An Interview with the Apostle Paul on True Righteousness

Thanks for joining me today, as I interview the Apostle Paul again to help us better understand Philippians 3. Let’s get started.Paul, thanks for joining me again. Can you tell me why you wrote Philippians 3:2-17?
To write the same things to the Philippians is no trouble to me and was safe for them.

Okay, well I love a good review, too! Any other reasons you wrote this section you’d like to mention?
[I want them to] look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Paul, you are fired up! Why?
[Because] we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Okay, I see. There is a Jewish group pressuring the Philippians to live a more like Jews than Christians by putting their confidence in human works (like circumcision) rather than in Jesus.
I myself, though, have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

Hmmm. Interesting that you say that. Can you expand on this?
If anyone else thinks he has a reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.

That sounds pretty bold—almost arrogant. Why would you say something like that?
[I was] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Okay. I get it. You are saying that you are as Jewish as it gets and that no one can hold a candle to you when it comes to righteousness based on religious accomplishments.
[Yes] but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Christ is better than the religious pedigree you just mentioned?
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Knowing Jesus is better than religious accomplishments. Fascinating. So, you’ve given it all up for Jesus?
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung.

Dung! All joking aside, you essentially just said that your flesh is “full of it.” In other words, your self-empowered, religious works can’t ultimately help you. And that’s why you lost them, right?
[I lost these things] in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

So righteousness is the key. Now I get it. If I may, let me paraphrase to help our readers. You are counting your religious accomplishments as dung–basically flushing them down the toilet, as it were–in order that you might have a true righteousness that depends on what Jesus did, not what you do. What’s the purpose of losing all this?
[It’s so] that I may know Jesus and the power of his resurrection.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Okay…because the flesh is like dung, it only produces death, not life. Any other reasons?
And [so that I] may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

This sounds a lot riskier than taking matters into your own hands. This must produce something extraordinary?
[It’s so] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Of course, life again. Jesus-righteousness produces life and eventually resurrection. Self-righteousness produces death. Can you achieve this resurrection now?
I have [not] already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

So the Jesus-righteousness God gives us through faith that promises us future resurrection doesn’t give us a free pass to be inactive or lazy in the here and now?
[Again] I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

What about those who trust in Christ but are not “pressing on,” as you put it?
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything they think otherwise, God will reveal that also to them. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. [I encourage them to] join in imitating me, and keep their eyes on those who walk according to the example they have in us.

A very gracious way to end, Paul! Again, thanks to the Apostle Paul for joining us in discussing part of his letter to the church in Philippi. Be sure to read all of Philippians 3.


Thanks for joining me. Be sure to check out my other interview with the Apostle Paul on faith, works, law, and gospel.

Review: Can I Really Trust the Bible?

Barry Cooper. Can I really trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks. UK: The GoodBook Company, 2014. $7.01 (Amazon). 81 pages.

Christian or not, perhaps you have even asked it yourself. “Can I really trust this old book?” The Bible is the most loved and hated and read and critiqued book in the history of the world. It makes some drastic–almost unbelievable–claims. If nothing else, it’s worth reading just to know those claims. But sooner or later, we are confronted with that nagging question.

Barry Cooper, an author and speaker from London, has written a short book answering that question and a few others about the most significant book in human history. It’s basic yet intellectually stimulating; serious yet witty. It will challenge your assumptions and shatter some categories about what the Bible is and is not.

Cooper lays out his book in five chapters. The first two answer one question, “Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?” in two different ways. First, he addresses what the Bible says about itself. In chapter two, he takes on the importance of why we write things down and record them in books. In chapters three and four, he answers the question, “Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?” by addressing how the Bible came to be, issues of translation, and apparent inconsistencies or contradictions in our Bibles today. Finally, in chapter five, Cooper answers the question, “Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?” Here, he aims at exposing the reader to the sweetness of God’s word–that experientially it is glorious and shows itself powerful and true.

To keep this review to a reasonable length (that is shorter than this short book!) let me point out three important issues Cooper emphasizes which you might find helpful:

  • Cooper emphasizes the unity of what is written down. Cooper is right to say that the Scriptures are a diverse unity. Written from many perspectives, across centuries, and throughout the world, its single, unified theme is that God is redeeming a people for himself which culminates in Jesus Christ. “[The Bible is] like flicking between 66 different [radio] stations and finding that each is advancing the same story, a grand symphonic drama that grows in beauty as it develops” (38).
  • Cooper emphasizes the importance of writing things down. We write down what is importance to us. Wouldn’t it make sense if God were going to reveal himself he would have it recorded in writing? The problem is that many people think the writers of the New Testament were crazy, primitive, unenlightened religious freaks who concocted stories. But that hardly seems plausible. Cooper comments, “What becomes very clear as we read the New Testament is that the Bible documents aren’t the wild-eyed delusions of lone religious fruitcakes who’ve spent way too much time in a cave. Many of the remarkable events described in the Bible are historical incidents which had multiple eyewitnesses; hundreds, even thousands of eyewitnesses” (40). God used men to write things down, and for our benefit no less.
  • Cooper emphasizes the ramifications of writing things down. The Bible is a brutally honest book. No one in this world would benefit financially or socially or professionally from writing down such self-deprecating things. As Cooper states, “The Gospels are too counterproductive to be legends. If the early church wanted to fabricate stories about Jesus that would make them and their writings more credible, why include so many details that seem to undermine such an aim? For example…why make Peter…appear so cowardly–unless it was what actually happened?” (47). Cooper also points out that if the biblical authors’ writings were false, they could have easily been disproved by any one of the many eyewitnesses who were alive when their writings circulated (65).

In the end, the most important part of Cooper’s book is that, as the final chapter explains, there must be a personal encounter with the God of the Bible and then we must put the Bible into action. Only then we will trust it. He writes, “When you see the sun, you know it’s bright. When you taste honey, you know it’s sweet. When you see Jesus Christ in Scripture, you know he is Lord. And when you put God’s word into practice, you know it’s for real” (80).

If you’re a Christian and wrestling with the reliability of the Bible, read this book. If you know someone who’s processing these kinds of issues, give it to them as a gift (it’s only $7). And if you’re not a Christian and have been bashing the Bible for months or years, give it an honest, open-minded read (after all, you are probably open-minded about a lot of other things, right?). If I still haven’t convinced you, watch the promo video of the book below to whet your appetite.

Pastoral Ministry, Not Blogging, and a Devotional Guide

It’s been over a month since I’ve blogged and I have some ambivalence with this. I don’t like it because I like to write and, it seems, God has been gracious to use this blog to help people. A lot of news has happened in the last month that begs for pastoral commentary (e.g. Mark Driscoll, Harvest Chapel, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Robin Williams). I certainly have thoughts and may share them at some point. However, I’ve felt a strange comfort and freedom over the last 1-2 months to not write blogs. Why? My voice is small and I don’t need always need to say something. I’ve been concerned mostly with my family moving into a house and getting settled and my local church ministry in our own congregational as we had our “fall launch” like many other American evangelical churches who notice a slow period during the summer (that’s another blog post!).

But while I have not written blogs, it doesn’t mean I haven’t ben writing. I wanted to share a little eBook I put together called Make the Most of Your Devotions: A Guide to Enhance Your Bible Reading, Meditation, and PrayerThis is nothing revolutionary. It’s simply a compiling of insights I’ve gathered over the years. I would have written this if no one else reads it! But if it helps you or someone you know, too, praise God! Feel free to download and share as much as you’d like:

Make the Most of Your Devotions eBook

Raising Up Leaders in the Church

How do churches raise up leaders who will take the baton and lead faithfully in the next generation?

After my first year of full-time pastoral ministry, this is something I’m wrestling with and seeking to do well. The call to leadership development is clear for leaders in the church: we are told to pass on the faith to others who can do likewise (2 Tim. 2:2) and equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). The power is in the people and the quicker pastors (like me!) realize this and live out of this core, the more faithful and effective the church will be.

While local churches have leaders who specialize in oversight, teaching, preaching, etc., it is clear that “ministry” is not only something that happens for 30-45 minutes on a Sunday morning with one guy talking at everyone else. Don’t get me wrong. I highly value preaching and aspire to be great at it. However, traditionally organized church has turned gospel ministry into a once-a-week event in which people come to listen to the “anointed” minister.

Think about Acts 8. After Stephen’s death a great persecution broke out. The believers scattered, but the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. And it was the scattered believers, the “laypeople” (gasp!) who preached the word wherever they went (v. 4). Now, not all Christians are called to be leaders in the church. However, all Christians are called to do the work of ministry in the church and outside the church.

In this helpful video below, Andy Davis, David Helm, and J.D. Greear discuss some of these ideas and how to raise up leaders in the local church.

What do you think? How can the church today raise up leaders and resist making ministry a one-man show?


A Prayer for Christians in Iraq

Arabic-NazareneMerciful Heavenly Father,

We do not know how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, but we trust that your Spirit prays for us in our weakness. So we cry, How long before you will judge and avenge the blood of your saints (Rev. 6:10)? How long shall the wicked exult (Ps. 94:3)? How long, O God, is the foe to scoff and the enemy to revile your name (Ps. 74:10)? Why, O LORD, do you stand far away; why do you hide yourself in times of trouble (Ps. 10:1)?”

Have mercy on our brothers and sisters and bring this evil violence to an end with justice. Protect your people and give them favor as they seek to flee from the terrorists. Help them to remember that you hear their cries for help (Ps. 5:1-2). For the blameless will not be put to shame in evil times, but the wicked will perish (Ps. 37:18-19). Assure them, by your Spirit, that they are your children and are loved and secure even when they walk in the valley of death (Ps. 23; Rom. 8:15-17). Help them to believe that they are blessed because they have suffered for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10). Help them to be more satisfied in your steadfast love than they have ever been before (Ps. 90:14). Help them to remember that the sufferings of this world do not compare with their future glory (Rom. 8:19). Help them know that they can flee to you as their refuge and strong tower (Ps. 61:3). Help them remain faithful to you (James 1:12), endure to the end (Matt. 10:22), and rejoice that they are counted worthy to share in Christ’s suffering (Acts 5:41; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13). Help them to remember that here they have no lasting city and that they are headed for the city that is to come (Heb. 11:16; 13:14).

And Father, forgive and have mercy on those who may have recanted of their faith to avoid death, even though they may truly love you. Let them experience a Peter-like moment of repentance so that they might rise and feed your sheep and stand strong in the strength of your might (Eph. 6:10)

For us, Father, as Americans, we may feel guilty that we are not suffering in the same fashion. It may even be hard for us to pray for your vengeance. But that is only because we are not suffering. We are in an air-conditioned facility free from affliction or pressure or even the slightest bit of mocking. Soften our hearts and wreck us with compassion so we might suffer with our brothers and sisters and pray for them (Rom. 12:15). And prepare us for the day when this kind of persecution finds us, because we aren’t immune (1 Pet. 4:12).

But, you O God, aren’t immune either. On the the cross, your Son cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). Because Jesus was forsaken on the cross, help our brothers and sisters know they do not need to fear being forsaken by you. For you will never abandon them (Ps. 16:10; Heb. 13:5). Would that promise empower them, and us, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, just as you did (Matt. 5:44).

In times of trouble, truly you do not stand far away. Jesus, you are the strength of your people; you are the saving refuge of your anointed ones. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage. For our brothers and sisters in Iraq, be their shepherd and carry them forever (Ps. 28:8-9).

Come, Lord Jesus, come (Rev. 22:20)! Amen.

Note on the graphic above: The ISIS terrorists have been marking this symbol on the homes of Christians in Iraq. It’s the Arabic letter “N,” short for “followers of Jesus of Nazareth.”