The Joy of Overcoming

Philippians 3

Paul is one of the few people who can write “Finally” and continue on writing for the same length that he had just written! He writes two chapters, puts “finally” and writes two more. Inspired as he is, obviously Paul thinks of most of what he writes from Philippians 3:1-4:7 as all one idea. To be fair, as you are reading today, he uses “finally” in chapter 4 as well. It reminds me of a “midwestern goodbye;” he keeps trying to end his conversation but doesn’t want to say goodbye just yet.

While Paul starts his writing in verse one on the happy note of “rejoice” in the Lord, he quickly moves to talk of things that we need to beware of and, I think, overcome. That means we need to live differently, have victory over, and to not be defeated by. 

Overcoming Others

In two places in this chapter, Paul discusses two kinds of unfaithful people and the way they live. First, there are those whom he calls “dogs” and “evil workers”. These are both the Jews and the Judaizing Christians who believe they follow God because they are circumcised on the outside and think all must follow them. However, their pride and focus on the law is actually showing that they have a false circumcision (3:2). Paul says that we are the ones who truly follow God, who follow him with a “circumcised” (or pure) heart. 

Secondly, there are those who have never come to faith of any kind. Instead of even trying to honor God through false rules and regulations, they focus on fulfilling their own desires, whether that is food, drink, or sex. They worship those desires as their god. Even, (maybe especially) in our world there are those who glorify their appetites that they indulge as “healthy”, “not-repressed”, and “liberating”. However, Paul weeps knowing that their end is not life, not joy, but destruction. (3:18-19)

Overcoming Ourselves

We need to not be like either of those groups, but that means overcoming ourselves. True, we need to overcome the teachings of those who say following God is keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, but it is easy to feel good about ourselves because we did keep God’s word. It would be easy for Paul, for example, to glory in who he is. (3:4-6) He fulfilled all the credentials of what a successful Jew would be. But he considers it “dung” (skubala) if he might instead have Christ. He would count all these things rubbish in order to have the far greater, far surpassing righteousness of Christ. (3:7-9)

Once we know that our best attributes are only dung in comparison to Christ, we may say we might as well live terribly because we can never measure up. But Paul encourages us to strive to live rightly. Ever upward into the call of God in Christ. He says, though we will never be perfect, let us keep living by the same standard to which Christ has raised us. (3:12-16)

How to Hupernikao (Overcome)

How are we to overcome? How are we to not fall into the traps of being legalistic or being completely wild with our living? We need to live LIKE CHRIST! That should sound familiar! If we live like Christ, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on ahead (12-16) then we will be conformed to him. We will suffer the way he suffered, being mistreated on both sides. We will sound to0 gracious to the “judgmental” and too judgmental to the “gracious”. We won’t look like those who are legalistic and believe that rule following will save them. But we also won’t look like those who believe that everything is OK and permissible.

But this is the way Jesus lived. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and yet told them they needed to stop sinning. If we live like him, we will face the suffering he faced, we may even be conformed to him in death. (3:10) But the GLORIOUS news is that if we are connected to him, believe in him, and live like him, we will ALSO be raised with him. If we die with him, we will also live with him. (3:11, cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-13)

It is because we have a savior who will raise us up, and glorify us as he rules over all things that Paul can say, in Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Because we have a savior who will redeem us, we can rejoice in the Lord and we can be the joy of those who have trained us in the way we should go. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, overcome those who tell you to be more strictly following all the right rules that only they seem to know. 

May you overcome those who say live with abandon and do whatever it is that makes you happy and fulfills you. 

May you overcome the desires in yourself that push in you in those directions. 

May you instead be conformed to the life, suffering, death, and ultimately resurrection of Christ, as you seek to live like him. 

May you forget what lies behind, press on ahead, and retain the standard, while only trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to save you. 

Amen

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 13-14 and Philippians 4

The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

Crumbling Walls and Stumbling Blocks

Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

It was just a week ago, at the close of summer school, when a student poignantly asked me if I had ever been a bully. Hmm.  My gut answer was immediately, “No.”  Well, at least I don’t think so.  Right?  Then he referenced a sheet of paper he read outside the door to my classroom that stated “Mr. Winner is a bully, but in a good way.”  Truth. I remember seeing this phrase as I freshly hung up papers from my former students to my incoming classes.  The forms they filled out were entitled “10 Things to Know about Mr. Winner’s Classroom.” While the more consistent items were “Mr. Winner will throw things at you,” or “Mr. Winner will make sure you won’t go hungry,” or “Mr. Winner really cares,” there were two people who listed “Mr. Winner is a bully” but with the comforting caveat “in a good way.”  I literally scratched my head as I tried to dissect the information in front of me for a moment.  Maybe I am a pusher? Or do I tease the students too much?  Or bully the bullies creating some ironic form of verbal justice? I didn’t come to a clear conclusion, but I reflected a bit more on my past and present.  I responded, “I think I’ve been a bully before, but I am doing my best not to be.”

Like all of us, I often think before I speak.  This happens significantly less at 36 than a half of a lifetime ago at 18, but my words can be quite cutting when my pride is wounded.  I have a rapier wit sharpened through the first-world sufferings of low self-esteem and some extra weight in high school (and at other points in my life too).  While some mighty say that my rebuttals to ridicule were simply justified self-defense, I know I have often lost control and engineered shock-and-awe offensive assaults.  At several points in my life, my tongue has been an unbridled mess (James 3).  While there is more restraint over words today, neither can I stop craving the attention they give, nor can I shake the overwhelming urge to be right.

Now out of the dark recesses of psyche and into today’s reading.  In the Old Testament (Nehemiah 3,4), we get a detailed look at the many groups who return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under the direction of Nehemiah.  They are faced with two named nemeses, Sanballat and Tobiah, who openly criticize what they deem as futile work.  In the New Testament (1 Corinthians 8) Paul deals with the issue of food, specifically food that isn’t deemed clean by the conditions of the Law, and speaks to the nuance between licensed actions and actions of the conscience.  Both beg the question of what our response should be when faced with open criticism to what we know is correct.

“Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at <Sanballat’s> side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones” – Nehemiah 4:3

“Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.  So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” – Nehemiah 4:4-6

It is easy to be distracted from an important purpose to respond to bullies who are critical because of their own malice, jealousy, or ignorant nay-saying.  If you are shaken by their words, then your next step should be to consult God through his Word and in prayer before continuing.  If he approves, then being despised by the right people can truly be a wonderful thing (James 1:2-4 — said by someone who also loves to be liked).  What arrows will find their mark if God is on your side? Let God handle the frustrations (v.15) and land the blows. Save your wit.  Hold your tongue. You won’t cross the finish line running your mouth; you must use your feet to run his race.  “Yes” and “no” are sufficient replies, (Matt 5:37), and it’s okay to be on your guard, (v.22), but you must continue your efforts to build His kingdom.

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9

But should we ever care about what others think?  Paul, inspired by God, says we MUST consider the feelings of our brothers and sisters in Christ (and those who we are speaking the words of God to).  Culture and maturity play roles in what is and what is not perceived as permissible. While we may have license or liberty to enjoy certain things, like dancing, indulgent foods, clothing trends, worship music styles, or maybe a glass of wine, not everyone is on the same page about all of these things.  You may very well have the scriptural support that gives you the greatest of freedoms, but if they are not requirements to be a follower of Jesus, they are discrections NOT worth causing a divide in the body of Christ.  You are not justified in bullying someone into your belief or preferences (again, if it is a permission and not prescription). In fact, Paul adds , “(12)When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” So being “right” by the law, but wrong by the heart is the most ironic form of sin. See: legalism.


Circling back, in the context of my classroom, I hope the words “bully in a good way” are just a lack of expression of some more positive quality that I possess that is a little more like Jesus and a little less like the man I am trying to flee from. However, in the context of our reading, being a bully, even if it is in a good way, doesn’t get a ringing endorsement.  God wants us to work diligently to fulfill his calling.  Some days it is as simple as denying ourselves a certain privilege for the sake of unity. Other days it can be a bit more difficult, carrying on big callings while being openly criticized and attacked.  In either instance, God wants others to see more of him and less of us as he works to rebuild the biggest of crumbling walls and remove the smallest stumbling blocks.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8