Christ our Advocate

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1 John 2

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John  2:1-6

First John chapter 2 continues with John’s teaching on light and darkness. He begins by explaining even further that the reason he is writing these things is so that they (the church in context) may not sin. BUT if anyone does sin, they have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. John confirms that his discourse on the  idea that true Christians walk in the light and have no darkness in them is not a statement that means that Christians never sin. His whole point is that true Christians are to have a specific source for that light and any other source is a lie.

Jesus is a propitiation for our sin and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world. The word propitiation here means, “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor.” Does this statement that John makes mean that Jesus’ death has saved the entire world? Obviously not. The main theme thus far has been that there are two camps: light and dark. Those in Christ and those who are not. Jesus’ death provides a way for all to be saved from the wrath of God. But John makes it clear that not everyone walks in the light of Christ. He goes on to give reasons for why he is writing this message to them. He addresses the little children, young men, and fathers, stressing that this message and reminder is universal. It is for everyone in all stages of spiritual maturity to hear.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15-17

John goes on to expound on light and darkness in practical terms: if Christ is the light, then the darkness is the world. He says that they should not love the world or the things in the world and explains that those things are the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life. This is not just a matter of staying away from worldly people or things. Our fleshly desires are not things we can separate from so easily. John is uncovering that the problem with light and darkness is not a matter of morality, it’s a matter of love and devotion. Our behavior and lifestyles are motivated by what we love and are devoted to. So, is the answer to try harder to love and devote our lives to God? No, even trying to love God on our own strength is just self-righteousness. The problem of loving God is not a matter of what we do but where we abide.

John brings up warnings against antichrists because they were people who denied that Jesus was the Christ, denying both the Son and the Father. There were threats of deception of people in the church causing some to stray from the gospel. John explains that those who fell prey to these false teachings did so because they didn’t abide in Christ. He stresses that in order to abide in Christ, the gospel of Christ must abide in them also.

Knowing Jesus is the key to abiding and therefore loving him. Jesus is our righteous advocate. He became the propitiation for our sins, taking on the wrath that we deserved. Being our advocate does not only mean that he took our punishment for us, he also achieved what we couldn’t through the resurrection. In Christ we are spared and also receive the promise of God for eternal life. John tells his audience that if what they heard from the beginning, this gospel message, abides in them, then they will also abide in Christ. Later in his letter, John states that we love because he first loved us. It is only the love of Christ that compels us to love him in return and through him we are able to walk in the manner he desires for us.

Letting the message of Christ our advocate abide in us draws us to abide in Christ. Our pride that hinders us from the light is broken and the fruit of righteous living is produced. We cannot stand confidently in the world or our own flesh. When our hearts are changed because of the God who loved us so much that he gave his Son for us at his own great expense, our lives are changed also. Because of this we are not afraid of God’s judgement because Christ stands in our place.

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

1 John 2:28-29

 

Why it is Difficult to Walk in the Light

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1 John 1

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7

In the book of 1 John, John writes a prologue which is similar to his other letters and his gospel. He talks about the revelation of Jesus, who was the word of life from the beginning and has now been made manifest to them. He states his purpose for his letter, to share the Gospel of Christ that the disciples had received. He goes on to say that this message proclaims that God is light; a central theme to his Gospel that says that Jesus is the true light coming into the world.

John is encouraging his audience to walk in the light of Christ. Christians were constantly bombarded with competing doctrines and lifestyles that drew them away from a life devoted to God. Walking in the light instead of darkness was not a metaphor for them to make good choices and stay away from the dark and tainted world. Rather, it was a metaphor for God’s truth and holiness. If God is light, then he exposes darkness and has the power to destroy it.

John makes a good argument for why we should embrace this gospel message. God is light, he is pure and good. Walking in the light means that we have  redeemed fellowship with God and each other, all of our sins being cleansed by his blood. Why, then do we so often fail to live out this message?

We have a constant struggle with our pride. John gives us the two ways that we can falsely walk in the light:

  1. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. “ This directly echoes James’ statement that faith without works is dead. Walking in God’s light means that we are not only in his truth but his holiness. We can say that we believe and know his Word, but we are not truly God’s children if we do not bear the character of God. We are not true followers of Christ if we are not becoming more like him by the power of the Spirit.
  2. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. The second way we falsely walk in the light is by covering our sin with our own, filthy, self-righteousness. Walking in the light means that we are not only in his holiness but his truth. We can try our best to live righteously and do good things, but if we cannot admit to our sin then we are not truly walking in the light of the gospel.

So, how do we walk in the light correctly? John says that we deceive ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we often point the finger for our sin and disobedience. We look to the world and Satan to blame for sin. But the gospel doesn’t point to these things. The light doesn’t expose them as the culprit for sin. It exposes our own hearts. That is why it is so difficult to embrace the gospel. The first part of the message says that we are the darkness and we have no part in fellowship with God. It shows us how much we deserve to be exiled from his presence and how much we deserve his wrath. That is not a message that is easy to embrace. But thankfully, that is not the whole of the message.

There are two answers that John gives for the ways we can walk falsely in the light:

1. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

2. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God gave us Jesus to reveal our sin to us – show us the truth. Part of that truth is that we are sinners, but the other part is that he is our Savior. By his truth we can painfully see our unrighteousness. Through his blood, we are made holy. The truth hurts and it is painful to deal with sin, but God wants to reveal his Son to us so that we may have fellowship with him and each other.

Ultimately, it is our own pride that hinders us from the gospel. In order to truly walk in the light, the light must shine upon us, exposing every dark deed in our hearts. Only then can we see how much we need Jesus and call upon him to cleanse us so that we may join him in righteousness.

This was the heart cry of the disciples who had been changed by Jesus. They wanted everyone to be free from their sin and share in the life that they had found in Christ.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4

In Any and Every Circumstance

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Philippians 4

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:10-13

In Philippians 4 Paul gives his final exhortations and encouragements to the Philippian church. At its core his letter has been a reminder for them to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of suffering and temptation. The Philippian church was well known for their spiritual success, which makes sense as to why Paul related their situations so often to his own. At the heart of the letter was a call for joy, humility, and commitment to the gospel. He constantly exhorts them to follow in his footsteps which was truly a call to follow Christ.

In the fourth segment of his letter Paul again uses himself as an example of what he is calling the Philippians to. He acknowledges that they have already showed spiritual maturity by acting like Timothy and others he mentioned in previous chapters in caring for other believers. They have been faithful in providing for Paul’s needs. But while he rejoices in God’s provision for him by way of the church, he notes that he was never truly in need. Paul has learned how to be content in whatever situation. He has learned the secret of being needy, that he can do all things through the strength of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t note this in his letter in order to reject needing support from other Christians, but to highlight the fact that the true source for all of our needs is Jesus. This also was not a statement that God gives provision and strength for our own agendas and plans. The central mission of the church is the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Paul wants to stress that the core of who they are and all of their actions are motivated and powered by that mission. It is not simply for Paul’s sake that they give provisions, it is for the sake of the gospel. And it is not by their own will to provide but God has provided for Paul through them for his own will and purposes.

17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 4:17-20

Their gifts and supplication is part of their worship and offering to God. Paul not only rejoices because he has received something for them, but because their self-less giving is a sign of their spiritual maturity. Paul assures that God will provide for them just as he has provided for Paul- not by worldly riches but by his riches in glory in Jesus Christ.

How can we have the same faith for God’s provision?

Paul claims that he has learned the secret to contentment. Throughout  his letter to the Philippians he stresses a lifestyle of self-abandonment and reliance on Jesus Christ.  It has been a message of rejoicing amidst certain suffering, denying ourselves for the sake of others, and placing our identity, purpose, and hope in Jesus Christ. Paul used himself over and over again as an example of these things but only because he was following in the steps of Jesus. And just like Jesus he didn’t look to any other source for physical provision than God. He knew that the secret to being content in this life was knowing that, spiritually, we have been well provided for. When we focus our lives on the eternal things, God’s purposes and plans for the world and that the war over sin and death has been won through Jesus, we can have full confidence that he provides for everything that we need. In any and every circumstances we can have faith because the God of peace is with us. He has not forsaken us and we have all we need in Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

 

 

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Our Confidence in Christ

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Philippians 3

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:4b-11

In Philippians chapter 3, Paul calls for the church to rejoice in the Lord. He continues on by warning them of the Judaizers (Jews that taught that Christians had to adhere to Jewish law in order to be saved) that were teaching them that they had to be circumcised. Paul argues that the church is the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Why is this such an important point to be made by Paul? He elaborates by talking about his own experience of being the ‘perfect’ Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews. He knows what it means to have confidence in his own worldly gain and in light of the gospel everything he was, was now counted as a loss. This becomes more than a mere point being made about laws and rules but about identity, purpose, and hope.

In the world, who we are is so heavily defined by what we can accomplish. Paul was a prime example of worldly success, having been a Pharisee. He was a keeper of the law and religion and a respected citizen. He was defined by his own righteousness. But true righteousness only comes through faith in Christ by the Spirit. Anything outside of Jesus Christ was meaningless. The success, the honor, the wealth, was all temporal but in Christ there was so much to be gained eternally. What is to be gained in Christ, Paul stresses, is simply knowing him. He has gained Christ himself and in gaining Christ, he has been found in Him. His identity is known in Jesus.

Receiving this new identity in Christ means sharing in everything that Jesus had achieved for us; his righteousness, inheritance, the power of his resurrection, even his suffering and death. All these things were considered the ultimate gain to Paul. This new identity also meant new purpose: that we would be more like Christ. His identity also becomes our purpose.

Paul makes it a point to say that he is not perfect in his calling to attain the things of Christ, but he presses on because Christ has made him his own. His new purpose that sprouts from his new identity ultimately gives him hope. And all these things are grounded in Jesus Christ.

When we put our confidence in Christ, instead of our own flesh or the world, we have a new identity, secured in Jesus Christ. We are made righteous, children of God. This new identity also gives our lives new meaning and purpose. We are to strive in the things of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s plan for our lives are not to be seen through the world’s temporal lens but hold significant, eternal value. Our purpose in Christ grants us hope. There is meaning for every struggle. There is a prize at the end of the race. Our hope is not only in Jesus, it is Jesus. He is the only one we can put our confidence and hope in.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Philippians 3:20-4:1

Serve Others Like Christ

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Philippians 2

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Philippians chapter 2 Paul calls the Philippian church  to serve one another in humility. This selfless service comes from their one-mindless in Christ through the Spirit. In Christ they have the ability to serve like Christ, who though being God, became human  and humbled himself to the cross for our sake. In his humility, he was exalted so that we could live out the same humility and obedience through him, also being exalted in his name.

At first glance, this passage could simply reveal to us an example of humility. In our own understanding we can take this and say that service means giving all that we have and obeying those who ask anything of us, even to the point of death.

Even Paul tells the Philipppians later in the chapter that he would be glad to be poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of their faith. He uses Timothy, whom he says is genuinely concerned for their welfare like no one else, and Epaphroditus, who nearly died for the work in Christ on the behalf of Paul.

So, are we simply to serve others by giving our all to the point of death? 

I think that in order to understand this call to serve we need to look at how Jesus serves and how Paul and the others he mentioned serve in light of their devotion to Christ. How did Jesus serve not only the world, but us as individuals? The greatest gift we could ever receive is that of Christ and the greatest service that has ever been done is Jesus’ work on the cross for us. These we have received by means of the gospel through the Holy Spirit. If we read carefully, Paul is not saying to serve others just because Jesus served to the point of death. He’s saying that what Christ did is the substance of our service. Christ’s death wasn’t an attribute of his service, it was his service. Every miracle he performed and blessing he bestowed served as a foreshadow of his ultimate future service and gift. So, when Paul serves to the point of death, he means that he serves the gospel to the point of death.

22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

Philippians 2:22

Even when he mentions Timothy’s service he says that he has served with him in the gospel.

As we think of how we are to serve others we have to look to Christ’s example. We are not humbling ourselves to each other but humbling ourselves to God who gives us the power to count others more significant than ourselves. That means that we think about the interests of others before our own. What is the best interest of others? To know Christ. The Bible stresses that we use our physical means, if we are able, to give to the poor and needy. But ultimately, the greatest gift you can give and the greatest service you can perform is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is how we can accomplish Paul’s call to the Philippians today to shine as lights in the world. We are lights that do not point to ourselves or shine on our own works of service. But we ourselves are being shined on by the light of Christ because we are holding fast to the word of life. We are pointing to Jesus who has served the gospel to us through his own life, death on the cross, and resurrection.

 

 

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Rejoice in Your Suffering

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27 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Philippians 1:27-30
In the book Philippians Paul writes to the Philippian church from prison. He begins the letter with a greeting, giving thanks, and praying for them. He tells them of his situation and that ultimately Christ is glorified because the gospel is being preached. He is transparent about how the gospel and his call to share it has brought him suffering but instead of losing hope or being angry, he rejoices. Any Christian in Paul’s time knew that following Christ meant an expectation of some kind of suffering. Jesus calls his followers to take up their crosses. The cross was widely known as the most brutal form of Roman torture. It should be no surprise that Christians face suffering for the sake of Christ.
Paul encourages that Christian suffering is something to rejoice over.

But how and why are we to suffer for the sake of Christ? 

 Paul had experienced such suffering that he saw death as something to be gained and to hope for because a departing from this life means being with Christ. On the other hand, life contains fruitful labor. God had a purpose for Paul’s life; to preach the gospel to the world. Paul’s perspective, as echoed through his other letters, was to be content in whatever situation God has placed you in. Whether it be in life or death, peace or strife, comfort or suffering. He didn’t rejoice because suffering made him more valuable or worthy. Suffering was a privilege because it was the fruit of the purpose that God had for him.

Jesus greatly exemplifies this to us. He is the suffering servant that bore the cross for God’s ultimate purpose. God calls us to a life of suffering not to burden us but to find satisfaction in our following in the life of his son. In love, Jesus was sent to join in our human suffering, taking on more than we will ever have to because of what he did on the cross. Paul is mirroring Christ’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prays that God would relieve his suffering but ends with praying that the Father’s will be done and not his own. In the same way Paul concludes that while he has a desire to be relieved from his suffering, his ultimate desire is to do God’s will. God doesn’t promise that we would not experience suffering, we should expect it, but trust that even in suffering, he has a redemptive plan for us in Jesus.

We all have a purpose in this life and we should look to Christ for what that is even amidst suffering, as Paul did. May we rejoice in our suffering because we live for the sake of Christ and may God be glorified as we run to him as our sole comfort and peace.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11-12

Grow with Gratitude

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Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Colossians 4:1

In Colossians 4, Paul gives his final instructions to the church encouraging them to continue in their growth. He says to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Giving thanks seems to be a very important theme in the book of Colossians and Paul continues to emphasize its importance in the very last chapter.

In every chapter of the book of Colossians Paul instructs the church to be thankful (Colossians 1:12, 2:7, 3:15-17, 4:2). In most instances, this command seems misplaced considering book’s over-arching theme of spiritual growth and maturity. He goes on long discourses on who we are and how we are to behave in light of our standing with the sovereign Lord.

What does thanksgiving have to do with spiritual growth?

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:15-17

Thanksgiving is not only the fruit of our spiritual growth, it is also a tool given to us for our growth.

If we are truly made alive in Christ, then through his power we would bear the fruit of a grateful heart. We would exemplify all the attributes we find in Col. 3. Paul mentions thanksgiving often but he isn’t simply reminding us, he is applying the tool of gratitude. We are to give thanks in the moments of struggle and growth. Thanksgiving is a precedent for godliness. When we give thanks despite what we are going through and how we feel, our hearts are drawn to who God is and what he has done rather than ourselves. It changes our perspective from or limited human view to God’s sovereign and holy perspective. We are reminded of the truth that we have a reason to be forever grateful no matter what and in all things. We have Christ who has made a way for our salvation. In the light of who Jesus is, all other struggles fade away and our hearts are drawn to a position of humility that prepares and spurs in our spiritual growth.