This is post #14 of a 26-session blog series entitled Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. It was Eugene Peterson who said that Philippians is Paul’s happiest letter. Join us as we explore this joyful work of Christ as it manifest itself amongst Paul and Timothy, and the early church of Christ-followers in Philippi. Just maybe, we might learn a few secrets to finding true joy in the midst of our lives as well. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
Today’s Lectio Divina: And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God! I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes. Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. Philippians 3: 1-6 (MsgB)
Last time, we discussed the great blessing of community…having a group of like-minded comrades around you as you continue your trek with Jesus.
But as Paul warns us here, it’s also important that you and I discern carefully who those friends are when it comes to their God-agendas.
You see, like it or not, there will always be barking dogs and religious busybodies in our midst. Men and women who put on a good front, giving folks the impression that they are full of grace as they talk about their faith in Christ. The problem, as Paul points out here, is that the longer you hang around these people, the more obvious it becomes that they are more interested in glorifying themselves, flashing their own credentials, and pushing religious agendas on others, than they are in honoring and glorifying Christ.
Paul should know. Because, before his radical transformation of grace, he was one of those religious busybodies, a barking dog that wanted nothing better than to take a big bite out of those whose sincere desire was to simply follow Jesus.
Sadly, after thirty-plus years of pastoral ministry, I have too many stories where people have shown up at our church, just itching for a position or place of authority where they can teach and preach out of their self-perceived wisdom. Often, it didn’t take too much time for their ugly, self-centered agendas to be revealed, but I must admit, that I’ve had a few failures along the way where I gave a person or two some room to navigate, only to find out later that they were nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
So, all this begs the question.
How do you and I discern wisely when it comes to who we surround ourselves with?
It’s been my experience, when I read warnings like the one Paul is giving his friends in Philippi, to start my hunt by looking, first and foremost, at myself.
In other words, let’s start here…
Marty, be honest now, are you acting like a barking dog or a religious busybody?
Am I positioning myself in such a way, that I’m judging others, believing that my opinion on this or that matter has higher weight than those coming from others?
Am I looking at people around me and assuming I know what’s best for their lives?
Am I determining for God, whom He loves and accepts and whom He doesn’t?
Am I using my credentials, my resume, or my past experiences to position myself in a place of authority?
Am I assuming there is only one answer to the question at hand, and am I making sure my opinion is stated clearly on every argument?
Well, that’s enough tough questioning for now. Hopefully that gets the ball rolling for you.
Let me say this, however.
I’ve found that those who are hesitant or resistant to walk this line of self-questioning are very likely to be strong candidates for being barking dogs or religious busybodies. And, on the flip side, I’ve rarely seen folks who regularly ask themselves these tough questions to be such. In other words, the more willing you are to start your investigation with yourself, the less likely you are one of those barking dogs or religious busybodies Paul warns us about!
Today’s Prayer: Jesus, without a doubt, there will always be some in our midst who will fill the bill when it comes to being a barking dog or a religious busybody. Father God, give me your wise discernment as I stand on guard against hanging around that type of crowd. Yet, Holy Spirit, it’s also very likely that without Your help, I could become the worst offender. Keep me safe from such horrors. For Your Name’s sake and for Your Glory. Amen.
Today’s Questions to Ponder: Paul states here in today’s text that the antidote for curing the curse of being a barking dog or a religious busybody is to:
- Be glad in God,
- Allow the Spirit of God to lead,
- Keep working away at Jesus’ ministry, and
- Fill the air with Christ’s praise as we do it.
Am I overlooking any of these important truths today? And what might it look like in my life to simply practice these four steps, day after day, for the greater glory of God?
So, how are you experiencing Jesus as we ponder together on this journey into the Book of Philippians?
Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 26 blogs. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
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