Thursday, January 06, 2011

Pondering and Remembering (1)

Philippians 1:1-6

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

As part of my decision to join with the group that is Partnering to Remember Philippians this year, I think I’d like to blog some along the way about what I learn as I focus in on hiding this book of scripture in my heart and thinking about what it means - not just what it means to me, you understand, but what it means. Because it can’t have meaning for me personally apart from having meaning as it was intended in the writing. When we get all caught up in personalized ‘meaning’ we miss context and run a very serious risk of dangerously twisting scripture. Hopefully I can flesh that out a bit in a minute. By the way, I just typed out that passage from memory and then went back and checked myself before publishing the post. Only one error, and it was in punctuation. I love being encouraged to memorize in this way, because I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have ever gotten around to it without the memorization techniques from the download for this exercise. I hope it will spur me on to continue in the future and that I’ll finish this one, too.

I find that one thing I really, really, really like about taking a passage of scripture to memorize is that it forces you to ponder the passage in context rather than as stand-alone verses. Of this first portion we’ve been meditating on and working to memorize this first week, verse 6 is one that I’ve memorized before by itself.

Here’s the thing, in context it takes on a little bit different flavor and meaning than it has by itself. Let me explain what I mean and what I am beginning to glean from this.

I have quoted verse 6 often and it has been an encouragement to me that the work of salvation and sanctification begun in me will be completed at the day of Jesus Christ. For instance, our Sunday School class is beginning a study in Revelation. During some of the discussion we were talking about the significance of ‘birth pangs,’ and I got to thinking about persecution and how in America we don’t really face much of that in comparison with believers around the world. I got to thinking about how difficult it is to be a true Christian in much of the world, and I got to wondering if I would stand strong in the face of the kind of persecution many of our brothers and sisters face around the world. You read stories about believers in the first century and the terrible, torturous kinds of things they faced and stood firm in the faith even as they died for it, and I confess to you that I get squeamish.

While I was struggling along with these thoughts, I began memorizing Philippians 1:1-6, and all of a sudden verse 6 reminded me that it is not me alone in my own strength who will stand strong in the day strength is needed, but it is He who began the good work in me who will bring that good work to completion. Awesome, incredible thought. And true! It is true and glorious that God will bring His work to completion in those of us who believe in Christ Jesus and belong to Him.

But in context, that verse means more than just the personal way I’d always taken it. The assurance is individual and personal, yes, but in context, Paul is also assuring the collective body of believers at Philippi that the work begun in them, specifically their partnership in the gospel, would be brought to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. I’m not sure I’ll be able to convey what a huge shift of thinking this is for me.

In America, at least in my experience, and how it has seemed to me in my growing years, Christianity is largely a personal and independent thing. You are encouraged to have a personal walk with Christ, to make Him your personal savior, and this is all necessary. If I’m not personally walking with Him, no one can do it for me. I, myself, must be surrendered to Him. However, it does not end there. We are not saved to be Lone Ranger Christians. Nor are we free to have some God-to-me view of God and His ways. It seems that we somehow do not adequately convey how important is is that we are called to part of the Body of Christ. I have understood this on some level all my life - I mean, being a part of the local church is very important to me and I know we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling together of believers. But I’m not sure I have adequately understood just how important a concept this really is.

As believers in community with other believers, God is doing a work in our midst. My spiritual health isn’t for me alone and my benefit alone, but so that I can be a functioning, contributing member of the Body of Christ. We in the local church must be grounded in the faith and submitted to the authority of scripture so that we can encourage others to be so as well, so that we can guard the trust we’ve been given in the faith and to pass it to the next generation in a way that is faithful and true to God’s word. Thinking this way means that praying for my church family becomes a higher priority than it has been. It means I need to get over myself, stop whining when and if ‘I didn’t get anything out of this or that thing at church’ or complaining about surface things that really aren’t what we’re to be about, or complaining if my personal preferences about those surface things aren't always met and learn to be loving my brothers and sisters in a real way and encouraging others to worship God truly and deeply. And it means that I need to be remembering that He who began a good work in my own local church family will be faithful to complete that work. I need to be taking an active part in what He is doing in and through my church family, not content to just warm a pew on Sunday morning and be friendly with others, but actively engaged with them.

Our choir director has asked us choir members to commit to pray specifically for our church every day for the rest of 2011. This is a good thing, and I’m glad to be part of it, because I want my church, the people, to be growing and learning to love God and know Him more, to worship Him in spirit and truth, to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know Him better, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which He has called us and the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph. 1:17-19) What will it look like when, as a church family, we begin to truly have the spirit of wisdom and revelation as we dig deeply into His word and learn to pray for each other? What will it look like as we grow to know Christ better and better and live in the light of His glorious gospel?

So, yes, individually He will complete the work He began in me, and I am ever and eternally grateful and will praise Him through eternity for saving the wretch that I am. And I want, too, to be healthy individually so that I can be a part of the health of the community of believers that make up my local church, too. Because God is working among us corporately, and we need to have eyes to see and ears to hear so that Jesus is glorified and we can be a lighthouse to our community and point people ever to Jesus and His gospel.

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