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Learning Paul’s Secret

Sunday, December 03, 2023

It’s the old chicken-and-egg problem. Which came first: thankfulness or contentedness, the grateful attitude or the peaceful spirit?

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul wrote that to the Philippian church while he was in prison in Rome! He is thankful and even joyful while bound and restricted. See Philippians 1.3–5.

Also from prison, he wrote the Colossian church, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1.3–5).

Also from prison, he wrote to his friend Philemon, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (Philemon 1.4–5).

How could Paul overflow with thanksgiving while in chains? It’s because he realized God had greatly blessed him in Christ and God was in control of his problems. God reigns over all of life. Jesus is not wincing on His throne, waiting to see if everything will turn out okay for His people. No! He is working to make sure all things work together for good for those who love Him. God is not some esoteric spiritual entity with no relation to our current reality. He created reality. We live because of Him. Paul knew that.

Paul thanked the Father, “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light…[and] delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1.12–14).

When you realize what God has done for you in Christ Jesus, it’s impossible not to overflow with thanksgiving. So why aren’t we continually thankful and at peace in our spirits like Paul? Plainly, it’s because we lack faith. We forget God’s great deeds on our behalf. We forget He raised us up with Christ Jesus and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. We forget He wiped away the eternal consequences of our sins and loved us while we were still enemies spitting in His face. We forget the nails, the blood, the pain at the cross—that it was all for our sakes.

Paul, what is the secret to establishing our faith? How did you stay strong and find peace even in the darkest circumstances?

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.11–13).

Thank God for Paul and the word preached through that man. What a blessing God has given His people to teach us these attitudes so we can know supernatural peace and heavenly joy right here on earth!

Which came first then? It seems the thanksgiving for God’s work came first, and Paul’s calm, contented spirit was built on the grateful recognition of blessing. We should remind one another constantly of our exalted place in Christ and the blessings we now have and are promised to have in the future! We should listen to God, who has the eternal, omniscient viewpoint, trusting in His knowledge and control. When He says we are blessed in Christ but we don’t feel it…trust that we are still blessed in Christ and give Him thanks.

Give thanks in all things, even when you’re down. Let’s learn Paul’s secret.

Speak the Truth with Your Spouse

Monday, November 27, 2023

Picture this: your spouse is not in the room. You're chatting with some friends, and suddenly the conversation turns to spouses. One lady says her husband never considers her feelings anymore—he just does whatever he wants. You commiserate because your husband has lately been getting on your nerves, and several recent episodes tumble from your mouth as you vent your frustration. There! It's been said. You feel better. You can go on with life.


You have just engaged in a bit of character assassination, and it was against the one person who should be closest and dearest to you!

God said in the Ten Commandments: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

"But what I said wasn't false!" you protest.

Wasn't it, though? Think back on the words used. Did you huff resignedly, "That's just how he is!" Did you insist, "he never..." or "he always..."? Did you allow your frustration to color your language with hyperbole? Did you keep in mind the good he has done for you, or were you only thinking of the recent trouble?

When we use words like never and always, we lie, because it's almost never true! Test it out...

"He never considers my feelings first." That's an animal and not a man you've just described.

"He always throws his dirty socks on the floor." Has he never once hit the laundry basket even by mistake?

"She never wants to do what I want to do." Was that what attracted you to her in the first place?

"She always says just the thing to get on my nerves." And I'm sure you always respond with a gentle answer to turn away her wrath.

Husbands and wives, can we agree that we sometimes do bear false witness against our spouses? We need to quit. It's not healthy, it's lying, and it's sinful.

We ought to remember that our moods change. Murder is committed when people act in the throes of anger. Paul commanded,

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil" (Ephesians 4.25-27)

All these commandments work together. Anger often prompts us to falsehood as we modify and reshape the truth to serve our own purposes. The best thing to do in our anger is usually BE STILL! Don't act! Wait. Take a breath and count to 10… or 100... or 1,000… whatever it takes to cool off. If we speak in anger and frustration, we are apt to sin.

Next time you feel frustrated with your spouse, try some of these options:

  1. Pray about it. Laying the problem out to God often exposes our own faults in the matter. It helps to lay our problem at the feet of the one who loves us most.
  2. Don't talk to your spouse immediately. Take some time before you address the problem.
  3. Don't complain about your spouse to others.
  4. Even while you are upset, do something nice for your spouse—just because.
  5. Ask yourself why you feel so strongly about it. Was she intentionally trying to hurt you? Does he even know how what he did or said affects you? Be honest.
  6. Pray about it again. Has God revealed anything to you?

I have found most issues tend to vanish given time and breathing room. I'd love to know how this technique works in your relationship.

Anger and lies give the devil a foothold in your life, so always speak the truth with your spouse!

Taming the Tongue

Monday, November 20, 2023

Ephesians 4.29–32

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 5.3–4

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

These two verses list many ways we can use our tongues to destroy rather than build, and in them Paul warns against corrupting talk, clamor, slander, filthy talk, foolish talk, and course jesting.

The first set of sins (Eph. 4.29–32) flow from bitter and angry hearts. Our actions follow our heart’s attitude. If we harbor bitterness towards someone, we likely will speak hateful words about them or to them at some point. Evil hearts overflow into evil works.

The second set of sins (Eph. 5.3–4) come from lustful and unclean hearts. Minds saturated in sewage will spew disgusting, disruptive, disturbing speech. Why is potty humor so popular? Why is our gaze so often directed downwards and not upwards? The marriage bed is to be held in honor, but many make it a joke, a punchline, speaking of sex in flippant and irreverent ways.

“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1.15).

How do we tackle a profane tongue? How do we raise our speech out of the gutter and onto the highway of holiness? We must direct our hearts to pure and holy things. Instead of angry talk, we should focus on kindness and forgive one another (Eph. 4.32). Instead of filthy talk, we should focus on giving thanks (Eph. 5.4). Imitate God’s character. What would Jesus think, do, and say?

Our speech will always be out of the overflow of our hearts, so we should be directing our hearts to that which is holy, pure, and honorable. May God help us tame our tongues!

Thou Shalt Not Covet

Monday, November 13, 2023

Have you ever heard of a church disciplining a covetous man? Paul exposes this sin in 1 Corinthians 5.1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife!” Paul told the church to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5.5). Continuing his instruction, he listed example sins which they should watch out for and said “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty” of these things:

  1. Guilty of Sexual immorality / Fornication
  2. Guilty of Covetousness / Greed
  3. An Idolater
  4. A Reviler
  5. A Drunkard
  6. A Swindler / Extortioner

He ends with: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves,” quoting passages in Deuteronomy such as, “Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deut. 21.21).

Obviously, in the church we are to put no one to death. In fact, the discipline exacted by the assembly is intended, in part, to bring the man back to Christ and to repentance.

But Paul ranks covetousness second on his list right after fornication!

How can you know a man is covetousness? The target of his greed walks past him, and he smiles cordially, nods, shakes hands. Do his eyes glow green? Does his face grow dark? What are the tell-tale signs? According to Paul, we should be able to identify a covetous (greedy) person.

Jesus did say a man who looks upon a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. However, the church does not discipline a man for adultery because he looked at pornography. We might discipline an unashamed and unrepentant porn user for unfaithfulness and lust, though, because lust is a form covetousness, and Paul writes in Colossians 3.5 that covetousness is idolatry.

The point is, however, we must see some external effects of a man’s covetousness before we can mark him, since we cannot read his heart. What signs might we see?

Covetous people tend to talk overly much about other people’s stuff. If someone constantly expresses discontent, wishing he had more money like his neighbor or a better car like his boss or a bigger house like his brother, he is throwing red flags.

Unchecked covetousness leads to ungodly behaviors. In pursuit of stuff, people sacrifice honor and integrity and make risky choices which often puzzle the rest of us. Why would a farmer kill his younger brother and hide his body in the field? Why would a king sleep with the wife of one of his best warriors? Why would a man sell out his teacher for 30 pieces of silver? Why would a man and his wife conspire to lie about how much their property sold for?

Paul equates covetousness and idolatry because greedy people put other things ahead of God. Other things become their gods. Instead of seeking joy, pleasure, and value from their Creator, they seek them in material things or in the accolades of other men. You can even covet other people’s envy! There’s a vicious cycle.

Your true value comes from your Father’s love. True joy comes from God’s kindness. Lasting pleasure is only found in storing up your treasures in heaven. Don’t follow the hollow, fleeting, broken promises of this world. Listen to the Creator of all things and find your contentment in Him. Thou shalt not covet.

Hold Fast That Confidence

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

These seem on their face to contradict:

  1. I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters.
  2. I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ.

How can I be confident in my relationship with Jesus, confident of my salvation, and also confident I am wrong in some of my Bible understandings?

confident manActually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not be the height of arrogance to think I have every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.

Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now—there is an objective right and a wrong, good and evil; it's just that we, as finite men in corrupt flesh, will never fully discern these things. We grow in discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.

God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. What abundant grace should we give each other, then? Truthfully, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.

Paul wrote:


To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)


Where did Paul's confidence come from? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus' power, Jesus' love, Jesus' accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us... (Titus 3.4-5)

We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we do. Sure, we must have no disagreement in a few articles of faith, but the "same mind" Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards one other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), which was the mind of humble obedience to God.

When we divide from brothers and sisters because we have a different understanding, we may demonstrate a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season...perhaps for longer...but that does not mean we must view each another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn't plow together in the same yoke, but only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.

Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.

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