Friday, April 28, 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Euodia and Syntyche

This week we've studied Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies of the church in Philippi, who were named in Paul's letter. It seems that contention had risen between the two women, and it was of concern to Paul. He knew just how much the conflict could have (and perhaps already had) harmed the church if allowed to fester and grow. Contention between two people can spread to the other members, and cause a lack of unity in the whole congregation.
Paul described them as "women who contended" at his side in the cause of the gospel. They were (in the past) devoted and hard working servants of the church.
As in most disagreements, it was going to require both of the women to change. In fact, Paul tells them that the solution to the problem is to "agree with each other," not just with lip service, but with sincerity -- "in the Lord" -- not to solve their disagreement in their own way, but in and through Christ Jesus.
Paul also recruits the help of others to reach out to Euodia and Syntyche and help them to reconcile.
If you knew two Christian friends who were in this situation, could you do it? How would you advise them? Encourage them?
Paul says:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

First, Paul focuses on Christ's example of an attitude that can lead to reconciliation. He reminds the believers that they are united with Christ and therefore should share His motives. In verses five through eleven of that chapter, Paul reminds them of the sacrificial love of God -- the Creator Who became flesh, became a mere mortal man, instead of using the advantages of Who He really was. He gladly became a servant, and then humbled Himself to be hung on a cross, dying for our sins. And that now He is risen and exalted. He points Euodia and Syntyche to the example of Christ.

Secondly, Paul focuses on the "comfort from His love." The scholars tell us that "comfort" can be translated "incentive." It doesn't carry the thought of being forced, but of tenderness. God tenderly provides us with incentive to pass along the love that He shows to us. As Christians love each other, divisions will fade and unity can blossom.

Next, Paul speaks of "fellowship with the Spirit." We have the Holy Spirit's presence with us and in us each and every day. This allows us to live in unity with one another. It helps with peace between believers:
 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)
We are a diverse group, God's family. We come from varied backgrounds, educations, races, and economic situations. Such a group of totally different people can have unity, because the Holy Spirit is the adhesive that holds us together!

Lastly, Paul reminds all of the tenderness and compassion that we have received from God; and he tells all of us that we should be inspired by those gifts to treat others in the same way. When believers are tenderhearted toward each other, unity is not far behind. The rivalries and the selfishness that is embedded in our human side can separate us -- let us remember that we are members of one body, and labor for the welfare of all.

Unity in the church family is so vital to the work that God has called us to do! That is why in chapter one, Paul said:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel  (Philippians 1:27)
Paul mentions Euodia's and Syntyche's past work, but he warns them of the danger of hindering the work of God. It takes hard work to avoid this dangerous situation -- it takes "standing firm" and " one."

Do you wonder sometimes how stories end? This is one that had me thinking. I wondered if they resolved their disagreement? Did they see unity and God's work as more important than who started their squabble? Did they swallow their pride and "make up"? Or did they get in a huff and act even worse than they did before? Did they follow Christ's example of selflessness?

The Bible doesn't speak to that. It doesn't tell us. But one of the commentaries that I read mentioned some historical evidence that might give us clues. Early in the second century, the church in Philippi wrote a letter to the church leader in what is now Turkey. His name was Polycarp, and we don't have their letter, asking about a minister who'd been arrested and taken to Rome. But we do have his answer!
Polycarp commended the congregation in Philippi, saying:

             " (You) have followed the example of true love and have helped on their way,
              as opportunity offered, those who were bound in chains.....I rejoice also that
              your firmly rooted faith, renowned since early days, endures to the present
              and produces fruit for our Lord Jesus Christ."  (Polycarp)

I don't think these words could have been written about a church torn by contention and warring personalities. I think this is a church that had developed godly unity!

I wonder what will be written about us, or our church families, years from now? Will we have set an example of unity? Or will we be held up as examples of what NOT to do?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Euodia and Syntyche - how embarrassing!

We're studying these two ladies from the fourth chapter of Philippians this week, and I'm indebted to this person who put this cartoon out on the interwebs . . . it makes me think of the consternation that must have been on the faces of Euodia and Syntyche when Paul's letter was read in the church!

I sure wouldn't have wanted to be one of them . . .
All of those verses leading up to this in chapter four -- Paul was making his case all along, wasn't he? In most of his epistles, Paul, like His Lord before him, spoke a lot about unity. When he wrote to the folks in Rome, he said:
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)
When he wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; (Ephesians 4:3-4)
So, when he wrote to the congregation in Philippi:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  (Philippians 2:1-2)
After laying the groundwork, he names the names of the women and also asks for the current leader of the church to "help these women." Not to ignore the problem. Not to go behind their backs and talk about them. Not to ask someone else to intercede. Paul, who was steeped in the Jewish writings from a young age, must surely have been thinking of this verse:
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak....... I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)

Why? Because they had labored with him to promote and spread the gospel. Their names were in the Book of Life, and they needed to return to the unity that they once enjoyed as servants of Christ. The folks we think of as "difficult" might just be placed in our lives for a purpose that only He knows. Perhaps to teach us patience, tact, or some other skill that is lacking in our lives. (Grin)
There is no "chance" in God's plans, nor in His providence. Folks like these who are in conflict, or who cause conflict, must be handled with just the right words, and they must be handled with just the right timing, too!

Just the right words.
Hmmmmm....... Paul did indeed choose his words carefully, don't you think?
What if he had addressed these ladies like he did the church in Galatia?
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel...... you foolish Galatians!.... (Galatians 1:6, 3:1, NIV)
What if he had addressed them like our Lord, accused of healing a man by the power of Satan?
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Matthew 12:34, KJV)
If he'd been writing today, Paul might have said, "OK, Euodia and Syntyche, let's get this one thing straight. Y'all need to stop this bickering -- it doesn't accomplish a thing! Do we understand each other?" (Yeah, I know, I made Paul a Southerner.)
There are a wide variety of ways that Paul could have addressed this, but we noticed earlier that he first laid a groundwork for his words to them. He reminded all who would read the letter about the principles of obedience, servant-hood, humility, and unity.

And then the timing . . . Why did he wait until so late in  his letter to "call them out"? Perhaps he was well aware of how embarrassing it would be to the ladies. They would have no room to wriggle out of it. No way to retreat, nor to blame anyone else. I don't think any church leader enjoys having to single out a member of the group for exhortation. Public reprimands are a thing of the past in some congregations, and it's not because they're all saints, either! It's a difficult thing to do! In fact, Paul almost seems ready to close this letter earlier -- he starts the third chapter (our designation, not his) with the words, "Finally, my brethren...." and then goes on to say much more. It seems like he finally decides to name them, though.
Perhaps he is trying to remind the church leaders (by naming the ladies) that public sins, that harm the testimony of the congregation, are not the same as private matters that our Lord gave instructions for:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (Matthew 18:15-16)
Instead, he is reminding them of the very next principle that Jesus spoke:
 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17)
The strife and conflict between these two would harm the testimony of the church. It would call attention to distinct personalities and people would be taking sides. Unbelievers looking on wouldn't see unity and love -- just the opposite! All of this would be in stark contrast to the way that Paul hoped the people would behave:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:9-18)
How embarrassing to be named in Paul's letter -- and told to do better! But I kinda think maybe that was just what was needed . . . .
Join us tomorrow as we conclude our study and we'll see.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Verses that inspire

This week's study of Euodia and Syntyche brought us to a pretty familiar passage in Philippians, and it contains a verse that many have clung to over the years.

Let me show you which one:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
It struck me as I read, that verse 19 means nothing without the verses that precede it. Let's look at the whole passage:
 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:10-19)
Are you seeing the same light at the end of the tunnel that I saw? (Grin)
It's almost like, if he were talking instead of writing, that Paul might have said, "and as a result of your sacrifice and giving attitude," God will meet all your needs......

I'm not balmy, I promise!
Let's look at the clues . . .
First, they sent aid to Paul more than once. And now that he received their gift, he is "amply" supplied. Not that he needed much, since he had learned to be content, whether he had a lot or a little! He called their gift a fragrant offering and a sacrifice . . . sounds like he knew his peeps at Philippi, and that they may not all have been as wealthy as Lydia. They may have given even more than perhaps they "should" have, because of their love of God, and their love for the man who taught them about Jesus Christ.
Sacrificial giving . . . sounds familiar.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,    will sacrifice to you.What I have vowed I will make good.    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord. (Jonah 2:9)
Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. (Deuteronomy 15:10)
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

So should we take Paul's words in Philippians to mean that (like some ole time television speakers used to say) Christians have a pipeline to riches and wealth and if you're not rich, you're not doing it right?
Umm, in a word, no.
Paul doesn't say that.
Some people have tried to make it so. But that, as my grandma used to say, "don't make it so." The rewards we are promised are not part of making a deal with God. He is sovereign, and we can't MAKE Him do anything! Our motives must be rooted in simple thankfulness for His mercy and His grace.

But guess what! He truly will supply all of our needs . . . not our wish list, but our necessities. (Grin) And when the "books are closed" and we are thinking about things while we're in heaven, none of us will ever say that we gave more to God than He gave to us.



Have you an inspiring verse to share?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Euodia and Syntyche - oh, how embarrassing!

You've seen it.
I know you have.
You've maybe "been there."
Even in the community of faith, in a group of believers, inside the fellowship of a church, it can happen.

Two people who have worked side by side, and shared ups and downs, can have what my grandma used to call "a falling out." They've labored together, laughed together, cried together, and seen God's blessings together.
But something happens.
Maybe it's a disagreement over something small. Maybe it's a small sliver of jealousy that grows larger with time. It's usually not something major.
But it gets that way.

Then you have the sharp glances. The whispers. The lack of cooperation. The open dissension. The attitudes that have no place in the church, and hurt the testimonies of the people involved, and the church itself, as outsiders look on.
Because it can affect not only the people involved, but the entire congregation.

The two ladies that I'm talking about lived over two thousand years ago. People are still talking about them (and learning from them, I hope) today. We meet them in the final chapter of Philippians:
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3)

Let's go back and lay the groundwork for this letter, and for Paul's plea to these ladies to "make up." Do you recall when we studied Lydia? She was a "seller of purple," a wealthy lady who was the foundation of the church in Philippi. This is the church that began as a prayer meeting by the river, and grew into a thriving, passionate church.
Paul was writing to the church here primarily to thank the congregation for a recent gift.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:10,15-18)
One of the folks from that congregation, Epaphroditus, had gone to visit Paul (to deliver their gift to him). He had become very ill, but was now recovered sufficiently to travel home, so Paul penned his letter to the church and asked Epaphroditus to carry it with him.
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. (Philippians 2:25-30)

In his letter to Philippi, Paul stressed unity, self-sacrifice, respect, humility, and more. Here's an example from chapter two:
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:2-4)

Then, finally, in the fourth chapter, he "names names." Ouch. That packs a punch, doesn't it?  He was concerned enough about the contention between these two women, that Paul addressed it in a letter that he knew would be read aloud to the church!

Think he was too harsh?
Think he did just right?
We'll learn more as we study this week! Hope you will join us!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Happy Easter!

Yesterday we celebrated Easter in many of our churches, fellowships, and homes. What a joyful time, and a very special time to contemplate the love that sent Jesus Christ to the cross, to die in our place. God raised Him from the grave, and that is why we have the hope and the joy of our salvation!

I hope that all of you are spending time with your families and friends, rejoicing in His mercy and love. Let us all remember:
 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  (I Peter 1:3-6)
And these verses, too:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

He is risen!

See you next week!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Facing down our lions

So far this week, we've seen that Daniel had self-discipline and prayed regularly, and also that he was bold to hold up God's promises in prayer and ask for God to work in a situation. When he saw a gap between the current situation and what he knew God's will to be, Daniel asked God to solve the problem.
Daniel's prayer life was so important to him, that he was willing to lose his life over it.
Is prayer that important to us? Do we have a set time each day that we meet God on our knees in prayer? Do we pray back God's promises to Him, and expect Him to resolve the problems?

Now let's look one more time at Daniel, as he is facing his lions; we can learn from him how to face our own!
Daniel was persistent. He didn't give up, but prayed until God answered. And yes, I know that brings up a question . . . we'll get to that in a minute. (Grin) God answered his prayers quickly about the lions, but in the entire book of Daniel, we find some interesting clues to his prayer life.

The return from exile didn't happen for about seventy years. Scholars tell us that Daniel prayed for sixty years before that answer came . . . do we have the persistence to pray for something for that long? I know that many of us have long-standing petitions we have taken repeatedly to the Lord, and we know of others who are in the same boat. I found this passage truly interesting, and I would like to encourage everyone to read chapter ten of Daniel.
Seriously. It will help in this study . . .
Here are a few of the verses, if you're impatient or short of time:
A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:10-14)

We see in this chapter that Daniel was praying by the river, and saw a man clothed in brilliant apparel who walked right up to him. The people who were with him at this riverside prayer gathering were frightened and left, so only Daniel was there.

Did you get what those verses seemed to say? That on the day that Daniel started praying on a certain matter, his words were heard -- and this man, who seems to be one of the angels, was sent to him with the answer. But along the way, a demonic force pounced on this angel and they fought for twenty-one days! And while they were fighting, Daniel kept praying.

Many people believe strongly in guardian angels. Many more believe in demons and demonic forces. The scholars say that the words translated here relate to angels and demons, so in my humble opinion, I have to think that it's so. Some answers only come after persistent prayer. Twenty-one days. Sixty years.
Did you know that the man known as St. Augustine was pretty wild as a youth? That his mom prayed for him for over twenty years? Then he finally came back to the teachings of his childhood, and made quite an impact for the Lord!

Here's where we come back to that question from earlier . . . how do we know? How can we tell when we should persist, and when we should believe that God is telling us "no" or "not now"? Do we struggle with this? I'm nodding, so I think some others may be nodding their heads, too!
Paul prayed three separate times for God to change something in his life -- and finally he realized that God was saying, "I'm not going to change that particular thing, Paul. But I'll give you a special measure of my grace so that you can handle it."
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (II Corinthians 12:9)
So many things in the Word seem to be on this subject . . . remember when Jesus told His disciples not to pray like pagans, who think God will hear them because they talk so much! And Jesus told us, too, that God knows what we need even before we open our mouths to ask him.

But he also said this:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, KJV)

Seems like we are presented with both sides of the coin, no?
I'm thinking of the widow we studied months back -- she wouldn't give up until Jesus said He would help her daughter. And the folks who were praying for Peter's release from prison; they didn't give up, either.
Here is what I think is the key: if it is something that we are certain from His Word, that is His will, then we don't give up. If it's what God wants. Don't give up. Ever. Pray and keep praying. If you have verses that show you what God's will is, and the present situation isn't there yet, keep on praying. Keep knocking.

The Holy Spirit has to guide us. There are some things that we will pray for, good things that we believe are the will of the Lord, that won't happen. But I believe that if God hasn't told us to stop, we shouldn't stop.
That person we are praying for to be saved, or come back to their faith? Of course, that goes without saying, we never stop there. Our marriage that needs sweetening? Don't stop praying. Other situations  or decisions will need faithful study and searching of the Word. That's the only way we can discern His will. If there begins to be a tension there, a feeling from the Spirit, well, I can't tell you what it will feel like. There are no words, I don't believe. We simply must try to continually grow closer to Him, and allow Him to speak to us in our hearts, and in His Word.

How does our story of Daniel facing his lions end?
He gets thrown in with them. Kinda feel sorry for King Darius. He never really meant for this to happen, but he was weak and gullible, and allowed himself to be flattered. The Bible says he stayed up all night worrying about Daniel!
I guess all of the wicked satraps stayed up all night partying -- Yay, Daniel is gone!
The only ones who slept were the lions and Daniel!
So, here is Darius, rushing down to the lions' den, first thing in the morning. He looks in, and there's ole Dan, reading the morning edition of the Babylonian Times, in between the snoozing lions. (Grin)
God had kept him safe, and He was glorified.

Is the point of the story that nothing bad will ever happen to folks who pray and trust God? Nope. There are lots of people who face their lions and die. This story points to the New Testament -- to someone else Who was innocent and was sentenced to death. To someone else Who trusted the Father God. To someone else Who came through His trial with six wounds, unlike Daniel, who was untouched. Who was in the grave for three days, and then rose again, defeating death and sin!

As we celebrate Easter, let us remember that whatever trial we are in, we are safe. We are loved. His presence is with us, if we are trembling with fright, or deep in despair. We can pray for twenty-one days, or for sixty years if need be, because we know that we know, that God cares and that He hears us. If we call out for deliverance and it does not come right away, we can handle it. We can deal with things of this world, because He has proven His love and commitment for us at the cross.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us? (Romans 8:31, NIV)
Let's press on in our prayers. When there is a gap between what is, and what God wants, let's pray! And keep praying. Don't be discouraged. Look to the cross, and then to the empty tomb -- He cares for us and has made His power available to us as we face our lions!