Philippians 4:10-15 – Generosity is Like a Warm Bowl of Grits

Jethro Bodine
Max Baer, Jr. playing the incomparable country as corn flakes Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies

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. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 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. (NIV)

In the English language, the words “you” and “your” can be either singular or plural. Unless, of course, we go with the southern “y’all.” But for a northerner like me, I’ve got to determine which by looking at the context that it’s in.  In the language of the New Testament, Greek, we know which words are singular and which are plural because, well, they’re different words which aren’t spelled the same.  It’s important to know in the book of Philippians that all the “you” pronouns are plural.  That’s important because the theme of unity and solidarity runs affectionately throughout the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. In fact, for Paul, the reason he gibbers on so much about joy in his letter is because it’s only realized when unity is around. Unity really dills Paul’s pickles.

The entire Philippian church and not just those two really caring parishioners like Uncle Bundlejoy and Cousin Cozysweet, shared in Paul’s troubles with him. The whole kit-and-caboodle partnered with him through financial resources, prayer, and ministry.  Paul had confidence that every need the Philippians had would be supplied just as sure as God put worms in sour apples.

They learned a valuable lesson from Paul: that unity through generosity brings contentment in all circumstances and eases anxieties. The Philippian believers got a glimpse of the paradox that through giving they become rich. When tightwad believers are around, a church frets so much they could worry the horns off a billy goat. But when generosity settles in, people are more content than a flea on a pup.

Folks who only care about their personal needs and independent wealth aren’t right in the head – their cornbread’s not done in the middle. God wants everyone to know the blessing of working together in a worthy common cause.  Generosity and contentment go together like bacon and eggs. A charitable spirit in a group of people leads to more joy and happiness than a gopher in soft dirt.

Hoarding makes a church more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. If we want to be free of backbiting and worry, then we need to be wild about generosity. Give like the sun and the whole world grows tall.

Be generous with your money, generous with your words of encouragement toward others, and generous with your gratitude to God. Besides, giving is more fun than a sack full of kittens. And if you do give till you laugh, maybe you’ll see good ol’ Paul standing there grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato.

Generous God, your storehouse of grace and mercy is infinite and unending.  Help me to partner with you in a way that makes my generosity flow in the same direction yours does so that Jesus Christ is glorified, and his church is edified through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Romans 3:1-8 – The One People of God

A simple graphic entwined tree illustration

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just! (NIV)

Paul’s letter to the Roman church is a hefty sixteen chapters of some dense material and several extended arguments through intense reasoning. Likely, Paul felt compelled to dig in and provide so many words because of the church’s situation.

The Roman Church at the time of Paul’s writing was made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus. Jews and Gentiles have a complicated history together. And the Roman Empire was still firmly in control of Palestine and did not always treat the Jewish people well. In addition, the religious backgrounds of each were as different as you can get. Whereas the Jewish Christians had a long rich history with God and the Old Testament, the Gentile Christians were fresh from centuries of paganism and esoteric rituals. Now, they were together in one place worshiping Jesus and it made for a potentially combustible situation.

Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul goes back and forth addressing the two groups of Jews and Gentiles. The overarching problem was this: The Jewish believers tended to look down on the Gentile Christians and thought they needed to become Jewish to really be the kind of Christians God was looking for. On the other hand, the Gentile believers tended to dismiss their Jewish brothers and sisters as backward and stuck in tradition. In short, each group thought the other must become like them.

So, Paul, bless his apostolic heart, had a huge mess in the making with these believers. Here, in our New Testament lesson for today, Paul is directing his comments more specifically toward the Gentile Christians. Paul really wanted the Gentile believers to gain some appreciation for the Jewish people. After all, they were chosen by God to become a nation of priests and prophets for the world. Discounting that history would be to neglect and even invalidate their shared salvation.

For Paul, to have two churches, one Jew and the other Gentile, would have been a complete travesty of Christ’s redemption for humanity. Jesus was all about bringing disparate peoples together and not keeping them divided. The cross freed us by eliminating the barriers which separate us. The Roman Church was just going to have to work together at being one people under the lordship of Christ. There was going to be no ethnic, religious, or political one-upmanship on Paul’s watch.

Truth be told, both Jew and Gentile did not always do so well with their respective histories. So, there is no ground for boasting or trying to argue for their own way. In fact, the unfaithfulness of people simply shows the incredible faithfulness of God in greater relief.  If there were no sin, grace would not be needed; no cross would have existed. Just because the foulness and degradation of sin brings out the gracious, faithful, and forgiving character of God in Christ, does not mean that sin is okay or that we can flippantly wave it off with uttering some mumbo-jumbo cheap grace which devalues the majesty of God.

For example, when antebellum southern slaveholders in nineteenth-century America argued for their peculiar institution by saying that snatching black Africans from their homes was a good thing so that they could get out of their religious animistic worldview and be exposed to Christianity, I am positively sure that the Apostle Paul rolled over in his grave and begged Jesus to resurrect him early and send him to tackle such an affront to the cross of Christ! Sin is never to be excused through twisted human mental gymnastics.

Paul worked laboriously to unite the churches he established and bring differing people groups together under Christ. What this does not mean is that all cultural and personal distinctions are ignored or erased. What it does mean is that we value one another’s differences and gather around the shared value of knowing Jesus Christ. The Church was neither going to become Jewish nor Gentile but something altogether new – one new people out of the two. Paul framed the matter this way to the Ephesian Church:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-18, NIV)

Solitary righteousness is an oxymoron. Righteousness can only be truly lived and expressed with other people. Yes, there is freedom in Christ. Yet, that freedom must be continually applied through making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace to seriously lay aside all unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and harmony: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all; so may we be forever all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and love, and with one mind and one mouth glorify Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Galatians 3:23-29

            Ever since the fall of humanity those many millennia ago, people have had the predilection to organize themselves in groups that keep them distinct from other groups.  Whether it is high school peer groups or office politics; whether it is class warfare or church cliques; there has always been this tendency to think better about the groups we identify with, and to look down and believe the worst about those we don’t understand or just don’t plain like.
 
            But Jesus is the person that changes it all.  “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.”  I’m not sure the English translations of Paul’s phrasing here can truly capture his emphatic pathos about this issue.  For Paul, Christ’s cross has done so much more than bring personal salvation; it has completely eradicated prejudice, discrimination, and division.  The church is to be the one place on earth where divisions do not exist anymore.  It is to be a foretaste of heaven. 
 
            Since the ground is level at the cross, we are to live into Christian unity with an attitude of humility and meekness, and with actions of gusto.  One way of doing this is to simply walk across the room and meet a new person and engage them in some meaningful dialogue.  Walk across the street and talk with a neighbor for whom you think you have little in common with. 
 

 

            Gracious God, you have abolished barriers through the redemption of Christ.  Prevent me from erecting walls that would divide and use me to be a bridge so that others may experience equality in Jesus.  Amen.

Romans 3:21-31


            Every letter which Paul wrote had its purpose to address some particular problem(s) in the church.  A common situation that Paul continually went after was the disunity between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile believers.  The Roman church had within it both groups of people.  Paul’s great concern was to not establish and maintain two distinct churches based in ethnicity, but one church completely centered in the person and work of Jesus.
             The problem was that many of the Jewish Christians thought they had a leg-up by simply being Jews.  They tended toward a certain arrogance in which they took for granted that new Gentile believers must also adopt Jewish ways.  But the Gentiles fared no better.  They believed the Jews to be hopelessly stuck in their traditions and tended to look down on their brothers and sisters.
             Into this situation Paul makes it clear that no group of people is better than the other because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift.”  This kind of teaching was like a sonic boom to the church.  Although both Jew and Gentile were to appreciate one another’s differences, those differences were secondary to the grand design of the church to show no favoritism.  All are sinners.  All come to Christ by grace through faith.  There is no ground for human boasting of pedigree or practice.
             The Western church today finds itself increasingly within a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural milieu not too unlike the early Roman church.  Taking a good close look at the book of Romans would be a wise approach to fostering corporate unity and personal spiritual formation.  For then we will see ourselves through biblical lenses.
             Just God, you are the one who justifies based upon your own good pleasure.  Thank you for delivering me from my wayward beliefs.  Help me to appreciate your gracious justifying work more and more, to the glory of Jesus.  Amen.