It’s easy to think that you know a book of Scripture only to camp out and see whole new depths. Our Friday Bible study is working through Philippians for the summer and we all agreed we were just familiar enough with the material to use verses out of context. We’ve divided up the material and are committed to reading the whole book every week as well as studying the specific portion. I hope to share some thoughts from our study with you throughout the summer.
Paul told the believers at Philippi that they were “all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:7)
I get stuck imagining things when I read the Bible. The “defense and confirmation of the Gospel” stopped me because I’ve been considering how we ought to teach and defend the faith, and how much it matters that we actually live out what we believe, not just that we speak it out.
The past few generations of believers haven’t seem to prioritize discernment. This isn’t new; Paul has already prayed that the Philippian believers would grow in discernment as well. It seems we prefer someone else do the heavy lifting. Please study and pray and condense and simply hand us a collection of pithy statements so that we know what we believe and how we should behave.
Of course, this works out poorly. Instead of growing in actually knowing God, we simply accumulate facts. Instead of being able to faithfully handle the Word, we parrot tiny snippets of human thought. Instead of being able to hold statements and worldviews up to the Bible, we go around asking other people to tell us what’s credible and healthy.
This is not the path to mature life in Christ. It’s also not the way we want to take others. Often we aren’t intentionally trying to take others anywhere. We still are; it’s just fact that we are all taking people with us whatever direction we are going. But typically, with this method, we aren’t seeking to disciple anyone, to pass off our faith, to leave behind a statement about who Jesus is. That’s actually what we are here to do. If God didn’t have a work for us to participate in, we could just go be with Him once we knew Him.
We should be able to make a defense of what we believe, to present the hope that we have in Christ. How we do this has been a topic of discussion with some friends because of the dumpster fire of the internet. I see many people defend what they believe, and whether or not I agree with them, I’ve been horrified at the manner with which they make the defense. They are arrogant and sarcasm and hateful, and I’m cut to the heart that I could ever present the character of God in that way. Being right doesn’t give us the right to act in ungodly ways.
In 2 Timothy, Paul tells us twice in the same sentence to be gentle. He says “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25) Would “gentle” be the descriptor of how we defend the faith? Peter adds in another layer in 1 Peter 3 when he said “ ready at any time to give defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame.” (Verses15-16)
It matters that we can make a defense and it matters how we do it. As we mature, may we grow in both areas.
But it’s not just that we defend the gospel; we also need to confirm it. The dictionary defines “confirmation” as the “act of confirming something” and then “confirm” means “to establish the truth or correctness.” We don’t just confirm things with what we say though. If I want to confirm that my children have cleaned their room, I’m not just going to ask them. I’m going to get up and go look. I want to see that it’s completed or is in process with my own eyes. Do our lives confirm the gospel? Can someone come look and see that truth being lived out?
God isn’t a list of facts or an object to learn. He’s a person that we know. Our union with Him is something that we experience as resurrection life right here in the midst of toddlers who no longer like their favorite breakfast and bosses that won’t allow us to do the work we need to do and church family who grates on our last nerves. If the gospel isn’t shown to be real right here in the everyday life of family and work and ministry, where is it real? For an hour on Sunday morning? Almost no one is interested in that.
People might lack discernment, but they do crave authenticity. If we claim that Jesus will change their lives, He had better be making a difference in our own. With everything we say about Jesus, is He transforming who we are and how we live? I’m not talking about legalism; I don’t want us to draft a list of technicalities that sorts out every situation we could find ourselves in. I want us to walk by the Spirit. I want us to know the Word and the character of God and that experience change how we interact with life.
Unbelievers should be able to see our lives and find confirmation of the truth. Not in how we blast others on the internet, but how we serve those unlike us when no one is looking. Not in scorning those who sin, but in apologizing when our sin is displayed. Not in loud words and positioning ourselves over others, but in going low, getting involved in the mess, and humbly making truth come alive. They need truth lived out before them in the grocery store, in restaurants, in boardrooms, in homes.
We aren’t working all this out alone. Paul starts by commenting that the Philippians are “partners with me in grace.” God is at work in and through us and will complete His work of making us like Him. This isn’t a task list that weighs us down; it’s a launching pad pointed toward home.