Women Embracing Faith

Thinking Through the Bible

Summer Reading: Galatians and Philippians May 31, 2011

Filed under: Galatians,Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 4:26 pm

A nice way to spend a summer evening.

Perhaps you’d like to read Galatians and Philippians, along with my commentary, this summer. You can print all the lessons on each by scrolling down categories; then right click to print. The lessons print from the most recent to the first–backward. Just start at the end to get to the beginning.

Both these books will help you deal with your church relationships. Perhaps that is just what you need right now. The main application of both books is an encouragement to stand firm.

In Philippians, Paul urges us to stand firm together through our personal joy in the Lord. That is why there is much about rejoicing in that book.

In Galatians, Paul urges us to stand firm on justification by faith alone while maintaining a loving spirit with others.

What does standing firm look like to you?

The “together” and the “loving spirit” are sure important parts of this. They have helped me stick it out with the local church as my husband and I have sought to understand the gospel and to find a group committed to it. Both books need to be read with these principles in mind, instead of separating oft-repeated verses from this theme of standing rooted, grounded, balanced, TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL.


Positive Thinking? June 10, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 10:42 am
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This is the last lesson on Philippians.  I hope this series has been useful to you personally.  Just scroll ‘Category’ to Philippians for all the lessons.  Perhaps you could use it, along with Roger Ellsworth’s Opening Up Philippians, for a small group study.

Reread Philippians 4

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”  (Philippians 4:8-9).


If this isn’t “positive thinking,” what is it?  In the 1950’s, a pastor in N.Y.City came up with a popular notion for those looking for inner peace and tranquility in life.  Just think about the good.  Keep your mind on the positive and joy would come your way.  It seems like that’s all Paul is saying here as well.  But, the catch comes in verse 9 which connects how we are looking at people and events with following his instruction and example. 

His whole point in this letter was to stand firm together for the gospel, with love for each other, so that the work of telling others about Christ Jesus would go on.   Maintaining peace and harmony in any group takes work.  So Paul told them to deliberately look for the positive in events or others.  What is honorable here, what is just, lovely, worthy of praise?  We are to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” as he told the Ephesians (4:3).  Eager to be reasonable and to live peaceably.   The purpose in searching out the lovely and just and honorable is not for our own inner peace, as Norman V. Peale taught, but for keeping the local church on track. 

But, Paul’s own joy is to be our example.  That joy was rooted in his desire that Christ be honored and proclaimed.  “…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now, as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).  Have the desire that Christ Jesus be glorified by your living reasonably, looking for the good, keeping the peace.   Like Paul, be happy when someone helps you or shows concern for your work to spread the gospel.  He had learned contentment, not through positive thinking, but by rejoicing in the Lord who gave him strength (4:10-13).  What an example of confidence in God and living for God’s glory he was setting for all of us who would read this letter.  He was sure God would supply all of their needs so that God would be glorified.  He had certainly experienced that himself on his recent trip to Rome–through storm at sea, shipwreck, an angel’s visit, snakebite (Acts 27).  He wanted to be an example to these friends of confidence and rejoicing in God.  Like the prophet Habakkuk, he could say,

“Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls–yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The LORD God is my strength;”(Hab. 3: 17-19).

This experience is a long way from the whole positive thinking thing.  It all comes back to God’s grace.  By his grace, we can maintain the glue of peace in our churches, families,  and relationships.  By his grace, we can get through needy times.  By his grace, we can stand firm.


Philippians 4:4-7 June 2, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 5:50 am

Are you still reading Philippians with me? Reading over and over never hurts.  Of course, I’m assuming you are also reading elsewhere in the scriptures at the same time.  We have been hovering over these passages, remembering Paul’s main objective which was to encourage these Christians in a Greek culture to stand firm in the doctrines of the faith and their basic applications.   He wanted them to settle their disputes quickly so their work together for the spread of the gospel would go on and on.

Now he wants them to enjoy the peace which is part and parcel of this kind of lifestyle.  So he gives them some specific things they are to do.

“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 repuests 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).

Sovereignty and Responsibility

Paul urged his friends to make a decision to rejoice in what God is like and their relationship with him.  In addition, they were to decide to be reasonable in their dealings with others,  to get along in spite of their differences.  It was a decision they were to make and follow through with.  It was their responsibility.  It is our responsibility too–to be reasonable with others and to rejoice that God is who the Bible says he is: our Creator, King, Judge, Teacher, Savior, Friend, and Brother.  Decide you will do it.

Many people confuse God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibilities.  They emphasize one without the other.  And that leads to an imbalance and misrepresentation of what the Bible really tells us.  God is sovereign; man is responsible.  Charles Spurgeon used to illustrate this with a train illustration:  There are two tracks running side by side.  One is the train of God’s sovereign power; the other is a train flying the flag of man’s responsibility.  They keep going straight ahead; they never cross.  Both are true; both are themes flowing from Genesis to Revelation. 

 Here is an example of our responsibility: to rejoice in the Lord; to behave reasonably; not to worry; be thankful; pray. It is a matter of the mind; deciding to do it and doing it. Of course, you can ask for help!

Now comes the other train flying by.  It is waving the flag of God’s sovereignty; his absolute power.  His peace will guard our hearts and minds.  It is beyond us to ever understand why we could be at peace with God; to escape his justice due our sin; to be saved from his wrath; to have our hearts stirred to love him, to obey his precepts, to calm down and rest in the power he demonstrated to us at Jesus’s resurrection.  But, the Lord is near—at our right hand; perhaps coming back today in all his power and glory. Then we will see clearly his sovereignty and our responsibility.  For now, be sure to keep both trains running.

Do what is necessary to rejoice and think straight about getting along with others.  Maybe you need to reflect on how wonderful it is to be a child of God.


Getting Along With Others May 25, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 6:12 am

Read Philippians 3-4:3

Two women in the church in Philipi had a difference of opinion.  Others must have noticed their quarreling because someone had told Paul about it.  (Remember, he was in prison, in Rome.)  Paul urged them to “agree in the Lord” and for someone who knew how to do that to help them (Philippians 4:2-3).  Paul didn’t go into detail here; he had already covered this in a previous letter to the church in Rome.  But, settling disputes among people in the churches was an important issue to him because of the way it interrupted their work together to plant churches, to tell others about knowing God through faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, to know God in a personal way, to relate to him.  This whole letter had been about  standing firmly together, showing endurance and strength in all of that.  He wasn’t about to let a difference of opinion between two good people destroy such good work. Yet, he never expected everyone to always agree, to have the same opinion about such things as dress, hair, food, celebrations of historical events, cultural or family traditions. He expected mature Christians to accept each other’s differences, yet get along.    


Paul gave specific instructions to the church in Rome about how to get along with each other so he did not need to repeat it all here.  He told them to:

  • Don’t think of yourself and your opinions as better than others. Don’t be haughty or think of yourself as wise  (12:3,16,17).
  • Don’t quarrel over opinions or look down on someone who has a different view about these “lesser things” (14:1,10).
  • Be patient with their weaknesses and the ways they fail.  Seek to help them be stronger Christians (15:1-2).
  • Do something kind for them instead of making yourself look or feel good (15:3).

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:4-7).

In other words, don’t pick on one another when you have different opinions. 



Simplify May 19, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 6:05 am
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Reading Philippians 

Reread Philippians 3-4:1.

Paul is urging us set an over-riding goal of knowing God more intimately, relationally, while reflecting his character by who we really are.  He uses the terms “pressing on” and “straining forward” so we may know God and his power as we willingly sacrifice our own interests and desires (3:10-12).  He urges these friends to follow his example, but to be aware that there are many whose example will be a snare and stumbling block to them. 

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19).

The problem with these people is that they are chiefly interested in themselves, in satisfying their own desires, in pursuing their own interests. It is awfully hard to be singular in purpose when one is tossed about by every wave of worldliness or new trend.  We can’t be thinking of these things all the time, seeking to fulfill every desire even if it is against the Bible’s examples of how we are to live.

In another letter, Colossians, Paul explains how to have this singular eye of knowing God and reflecting him:

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth….Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness…put them all away:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk…do not lie to one another…Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, …put on love…(Colossians 3:2-14).

Notice this is an active sense of determining to think about spiritual things.  Then to turn away from those actions and thoughts that will destroy that determination.  And to replace them with love.  It helps to keep an eye out for people who are humble, compassionate, kind, patient, sexually pure, truthful, forgiving. People like this are to be our role-models. We need friends like this!  We are to be examples for others of kindness, humility, love, while standing firmly, rooted and grounded in the gospel. 

This is really about setting priorities, watching what we think about, what we really like or desire because that will shape who we become.   Jesus talked about the same thing when he said,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money” (or possessions) (Matthew 7:19-24).

Simplify your life by having one desire that over-rides all others:  to know God more intimately and to let others see Jesus in you.


Cluttered Lives May 10, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 4:23 am

Reread Philippians 3-4 remembering Paul was encouraging them to stick together in believing, spreading, and living the good news of Jesus Christ.

They were to rejoice in the righteousness of Christ–to stop leaning on anything else for God’s approval and be happy they could know God, experience His grace and power.  Of course, this would mean bearing with rejections, shame, attacks, and most of all, self-sacrifice.  But, the result would be a degree of moral virtue and, eventually, eternal life.    

 This rejoicing would come from intentional thinking and setting of priorities.  It required self-discipline and and a single eye–consciously setting the goal of knowing God and living a gospel centered life. It could not be done alone; disagreements needed to be resolved; examples of others followed; mentoring cultivated.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss for the sake of Christ….I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”  (3:8;14).

It is “in” right now to declutter our homes, to decorate by giving the singular more significance–one vase of flowers instead of three.  But, our lives are ever more cluttered and fragmented.  We are distracted by all our options or burdens and technology: travel, jobs, malls, debt, sports, novels, facebook, email, the internet, blogs, cell phones… It is hard to finish anything.  There is so much to do; so many causes; so many pleasures; so much responsibility.

I am reminded of an old catechism question:

“What is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

A way of implementing this is to ask:  What is my purpose in life? 

How do we hone it down to one goal, to declutter, streamline, take rifle aim?  Paul said the way to do that was to seek intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ as our purpose.  Trying to do and have and experience it all fragments, distracts, clutters.  Instead of joy and peace, there will be stress, restlessness, and unhappiness. What will you do today to further that intimacy amidst your responsibilities and desires?  Rejoice in your blessings? Pray for others? Turn away from your selfishness or hurt?  Get some rest? Support your church?

What clutter is distracting you today from focusing on knowing God better?

(Scroll “Categories” to Philippians for all the lessons.)


Philippians 3:7-14 April 27, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 3:08 pm
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“…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…

Paul explained what it means to be “in Christ” in another letter.  Here his emphasis is on our applying the righteousness of Christ to our daily lives–that “righteousness from God that depends on faith–” (3:11).  When we sin, and the guilt causes us to despair, we are to remember we are clothed in this perfectness, this life of the Lord Jesus who never sinned.  Practicing this enables us to passionately pursue our goal of knowing God and experiencing his power. 

Then, we can follow Jesus’s example, as well as, put off our own sinful desires, and our selfishness, and put on love, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering….. 

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immortality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealously.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). 

Paul even encouraged them to look at his example of how to live this out. He knew he was not perfect; his only perfectness was found “in Christ.”  God declared Paul righteous. It depended on his faith–the gift of God.  He kept his eyes on his goal of knowing God, and he insisted this was the only way: to be “in Christ.” 

I used to have a sign on my podium reading “Follow me to the library.”  The senior social studies kids weren’t very appreciative.  That just wasn’t on their minds. 

Here, Paul was encouraging his readers to follow his example as he followed Christ Jesus.  Is that what is on your mind?

THINK ABOUT THESE VERSES:  Comparing verses with each other helps us understand and apply them.

“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” (Philippians 3:1).

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17).

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and coveteousness, which is idolatry….You must put them all away:  anger wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouths…Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, …” (Colossians 3:5-12).


Stand Firm Together April 23, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 5:20 am

I hope you are profiting from your reading of Philippians.  Remember its not really a book.  It’s a letter to friends who have worked together to establish churches in Turkey and Greece, and now, have hopes of extending that into Spain.  Paul’s point is that joy comes from sticking together in this task.

Read Philippians 3-4::1

Paul is telling these people to stay committed, individually and corporately, to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t waiver on what the gospel is.  Don’t give up on your own pursuit of intimacy with God because that is what brings joy and hope.  Remember this is not a psychological manuel on how to be happy.  It is a letter to fellow Christians to encourage and exhort them to be faithful.

Roger Ellsworth (OPENING UP PHIIIPPIANS, Day One Publishers, p. 55-63) has some helpful definitions:

 Flesh:  anything apart from Christ on which one bases his hope of salvation.  See 3:4,

 ”though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.  If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:..”

righteousness:  standing before a holy God completely clean and pure in external behavior and internal desires. See 3:9,

…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God that depends on faith–

 Dogs: Teachers who deny the saving work of the Lord Jesus.  They do not rely totally on the person and work of the Lord Jesus.  They teach others to depend on something else besides the cross.  Paul uses his own life as an example of the asurdity of this.

When you sin, and you know it, turn from it in sorrow and heartbreak, and embrace the wonderful news that Jesus never sinned.  God our father covers our sin with Jesus’s purity. So His righteousness becomes ours and we are found “in Christ.”   God does not have to disregard His justice in order to accept us.  We are children and heirs.  Now that is good reason to stand firmly together to establish churches and tell others about Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.


Reading Philippians, Chapter April 6, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 3:11 pm

Don’t forget you can hit “category” and scroll down to “Philippians” for all my articles on Philippians.  This is number 6.

A Quick Summary So Far

This letter was written to encourage a church in Greece to continue working together to spread the gospel–to keep on keeping on in spite of opposition, hardship, or persecution.  Paul was not writing a “how to” manual on being happy.  But, his own contentment and pursuit of godliness is evident.  He wanted them to continue on in knowing God and making him known, and to rejoice because of what they knew to be true of God, while, at the same time, keeping  their eyes on justification by faith alone.

With Eyes Wide Open

Paul doesn’t sugar-coat anything for these friends.  He warns them to expect opposition and persecution for the gospel of Christ Jesus.  Now he gets very specific.

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers… For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:2; 18-19).

The evildoers are those who want to add their own “something” to the gospel.  Some righteous deed (in this case, submitting to a Jewish ordinance); coming from the “right” family; being a part of the “right” group; having the “right” attitude; seeing self as doing what is “right.”  Paul tells us he had all of these, and he counted them all as nothing but rubbish, something to be tossed out.  He was not ashamed of the gospel and he was happy to be found covered in the righteousness of Christ Jesus—the “right” standing before God that depends on faith alone.

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:…and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, …that I may know him …” (Philippians 3:4;8;9;10).

Paul is all for cooperation.  But, he has zero tolerance for anyone who teaches a wrong gospel.

This kind of righteousness, added to faith, is just rubbish.  Toss it out.  Don’t tolerate that kind of teaching in your church or support those people in their gospel endeavors.

The Main Point For Us

 Be careful how you think about yourself.  Are you depending on your family or church or your moral life or anything else you could add to what Jesus Christ has done?  Our faith is to be in Jesus Christ’s righteousness, not our own, and in what He accomplished for us when He died on that cross.  He alone is our Savior.  Knowing that, thinking about it, helps us to rejoice in the Lord.  To think about what Jesus has done for us helps us to “rejoice, and again, I say, Rejoice.”  This is good theology, not psychology.  Some psychology hints can be very helpful to us, but sound theology should come first.  It makes for strong foundations on which to build our lives.  So Philippians is about theology, not a psychological treatise in how to be happy.  Rejoice IN THE LORD.


Reading Philippians:3:1 March 24, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 10:15 am

“Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1).

How do we do that?  We know it is not the same as always focusing on the positive side of things.  Anyone can attempt that, no matter their religious views.  Neither is it  just an attempt to be happy in spite of life’s turns and twists, its ups and downs.  A support group can help with that.

Roger Ellsworth in Opening Up Philippians (Day One, 2004) reminds us that this letter from Paul to Greek Christians is not a manual on how to be joyful.  It is an exhortation to work together to spread the gospel.  Paul’s own joy in doing that, in spite of hardship and opposition, bubbles up frequently.  If he is not thinking positively, where does this joy come from?   No matter how much they “put on a happy face,” it will not earn them points with God. That’s what “justification by faith” means; Jesus’ perfect life is enough for us to be declared righteous.

Then how do we rejoice in the Lord?  It is letting your feelings be driven by how you are thinking about God.  We start with the mind;  remember the Bible’s teaching about God.   One way of doing this is to read the Psalms.  Look for Christ Jesus in them.  Take Psalm 22, for example. Or Psalm 90, written by Moses. “By your wrath we are dismayed.”  The Psalms are helpful because they bring forth truths about God and then show us an emotional response. Moses says, “Return, O Lord!…Have pity on your servants!”

Another way to rejoice in the Lord is to read a solid Confession of Faith with its biblical passages.  The Westminster Confession or the Baptist Confession of 1689 are my two favorites.  They devote whole sections to God and Christ Jesus.  They attempt to summarize the Bible’s teachings about God, then give you the biblical passages that teach about His sovereignty, trinity, love, justice etc.  The point is that as you are thinking about these characteristics of God, your heart will be moved and before you know it, you are rejoicing.

As you remember these basics, don’t forget to sing in your heart (even if you don’t feel like it).  Start with some songs you just like, then look up some of the old hymns about God.  “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” comes to mind.  “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Up From the Grave He Arose.”  Keep a favorite hymnbook handy just for this purpose:  to rejoice in the Lord.

And, of course, don’t forget the great value of talking about this with someone.  Cultivate friendships with those who will speak of God’s faithfulness, His love, His answering of their prayers.  Just hearing these things can help us to rejoice in the Lord over and over again.

See how these put how you are thinking about God first?  Then, your joy in knowing who God is and experiencing His love wells up within.  “And, again I say rejoice!”