¶ Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel Second Timothy 2:8
As we reflect on the birth of the Saviour once again this Christmas it is easy to get distracted with the gift buying, present wrapping, Christmas lunch preparations, and summer holidays, and in doing so lose sight of who it is we are remembering. With a hint of noëlic advent in his exhortation to Timothy, Paul reminds his protégé to remember the One who was born as the offspring of David. The promised offspring of David was to be the Messianic king of Israel and Saviour of the Jews. This is why Jesus was born in the town of David and made an annual visit to His ancestral territorial region of thecity of David (which was located up from lower Jerusalem on Mount Zion and a little below the site of the Temple) according to Luke 2:41-42 — “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” And while we could consider how Jesus was indeed the ‘consolation of Israel’ as the elderly Simeon spent his life longing for, there is something that we might not consider too closely about the birth of Jesus. He was born sinless and lived a sinless life.
“Who among you can prove Me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe Me?” John 8:46 NET
“We’re only human!” We all say it to justify our failings. But Jesus never did. It would be too simple to retort that this was because He was God in the flesh — and in so doing, diminish the fact that He had become human “just like us” and was subsequently tempted in every way just as we are.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
None of us can ever attain sinlessness in this lifetime. (In the Resurrection we will receive a new glorified body like Christ’s and be partakers of the divine nature which cannot sin.) Therefore, an examination of Christ’s life gives us a revealing picture of what a sinless life looks like, and therefore a glimpse of what our potential was before the Fall. Consider the following and perhaps on Christmas Day offer a prayer of thanks that Christ exhibited these characteristics and what their implications mean for each of us:
Even though Christ was sinless, He was still-
◊ learning – in Luke 2:52 it tells that Jesus grew up learning to be wise and how to get along with people. This is remarkable considering that He maintained His omniscience, yet was able to have the human learning experience of discovery.
◊ keeping customs – in Luke 2:42 it tells that Jesus kept the customs of His family and in particular their religious customs. Later on we see that He made it His custom to be in a synagogue each sabbath (Luke 4:16).
◊ developing independence – in Luke 2:46 it tells that Jesus developed independence from His parents which afforded Him the privilege of spending time with other members of His kin beyond His immediate family and yet not in defiance of His parents. We see Him in the Temple learning and asking questions of the scribes and elders which reveals that He was formulating His own independent ideas and opinions.
◊ respectful – in Luke 2:47-49 it tells that Jesus was very respectful especially of His imperfect earthly guardians.
◊ submissive – in Luke 2:51 it tells that Jesus submitted to His parents which is also a demonstration of remarkable humility.
◊ spiritual – in Luke 3:21-22 it tells that Jesus was deeply spiritual and even though He was sinless, He was prepared to be water baptised (even though He had undergone both the Jewish rite of circumcision and purification as a child) and in Luke 4:43 He was engaged in preaching the good news about God and His kingdom.
◊ tempted to sin – in Matthew 4:1 it tells that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the Devil and yet did not yield to this very genuine temptation.
◊ compassionate – in Matthew 9:36 and Luke 7:13 it tells that Jesus had compassion on people who were sinful. He spent time with them, ate with them, taught them, and healed them of their infirmities.
◊ emotional – in John 2:14-17 it tells that Jesus was angered with what some people were doing in the Temple precinct which resulted in the poor being taken advantage of. In Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 we see that Jesus was sorrowful. In John 11:5 and Mark 10:21 we see that Jesus expressed love. And in John 17:13 we see that Jesus had joy.
◊ desirous – Jesus had certain physical and aspirational desires. (This contrasts sharply with Buddhism which sees desire as the cause of all human suffering.) In John 19:28 it tells that Jesus desired a drink. In John 17:5 it was his prayerful desire that His disciples would be guarded and protected after His crucifixion, and He also prayerfully aspired that they would be united (John 17:26).
What this brief list of sinless characteristics reveals to us is that these characteristics in themselves are not sinful. This list should also reinforce to us that the Christmas Child was and grew to be the most perfect human being who was incredibly strong, but incredibly gentle. He was supremely knowledgable, yet supremely patient. He was unlimitedly powerful, yet forbearing of those who maligned Him. He was the Ruler of the Cosmos with the power to instantly summon 12 billion+ of the cosmos’s most fierce warrior beings to obliterate any who withstood or defied Him, yet He surrendered to His enemies and permitted them to humiliate and desecrate His body. And when being tried by His judge, Pontius Pilate, He had the composure to tell the one who was judging Him that he was committing sin by doing so.
Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered Me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11
As you wake up Christmas morning, spare a thought for what a sinless life looks like and consider these characteristics that only the Lord Jesus the Christ has ever displayed. Then after some long pondering on these characteristics, consider how Christ’s sinless life gives us the gold standard for the kind of life that we too should aspire to live. Merry Christmas.
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. Philippians 2:5-8
“Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun. In the Father He remains, from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, He was born on earth under heaven. Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless. Filling the world, He lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.” Augustine
In the early 1930s a young German pastor was pleading with his pastoral colleagues about a looming evil with sinister political influence. He was largely ignored. His fellow ministers fobbed him off citing that, “Religion and politics do not mix!” This was a catastrophic error. We can only wonder how different history would have been if the Christian leaders of Germany had stood up to their nation’s shameful tyrant-Chancellor and mustered those that God had entrusted to them, to do likewise. But they were too afraid — too dependent upon government welfare — too dependent on the approval of people rather than the approval of God! The very thing they thought they were securing by refusing to obey God and speak up for the vulnerable and less fortunate was the very thing that would soon forfeit. And sadly, cost them, and millions of their countrymen, their lives. Today, around 80 years later the lessons from this tremendously sad chapter in human history, are now more pertinent than ever.
While the world’s attention was focused on the recent American Presidential election, what most non-Americans may not realise is that there were other elections and ballots also being conducted. In Colorado for example, there was a ballot to ban abortions on demand after 22 weeks (“Prop 115”). A baby that is twenty-two weeks old in utero is indisputably viable — even without additional life support. Just weeks before Prop 115 went to the vote in Colorado during the Presidential election, many Colorado’s mega-church pastors marched lock-step in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ marches that were happening. But when it came to the Prop 115 ballot, not one of them made a public statement about pointing out the obvious that the unjustified taking of an innocent human life is a heinous evil. Reporting on the defeat of the Prop 115 ballot, the Denver Post proudly reported, “Colorado was the first state in the country to decriminalize abortion, passing a law in 1967 to allow the procedure in cases of rape, incest, if the woman’s health was threatened or if the unborn child might have birth defects” (Nov. 3rd 2020).
One Coloradan pastor, Pastor Tracey Perry, told Colorado Public Radio, “I don’t politicize the pulpit. But at times, comments were made about Black Lives Matter and that seems like a Democratic tool to get Trump out and to come against the Republicans. I would stand back from that because that’s not for me. That’s your opinion. But at the end of the day, Black lives do matter and I would tell them. We’d have these open conversations because that’s what I do, too. I go to different congregations and community groups, speaking about racial and social injustice and justice, and letting them know when we’d sit down and have conversations, that to racist white officers, to white supremacists Black lives do not matter. However, we matter to God” (Colorado Public Radio, Nov. 1st 2020).
A TRANSLATOR’S CHALLENGE ABOUT FAINTING
I love the English Standard Version of the bible. But there are several suggestions I would like to make to the translation committee the next time we meet. One of them occurs in Proverbs 24 (which is my biblical text for this Pastor’s Desk) and it is supported by the comments made in the translator’s notes of the New English Translation.
¶ If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work? Proverbs 24:10-12
I am deeply deeply challenged by this passage of Scripture. I love the way that the ESV (English Standard Version) renders it. It tells me that my commission is foundationally pastoral – but not merely for those on our church roll, but for those in our community who are not yet on our church roll. This passage commands me to lead a church that cares for people outside of our four walls. The rendering of this passage in the ESV is challenging enough, but lately I have also been drawing on the New English Translation (NET) of the bible largely because of its extensive translator notes on nearly each verse in its translation. The translator of this passage points out that there is no “If” in the Hebrew where verse 10 starts in Proverbs 24. In fact, he writes, the Hebrew construction of this verse is “confrontational”. “The verb רָפָה (rafah) means ‘to become slack, limp, to wither.’” The Hebrew construction is a little awkward to convey in English, but it might sound more like an abrupt accusation – “Faint in the day of adversity?!” It is a confrontational challenge to the wise to be courageous and tireless in their efforts to uphold (true) justice—for the lives and welfare of the most vulnerable. This passage may well be the Word of Lord to the Christian Leaders of Tasmania at this time. Speaking out against injustice such as the euphemistically titled End of Life Choices Bill (Voluntary Assisted Dying) by urging our congregations to write objecting letters and emails to Tasmanian politicians, is not engaging in politics, it is defending the rights of the poor, widows and the vulnerable which the commands us to do (Prov. 31:9). It seems to me that those who oppose God’s right to rule have discovered that if they want to silence those who claim to represent the Crucified-Risen-Glorified-Saviour, all they have to do is to label their unrighteous agenda as ‘political’ and fainting Christian leaders immediately retreat behind their cowardly mirage-mantra ‘religion and politics do not mix’. Meanwhile, the enemy of the souls of all mankind gleefully promotes his mission to manipulate, lie, deceive, kill, steal and destroy.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
CHURCHES DO NOT ONLY EXIST TO EVANGELISE!
It is a spiritually dangerous idea to claim that churches only exist to evangelise. Do not think that I am at all suggesting that God has not ordained for churches to evangelise. He has. But He has called us, the Church, to do much much more than evangelise. We are called to:
(i) teach/train/equip believers to read/understand/apply/teach God’s Word [Col. 3:16; 2Tim. 4:2],
(ii) reflect Christ to the world,
(iii) model community and the dynamics of forgiveness [2Cor. 2:14],
(iv) help families to live out the principles of love [Eph. 5:21-6:4],
(xiii) to be a prophetic voice to a world rebelling against God [Eph. 5:11, 13].
It is a mistake for a church to think that they need only to concentrate on one of these mandates. Congregations, denominations, and ministries must cooperate together by drawing on the gifts that God has placed within His Body to support the fulfilment of all of these mandates at their appropriate time.
“If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” First Timothy 3:15ESV
Therefore, we, the Christian community of Tasmania must work tirelessly together, each doing even just a little, which when combined becomes an enormous force to be reckoned with in much the same that when a drip of water combines with a lot of other drips of water, its combined force can carve a canyon through granite. Sometime Christian are reluctant to speak up and take a stand for the truth because the Enemy has bluffed them into thinking that the success of his schemes is inevitable. This is when blood-redeemed sons and daughters of the King need to remember that God does not call us to be successful (although we long for the success of seeing God glorified) but that He has called us to be faithful. This is why we must speak up together when any government or lobby group attempts to encourage rebellion against God and His Law. This is why we must all play our part — but pastors especially must set the example for their congregations and take the lead.
PRAY THAT THE CHURCH LEADERS OF OUR STATE DO NOT FAINT!
¶ Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. Romans 15:30
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— Colossians 4:3
Pray for me. I need your prayers. Pray that I boldly shepherd God’s people put in my care. Pray that I speak up for the vulnerable. Pray for me to have courage. Pray that I expound God’s Word faithfully and deliver it with clarity and passion. Pray that I learn how to present the truth in a persuasive and appealing manner. And pray for pastoral colleagues around Tasmania, especially as they are challenged to demonstrate a commitment to the truth that we should never sanction the state in its effort to assist vulnerable people to commit suicide (The UTas VAD Review is seeking submissions which close on January 4th 2021), and to make a submission to the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute’s enquiry into Tasmania introducing a S.O.G.I. laws (enshrining into law the self-declared ‘sexual orientation’ of a person or the gender identity a person wishes to adopt despite their biological sex) and criminalising any attempt to help a person with unwanted gender confusion or unwanted same-sex attraction. The pastors of our State need your prayers and the courage not to faint in the midst of adversity.
Photo: A page of a biblical manuscript known as Papyrus 46 [“P46”]. This page contains portions of Galatians and Philippians, and has been dated to around A.D. 150.
Nearly all of Paul’s epistles were an attempt to correct a series of problems. Except one. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians was full of warmth and affection. He loved this church more than most. Of all the churches that Paul pioneered, only the Philippian church maintained financial support for him. Paul had no need to correct any doctrinal error there. But the seeds of a looming problem were beginning to germinate. This is why Paul’s epistle to the Philippians stands apart from his doctrinal corrective epistles — because he is speaking to hearts not just minds.
¶ 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. Philippians 1:3-5
THE ULTIMATE HEART
When Paul corrected doctrinal error in his other epistles he drew upon glories of Old Covenant theological truths to illustrate the wondrously surpassing glories of the New Covenant. But in writing to the Philippians with a view to guarding their hearts from the poison of envy and dissension, Paul draws on the greatest example of a right heart and attitude.
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. Philippians 2:5-7
Paul sought to vaccinate the hearts of the Philippians from the spiritually deadly virus of contention by drawing their attention to the Perfect Heart.
And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8
TWO STRONG WOMEN
A depiction of Euodia and Syntyche
Several people in Philippi were very dear to Paul. These people laboured with Paul and Timothy and had suffered along side him as he endured cruel opposition. These included: Mr. Epaphroditus (Phi. 2:25), Mr. Clement (Phi. 4:3), and Ms. Euodia (Phi. 4:2) and Ms. Syntyche (Phi. 4:3). But something had been simmering then festering between Ms. Euodia and Ms. Syntyche. It threatened the entire church at Philippi because it is apparent that Euodia and Syntyche were the co-pastoral leaders of the Philippian church. They may have been sisters, we can only speculate, but at the very least they were fictive sisters. It seems to me that the entire purpose of this epistle was to gently address this brewing problem between these two strong women particularly because the health of a church rarely ever surpasses that of its leaders, and Paul knew that for this dear church to flourish — let alone survive — it needed its leaders to reconcile.
¶ I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3
What could have come between these two precious sisters? The history of similar disputes tells us that chances are it wasn’t anything particularly important. It certainly wouldn’t have been the last disagreement that caused the fracture in their relationship. Probably, as with nearly all offences and grudges it happened much much earlier as a very little – almost inconsequential incident – that was never forgiven, and then subsequent offences simply compounded the unnecessary problem.
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. Philippians 2:2-4
Paul seems to instruct all of the Philippians, not Euodia and Syntyche, to remember that they represent Christ to a broken world and that the day will soon come when they will all kneel before Christ and give an account of how they stewarded their witness for Christ. Such things as envy, contention, and petty unforgiveness, if allowed to become septic, could jeopardise the Philippians from enjoying God’s best and lead to Christ being misrepresented to their already spiritually wounded community (idolatry always wounds its deluded).
So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ¶ Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:10-12
WORSHIP MEANS SURRENDER TO GOD
Our expression of worship to God is our demonstration of surrender to God. This is why Christian worship from its inception has involved singing. When we sing it forces our minds to focus on what we are singing. When we sing together we are reminded that true Christianity is not about me and the Lord, it’s about us and the Lord. When we sing to the Lord we are rejoicing and this is good for our soul. Worship realigns our vision onto Christ. Worship resets our hearts toward Christ. To learn to get along with each other and settle petty disputes, we must worship together so that we glorify Christ together.
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. Philippians 3:7-8
Paul concludes his epistle to the Philippians with a tender exhortation to worship God with their whole mind by choosing to dwell on the beauty of Christ and what He has done for us. His exhortation is a wonderful injunction for us today lest we too risk missing out on God’s best for us because we chose instead to dwell on a petty dispute. What a pity if we ever became distracted by the petty.
¶ 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