When I was a young teenager I use to groan with embarrassment at my father’s corny, dry jokes. Now I have the same sense of humor. I used to role my eyes when my father would try to kid around with little kids at church. Now I do the same. I open my mouth now when I talk to my sons and I hear my father speaking. I get that same poof in my hair when it gets long, and I wait too long to get a haircut, just like he did when I was young.
Genetics win out. I am my father’s son.
So, too, the recipients of John’s letter. They too are children of their Father:
Look at the remarkable love the father has given us — that we should be called God’s children! That indeed is what you are. (3:1)
But just like I wasn’t very similar to my father at thirteen — in fact I wanted to be totally different — these Christians may, in fact, be God’s children but they are still struggling to mature into that identity:
Beloved ones, we are now, already, God’s children; it hasn’t yet been revealed what we are going to be. We know that when he is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (3:2)
With God there are some things that are already true, but they are not yet fully true. Some spiritual realities take time to come into being. Some take a total recreation that will only come at the great New Creation. But this we can rest assured in: genetics win out. Those who are truly fathered by God, those who are truly God’s children, they will become like the father:
Everyone who is fathered by God does not go on sinning, because God’s offspring remain in him; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been fathered by God. (3:9)
Now, is the time for John’s recipients (and for us) to truly be the children of God we already are. Make it a reality. Put it into action. The ultimate spiritual change will happen through spiritual power alone. However, spirituality is not just an ethereal concept for the spiritual mind; it is intended to be lived out bodily in the flesh.
Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth. (3:18)
Some times, yes, evil wins the day. . . . But let there be no question, God will win the war. When all is said and done, God will vanquish all forces of evil and disorder and disease that stand against him.
Why do I believe that? Where is the proof? Is that only wishful thinking?
The women went to the tomb in the very early morning of the first day of the week, carrying the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they went in they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they were at a loss what to make of it all, suddenly two men in shining clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified, and bowed their faces toward the ground. But then men said to them, “Why look for the living with the dead? He isn’t here — he been raised!” (24:1-6a)
The God who conquered sin, death, Satan, and evil that Sunday morning at the Garden Tomb is the same God we worship today. No gangbanger, meth head, anti-government bomber, terrorist, deranged loner with a handgun, social injustice, prejudice, disease, depression, addiction, lack of love, selfishness or anything else will win the last day. God wins. Love wins. New Creation wins.
That’s the Story, and I believe it.
In the ancient Roman world, if a person were placed in house arrest as Paul had been he could still receive visitors. Think of it like a modern prisoner who wears an ankle bracelet that would alert the authorities if he were to leave his house; visitors can still come to your house, bring you things, and even stay awhile but you aren’t going to the movies, on that family vacation, or — in Paul’s case — to Spain to spread the gospel as he wished.
One day while the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome, a slave from Colossae (Col. 4:9) showed up at Paul’s front door. Maybe he had run away from his master Philemon, or more likely he had been sent by his master to Paul with a message, supplies or money. His name was Onesimus, a name that means “useful,” but ironically as a slave he was anything but (c.f., Phlm 10-11).
While Onesimus was in Paul’s house, the great apostle did what he did best: he shared the gospel with Onesimus and the slave became a Christian. Now, in the new humanity, in Christ, where God does not see gender, race or social position (Col. 3:11), Onesimus was Philemon’s brother not his slave (Phlm 16).
What would Philemon do now? Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon and it is clear that Paul thinks his friend should release his slave from slavery and send Onesimus back to Paul to become one of the many missionaries that worked with Paul:
Because of all this I could be very bold in the king, and order you to do the right thing. . . . That way, when you did the splendid thing that the situation requires, it wouldn’t be under compulsion, but of your own free will. (Phlm 8, 14)
We don’t know how this situation turned out. But Philemon is an excellent example of how the theological belief in a new creation was intended to have a significant effect on everyday relationships, as discussed yesterday.
One further historical question: how in the world did Bible-believing slave-owners and slave-traders in the nineteenth century ever read Philemon and think the institution of slavery was defensible?
Contentment does not mean we do not have needs. Of course, we will still be in need. Later in chapter 4 Paul talks about being in need and how the Philippians provided for him at that time. Contentment can remain even when we are not comfortable with what we have and the situation we are in.
Paul gives us one more secret for how that is possible:
Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over our hearts and minds in King Jesus. (4:6-7)
Secret to Contentment #4: Pray! Pray fervently! Pray all the time, in any situation! Say what is on your mind. Ask for what you need. Thank Him for what He has already done. Surrender to God’s will. Express your willingness to trust Him. As we remember what God has done for us in the past, prayer helps contentment to become real and solidifying our hearts.
What have we learned about contentment from Philippians?
There is a way past anxiety and on to contentment and joy in all situations. It is not by eliminating need as if that were possible. It is not by attaining all we want and fulfilling all we desire; when do we ever reach that point? As we fix our focus past this present world and on to the rewards and reality of the world to come, as we face realistically our needs and give those to God in prayer, as we become oriented more towards serving others than ourselves, we can be rest assured that God is in control of all things and our futures will be okay. Paul never promises a life without struggle or a life filled only with blessings — remember where he was when he was writing this letter — but Paul is sure of this:
I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power. (4:13)
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. — C. S. Lewis
Which is the real world, this one or the one to come? Well, both really. It is not realistic nor compassionate to expect people to ignore this world as a place of no consequence. We have families here. We fall in love here. We experience and inflict real hurt here. We work at jobs here that are intended and do have real consequences.
Maybe the better question is which world has enduring value and therefore is worth orienting our life towards?
Several times Paul tells the Philippians Christians (and us) that they will find contentment by attaching to the hereafter rather than the here and now.
Paul pulls out his resume, which by Jewish standards was quite impressive (3:4-6). Then he declared,
Does that sound as tough my account was well in credit? Well, maybe; but whatever I had written in on the profit side, I calculated it instead as a loss — because of the Messiah. Yes, I know that’s weird, but there’s more: I calculate everything as a loss, because knowing King Jesus as my Lord is worth far more than everything else put together! (3:7-8a)
Paul is eager “to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead” (3:13). After all, “we are citizens of heaven” (3:20), not Philippi, Rome, Memphis, America or anywhere else. “Our present body is a shabby old thing” but the “glorious body” is coming (3:21). Paul’s eyes are firmly fixed on what is to come, not the present roller coaster ride he is presently on.
Secret to Contentment #3: Attach your heart to the New Creation where long-lasting treasure is found, and there will always be a better day coming.
In every letter Paul gives a grand statement of the gospel, always stated a bit differently for the context of that letter. Chapter 2 is that chapter in Ephesians.
Paul reminds his readers what they were according to the “flesh” alone.
You were dead because of your offenses and sins! . . . We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do. What was the result? We too were subject to wrath in our natural state, just like everyone else. (2:1b, 3)
So, then, remember this! In human terms — that is, in your “flesh” — you are “Gentiles.” You are the people whom the so-called circumcision refer to as the so-called uncircumcision. . . . Well, once upon a time you were separated from the king. You were detached from the community of Israel. You were foreigners to the covenants which contained the promise. There you were, in the world with no hope and no god! (2:11-12)
Before they came to Christ, the Ephesian church, which must have been largely Gentile, were dead, fleshly, destined for punishment, locked out from the promises and blessings of the Jews, without hope.
Can you remember when the same could have been said about you?
Then . . . because of the great grace of God, not because of anything we had done, lest we boast (2:8-9), we were reborn. This idea of being new birth is very important to Paul at this point. He punctuates that idea twice in this chapter with creation and resurrection language:
He made us alive with the king. . . . He raised us up with him, and made us sit with him — in the heavenly places in King Jesus. (2:5-6)
The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], so making peace. God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, though the cross, by killing the enmity in him. (2:15b-16)
With rebirth the Ephesians are not the same person. They died hopeless objects of wrath; they were reborn children of the King. They died alienated Gentiles; they were reborn part of a greater humanity that does not see ethnicity and the hostility that too often comes with such differences. They are no longer defined by their flesh. They are new creations.
Can you remember when you were very aware that the same could be said about you?
That is the gospel.