doing what your doing now, getting in God’s word and digging in, allowing God to change how you think and act.

The last part is kind of cool because Paul has a partnership with the church at Philippi. He basically says that if they’ll be a light for Jesus for how they live, then if he does die it won’t be in vain. Even his death will point to how people ought to live for God.

Philippians 1:15-18a (Devotional Thought)

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18a ESV)

Not everyone was rejoicing with Paul. Some people saw Paul’s being in prison as an opportunity to talk bad about him. Perhaps they would have done things differently. Perhaps they thought he was being too bold or brash. You expect the bad guys to say bad things about you, but these people were Christians!  How would you feel if Christian people were saying mean things about you?

Paul reveals that their motives weren’t exactly pure. They were envious and they wanted the recognition that he got for leading people to Jesus and planting churches. So they preached Christ but they did so in such a way as to drag Paul’s name through the mud. They got the gospel right, but they got Paul wrong. They actually took some kind of weird pleasure in causing Paul pain.

Yet, even in the midst of this harsh judgment from Christian brothers Paul finds a way to praise God. He doesn’t focus on himself but rather what is happening with the gospel. Sure there are people out there talking him down, but are they talking Jesus up? That’s what Paul wants to know. He doesn’t care why they preach as long as what they preach is truth about Jesus.

This Jesus first, Paul second attitude allows him to see the good in people who have said some mean things about him. He does not get bogged down in personal attacks. He does not write to the Philippians telling them that this person is a jerk because they said mean stuff about him. He simply says don’t worry, as long as they are preaching the gospel God is glorified.

Sometimes we get this picture in our mind that if we could just go back to the New Testament church where everything was perfect, life would be better. However, even in the first churches people weren’t prefect. Many of them did great things for God while holding on to sins like envy and rivalry with God ordained leaders like the Apostle Paul. It’s not that God looks lightly at this, but that God used them despite their sin. Paul chose to look at this situation and rather than take personal offense, he put a priority on the gospel. He chose to see how God could use even this bad situation for something great like telling the world about Jesus.

We live in a day and age where it is too easy to get offended over the slightest thing. The gospel is greater than our personal feelings. Many times we get offended because we put ourselves ahead of God or ahead of the gospel. Paul reminds us that when we put the gospel first, personal attacks and criticisms don’t sting as much.

Criticism always stings. It stings so bad that sometimes we are just afraid of what people ‘might’ say. Ask God to give you courage today to put the gospel first no matter what people say or might say about you personally.

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Philippians 1:12-14 (Devotional Thought)

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14 ESV)

Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians from prison in Rome. He was arrested for causing a riot. People were angry that he was preaching the gospel. He was a Roman citizen and had a right to appeal to the emperor and Paul claimed that right and was shipped to Rome. When he stands before the emperor he may be released or he may be killed, but at the time he writes this letter he is in prison.

When we go through difficult circumstances because we follow Jesus it can become easy to get depressed and wonder why we are suffering, but not Paul. Paul saw everything that was happening as God’s plan to take the gospel to a place it would have otherwise never gone. He was placed with Roman guards all day and all night, rather than telling them about how he was innocent or trying to convince them to put in a good word with someone, he was telling them about how Jesus had changed his life and could change theirs too! They were listening. Some, like the jailer from Philippi, were responding to the gospel and trusting in Jesus! And while the whole imperial guard didn’t sit down with Paul individually, he was making such big waves with those who were that they couldn’t help but tell the story of Paul, why he was in prison and about this Jesus that he preached. I imagine some people thought he was crazy, but others listened, and many believed.

This had another side effect. Other Christians had been watching Paul and when they saw that he was being bold to share the gospel it encouraged them to be bold as well. They weren’t afraid of what people would say anymore. They weren’t afraid of what people would do.

The gospel changes the way we look at our circumstances. Have you ever wondered why you live in the neighborhood you live in, attend the school you do, or have the interests you do? When you look at them through the lens of the gospel you see the reason you are where you are is to tell other people about Jesus. You may find yourself in a crumby situation like where you are sick and have to see doctors and nurses all the time, or at a school you don’t like. Think about this though, if God can cause use Paul being in prison to further the gospel then he can use you where you are.

What are the circumstances that God has placed you in for the purpose of telling others about Jesus?

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Philippians 1:7-11 (Devotional Thought)

It is right for me to feel this way 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 so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:7-11 ESV)

Wow. It really sounds like the Apostle Paul is getting a little mushy here! He can’t help but be filled with warm feelings for this church who has stood beside him through some tough things. They continue to love and encourage him even though he’s been put in prison, beaten, and ridiculed for the sake of the gospel. They aren’t ashamed to be identified with him.

But it’s not just Paul’s affection that is flowing in this passage. Paul is saying that he loves them like Jesus loves them! In other words, he can’t help but be crazy about this church because Jesus is crazy about this church! Sometimes as a believer it helps to be reminded that God loves us with a “never stopping, never giving up, always and forever kind of love.” Because Paul loves this church like Jesus loves the church, he prays for them.

How do you pray for the people you love? Do you love the church like Jesus loves his church?

Sometimes we pray for the people we love in a kind of selfish way. “Thank you for my mom and dad.” or “help my dad want to give me that big present I want for Christmas.” Or when someone is sick we pray, “help mom to get to feeling better.” I suppose that those kind of prayers are good to an extent because we are told to “cast all our cares upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7). But these selfish prayers are different than how Paul prays for the church at Philippi.

Paul prays for the church to grow more in love. Sometimes we can think of love as an emotion, but love is more than an emotion. Love requires knowledge and action. I can say that I love my wife but then I have to know her and act accordingly. If I know that she doesn’t like to do the dishes then an act of love might be for me to do something like do the dishes. With knowledge comes the ability to act in a way that demonstrates my love. This is what Paul prays for the church at Philippi, not that they would be filled with an emotion, but that they would know God! Then their knowledge of God would drive their actions and emotions. That they would look more like Jesus because of how closely they walk with him. That’s how Paul prays for the people he loves. That’s a gospel payer.

Take time to pray for the people you love today. Pray for them according to the gospel that they would grow in their knowledge of God.

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