We live in a self-centered, self-focused, and self-serving world that really believes that anything and everything is about ME. This poses a problem for us as believers because Jesus teaches us to live contradictory to the way the world promotes or encourages us to live. Unfortunately, in many areas though, the Church has adopted worldly philosophies that in turn has created many factions of Christianity and the Church that promotes a self-focused, me centered religion and entity.
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in the world and not of the world can be challenging and frustrating. It is challenging because it takes a lot of work to willingly and obediently live contrary to the way the rest of the world tells and expects us to live. Truth be told, we are all born selfish and sinful individuals and we naturally want to live according to the desires of our flesh to attain what we think is happiness. Our sinful desires tell us we are entitled to happiness and pleasure no matter the cost. However, our understandings and definition of happiness, joy and pleasure have become twisted and self-focused. But as redeemed children of God we come to the full realization that true happiness, joy and pleasure comes only when we live our lives for God. Happiness, joy and pleasure are found when we learn to lose or deny ourselves and put others before us.
Jesus calls us to live in humility and he calls us to do so by serving one another by putting others before ourselves. Jesus’ teachings are counter-cultural to the world we live in. The world tells us, “In order to get the job, scholarship, leadership position etc. you need to sell yourself.” We are sold a false sense of joy by saying your self-confidence, intellect, and skills will get you what you desire and deserve.” This is why the resume is so important to get the job you want. I for one find writing a resume to be challenging because really a resume is just a brag sheet that tells others how great you think you are. Yet, the world is looking for greatness in individuals. If you cannot sell yourself as great, then you don’t have the chance of getting the job. Rarely do you get ahead in secular life by being humble and putting others first, and certainly humility is often not viewed as greatness.
The world says, “I am great, look at me!” But the humble believer says, “Don’t look at me. Look at Jesus, He is great!” The world tells us to be prideful, but God tells us to be humble. James 4:6 says, “But he (God) gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” There is no room for the proud in the Kingdom of God. Pride is what caused Lucifer to fall. Pride has been the downfall of individuals for millennia. The proud feel entitled; they believe they deserve to receive good things. The humble are just the opposite, they understand they do not deserve anything good, but by God’s grace He gives us good things.
In the worlds view when you put pride and humility next to each other one looks shiny, exciting, and enticing and the other looks, well… rather boring and mundane and nobody likes boring and mundane. So, how does this painfully long introduction relate to our passage of scripture found in Philippians 2:1 – 11? Well, let’s dig in and discover what God has to say to us this morning about humility and joy.
Finding joy in humility
Philippians 2:1 – 4
The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that his joy would be complete when the church becomes unified in love for Jesus and in loving one another. He then tells them how this can be accomplished through selflessly serving one another by putting others first. He says,“But in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” (vs 3, 4). Not surprisingly, humility was not looked upon in a positive manner in the early first century in Philippi. In fact, in secular Greek literature during Jesus’ days humility and lowliness were rarely taught and practiced. Humility and lowliness were despised by Greek culture because to them it was a sign of weakness and living in humility was considered shameful. But here Paul is telling the Philippians that even though humility is despised in your culture, but in the culture of God it is the highest quality. Paul tells them not to be motivated out of selfishness or selfish ambition but to be motivated by humility. The attitude of humility is that of putting others before yourself and Paul is calling the Philippians to live contrary to culture.
The Humility of Jesus
Philippians 2:5 - 8
Now, Paul is showing that he is not asking his readers to do something that Jesus didn’t model himself. Jesus himself is the perfect example of a joyfully humble servant. He showed his humility in heaven, in his birth, in his life, and in his death.
Humility in heaven
Jesus is eternal. We are told in John 1 that Jesus was, “In the beginning.” We see elsewhere that He was with the Father at creation, he saw Lucifer cast down from heaven, and he will return one day in full glory. He and the Father are one and he shares in the glory of God. Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Paul also shows us that even though he is eternal, he humbled himself by leaving his heavenly home to dwell among His creation. One would think that God incarnate would have come in laud and fanfare, instead he came in lowliness and humility which leads us to his second act of humility…
Humility in his birth
We see the humility of Jesus in His birth. There is nothing spectacular about his entrance into this world. It all begins with our God coming into the flesh in the form of a baby… a weak, helpless and needy baby. He did not come as a strong warrior, but a baby. He was born in a little town called Bethlehem and it was an insignificant town as Micah 5:2 prophesies. It is so insignificant that it is not even on the list of Judah’s towns in Joshua 15. Not only was he born a small weak baby in an insignificant town, but he was also born to a simple carpenter and a young mother in a cave/stable. His entrance into this world was not heralded by the angels to the world, instead they proclaimed the Savior’s birth to a group of Shepherds. Smelly, stinky, and insignificant shepherds! Wouldn’t it have been better to announce is birth to the city of Jerusalem? No, God chose shepherds. We have in the Biblical account… The Savior of the world comes to the earth in the form of a weak, helpless baby, born in a small insignificant town in a cave to a young mother and a Jewish carpenter father (who wasn’t his biological father). His birth was heralded by angels to a group of stinky, smelly shepherds who were tending to their sheep and eventually (probably one or two years after his birth) some wise guys come along and give Jesus some pretty sweet gifts. There is certainly no glamour in that!
Humility in his humanity
Jesus exemplified humility in the life he lived. In Matthew 20:28 Jesus says, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He backs up his statement to the disciples in John 13 when he humbled himself as a servant and washed the feet of the disciples. In verse 13 - 15 he says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” The fact that Jesus Christ humbled himself and became a human and gave himself up to die on the cross shows us the ultimate form of service and humility (Phi 2:5 – 7). God himself became a man and served those whom he created to worship and glorify him. If Jesus, who is the Lord, Savior, and Son of God served those who followed him, how much more ought we serve others around us?
Humility in his death
The death of Jesus is a graphic, gruesome and humiliating ordeal. Most of you have either seen movies, read books or imagined in your mind what took place that horrific night. The death Jesus suffered was a painful, humiliating and violent one, yet it was necessary in order to accomplish the will of the Father. It is important to note that Jesus humbled himself. Nobody humbled him. So at every level, his humbling was his own doing. Crucifixion was a method of capital punishment used by many nations including Greece and Persia. The Romans used it as a means to execute slaves and criminals.
Humility to Exaltation
Philippians 2: 8 – 11
THEREFORE/FOR THIS REASON – this is key. Since Jesus humbled himself God has exalted him above all. The reality is that Christ’s humility resulted in his death, which resulted in his resurrection, which resulted in his ascension, which resulted in his exaltation. His exaltation results in every knee bowing, and every tongue confessing in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth that he is Lord of all.
“In heaven” signifies angelic beings and all the heavenlies. “On earth” describe earthly inhabitants, and humans. “Under the earth” refers to dead humans and all fallen spirits. Nobody and nothing is excluded from bowing and confessing. The future result is some will bow with reverent delight and praise, and others will do so with resentful lamentation and shame.
The passage has established thus far if we want to become great in the Kingdom of heaven, we must put others before ourselves and become servants to one another. This is made evident to us through the example that Christ showed us by modeling it himself.
This brings us now to the practical part of this message. How do we live in joyful humbleness? How many times have you heard someone say they want to help out or serve in an area because it makes them feel good about themselves? Is this what our motivation should be in putting others first? Does God want us to serve so the result is self-satisfaction? I don’t think so. I think it is good for us to check our motivations in our joyful humility. Some people serve out of guilt. Their outlook is the Bible tells me to serve, so I have to serve even though I really don’t like to and if I don’t do it then my conscience will bug me all the time. Some serve out of fear. They think if they don’t do as the Bible says God is going to hunt them down and send them on a bee line to hell. Some serve for personal gain. People donate time, money resources so they can get write off’s for taxes or maybe it may help them to look better in the public eye or possibly they can get some business as a result of their generous deed.
My conclusion from the teachings of Jesus is that if our motivation behind our service is anything other than blessing others and glorifying God then it is the wrong motivation. This statement is not intended to discourage but to encourage us to look at our hearts and motivation in serving. The fact remains that there are so many needs in this world and there are people serving and fulfilling needs whether it is for selfish reasons or not. A lot of good is done in this world by people who do not profess Christ as Lord and God still uses their deeds to bless those in need; however, from an eternal or kingdom perspective this service is all for naught.
Consider Paul’s writing again, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And let’s be honest, sometimes we put others before us, and they either do not reciprocate, appreciate or even acknowledge when we do. But that is often the nature of people. We should not serve just to expect something in return. We serve because we love God and we love his people, and we want to bless them in the name of the Lord. God has blessed us all with gifts so we may be a blessing to others. Whether it is a financial blessing, a resource blessing, a talent or a Spiritual gift everything is to be used to bless others and glorify God. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:23, "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." Our motivation needs to be for the Gospels sake for and in the sharing of its blessings to those who receive it.
My challenge for you today is to first revisit our previous challenges.
Vs 10 -11: The third trumpet – A great star or meteor falls from heaven and contaminated the rivers and spring waters to making them bitter. The star is named wormwood after the bitter plant of the same name. In the OT wormwood was used as a symbol of bitterness and sorrow (Prov. 5:3 – 4, Lam. 3:19, Jer. 9:15) so we can agree that the waters became bitter like wormwood. Now, wormwood is not poisonous, but it does denote death. Thus, we can assume that a portion of the waters became contaminated as a direct result of God and people died from the contaminated water.
Vs 12: The fourth trumpet – The intensity of light is affected as a result of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened. A portion of the day will not have any light. This trumpet recalls the ninth plague of Egypt when darkness spread over the land for three days. According Mounce, “Constant allusion to the Egyptian plagues is a way of saying that in the last days God will bring punishment upon those hostile powers which oppress his people. They are a prelude to that great and final exodus in which the church is taken out of the world and enters the eternal presence of God.” (Mounce p. 188)
Darkness is symbolic of judgment. Jesus speaks in Mark 13:24- 25, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” This fourth trumpet is a fulfillment of that prophecy.
Vs 13: We are told in this verse that things are about to get interesting. This is a transition in plagues of nature intended to lead men to repentance to the demonic woes where men will be subject to the greatest forms of evil (forces of the abyss). In translating Revelation, it is commonly held that the bird who cried out to be an eagle (strength and swiftness), but some translate it as a vulture (which would imply impending doom). Either way it is the predatory nature of the bird that is in view.
The three woes the bird cries out are intended to correspond with the three remaining trumpet blows. These trumpets are not intended for the church, but for the wicked world who rejects Christ.
Interestingly John spends six verses describing the first four trumpet plagues and now he spends a full chapter describing the first two woes that results from trumpets five and six. The attention to detail the seriousness of that which follows. They go from being angelic judgments on the earth to demonic torments that arise from the underworld.
Vs 1: In this passage we see another star fall from heaven, but this star is not actually a star, it is a person or being who was given key that opens the shaft to the abyss. In Jewish thought and writings living beings such as angels or celestial beings are symbolized as stars. Some believe it is a fallen angel or more simply and probable one of many divine agents who are pictured throughout Revelation as carrying out the will of God. If the star is represented as an angel, it would refer more to one who descends and not falls to earth.
Vs 2: The key is used to unlock the shaft of the bottomless pit and when it is opened smoke arises. Out of the smoke comes evil spirits or demons who have been imprisoned in the abyss. The rising smoke would probably come from the fires below. According to I Enoch 21:7 the final prison of the fallen angels was the abyss.
Vs 3 - 4: Emerging from the smoke are demonic creatures who are described as locusts. Throughout the OT locusts are a symbol of destruction. These locust-like creatures were given a scorpion like power or sting. They were told not to injure the vegetation or earth, but they can only harm those who do not have the symbol of God on their foreheads.
Vs 5 - 6: These demonic creatures had a sting that would not kill their victims but cause them to be tormented for five months. This judgment is not an act of cruelty by God but an indication that wickedness cannot continue without some sort of divine retribution. The sting of the demonic creatures will be so intense and painful that those affected will seek death, but death will not come.
Vs 7 - 8: Description of the Locust Creatures: They were like horses prepared for battle, with long hair with scorpion tails, golden crowns, human faces with lion’s teeth. John would have us know that the locusts are large creatures. Their faces were as men’s faces which tells us that they were not animals, but intelligent creatures. They were covered with long flowing hair and as a point of reference the hair was probably on the legs or bodies of the creatures. The teeth represent the fierceness of the creatures, but they were unable to tear apart their victims like a lion, instead their torment was in their tails.
Vs 9 – 10: They had breastplates indicating they were prepared for battle and their vulnerability was protected. The scorpion tails are where there power, and terror lies. These creatures were given the power to punish and torment all who are not sealed by God.
Vs 11 – 12: They have a king who is the angel of the abyss. Now, this angel is not the one who has the keys, and we are told both his Hebrew and Greek name. Hebrew name is Abaddon, and the Greek is Apollyon which means destroyer. What is interesting about this name is to name the king of the underworld Apollyon would be a cryptic way of saying that an emperor like Domitian (and other emperors) who liked to be regarded as the god Apollo (derived from Apollyon) incarnate was in reality a manifestation of the powers of the underworld. In other words, this was a way of calling emperors evil and demonic. It is also interesting to note that the locust was one of the symbols of the god Apollo.
Now, as we conclude the first woe or fifth trumpet, we can ask the question what is the symbolism in this plague of locusts? The answer is that all we can deduce is that in the period before the end the wicked will be subject ed to a time of demonic torment. Exactly how this takes place will remain unknown until history reveals the answer.
Last week we started our new series in Philippians. In writing this letter purpose, written by the Apostle Paul, is to thank the Philippians for their generosity in supporting him and to offer encouragement to them as they face division within the church, and opposition outside of the church. He encourages the church to remain unified during these trying times, so the church can be an effective witness to the city and the world. The irony in the letter is that Paul is writing from prison and he writes about joy even while in chains. He encourages the Philippians because God was still at work in his life, and regardless the situation he is in, he is able to be joyful because his joy is rooted in Jesus. Thus, last week we looked at how we also can find joy in Jesus Christ regardless of our situations. Today as we continue, we will look at joy and ultimately what a joyfully unified church looks like.
To live is Christ to Die is Gain
Vs 18 – 30
In the second part of this first passage, Paul shows more explicitly how his potential future fate is not tied to his circumstances but in his joy in the ministry that God has called him to do. He writes whether he lives or dies all is well. Yet, he is convinced that he will live because the Philippians will benefit from his guidance. For Paul…
Why does Paul have this debate of his personal preference before the Philippians? He knows the ultimate choice of whether he lives or dies lies with God, so why bother speaking about his preference. It is important to note that Paul is not speaking of certainties but of what his preference would be if the choice was his. Thus, the answer to the question “why?” comes in the answer that Paul’s desire to remain with them serves as a model to the Philippian church. His desire is to be with the Philippians, and this shows that he is putting his interests above his own. Naturally, Paul would be much happier in the presence of the Lord, but his desire is to see the church unified and strengthened.
Live life worthy of the Gospel
Starting in verse 27, Paul turns his attention to how the church can and should face the problems of persecution and division outside and inside the church. He encourages them to “live (their lives) worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This challenge is to the Philippians individually, but we must remember that this is a letter written to a group of believers thus, Paul is admonishing not just individuals, but the church as a whole to live worthy of the gospel. When they live worthy of the gospel then they will become a unified church, who is able to stand one spirit when persecution comes. Remember, Philippi is a Roman province and the city had allegiance to Rome. So, when Paul is calling the Philippians “citizens of heaven”, he is telling them they have the responsibility to live according to the gospel rather than Rome. Their savior is God, not Caesar. Their allegiance as a church must be to Christ alone and they must stand unified so they can face the opposition before them.
Practically speaking, what does a healthy, unified church look like? How does it function? To find the answers to these questions let’s go to 1 Corinthians 12: 12 - 31
I Corinthians 12:12 – 31
The Apostle Paul wrote this passage to the Corinthian church and he describes the church body as a living organism made up of many individual parts (or members). Paul uses the human body as an example of how the Church body should function in the same way as our own physical bodies.
Our bodies have many individual parts (or members) and they have specific functions. The eyes are for seeing, the ears are for hearing and the nose is for smelling etc. Likewise, the body of Christ has many individual parts (or members), and each has a specific function. In verse 17b Paul says, “God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted.” And in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.” Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in. God has arranged the parts of the body as he chooses, and individuals (parts/members) make up the body of Christ. Conclusion…We are the church. The church is made up of you and me. When I speak of members of the Church body, I am not merely speaking of individuals who have attended a membership class or have a little piece of paper that says they have been baptized at such and such church. I am referring to individuals who are born again believers in Jesus Christ and play an active role in the functioning of the Church body. The word “member” or “parts” in this passage is derived from the Greek word Melos which is translated as someone who is part of a larger unit. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are part of a larger unit called the body of Christ whether you have a certificate or not. Each part (person) serves an important and unique role in bringing proper health to the Church body. Each part (person) serves a specific function, and each function serves a different purpose. For example, the eyes don’t function the same way as the ears function, but they are both necessary for a healthy body to function. So, in order for our bodies to function properly all the members need to be working properly and doing their job.
Paul also mentions that no one part (person) serves a more important role (with the exception of the head which is Christ) than the other. It does not matter how small or insignificant you may “feel” in the body because it does not mean that you do not play an important role. All parts are important. In order for our bodies to function properly all the parts (big or small, significant or insignificant) need to be present, working, and doing their jobs. This is true for the church body as well?
Imagine one morning waking up (For some of us we don’t have to imagine too hard) and your legs decide they don’t want to be part of the body that day. They say, “I don’t feel like doing my job today, I’m going to take the day off. I have been doing my job for 40, 50, 60 etc. years.”
“I am tired, and I have better things to do today than walk, stand and run.”
“Besides I’m only the legs, there are many other parts doing their job, so the rest of the body won’t be effected if I take the day off.”
Or “I really don’t like the smell of feet they are putrid. And those ears; they are constantly letting all this noise in and I do not like noise. I just want a quiet day off and do everything on my own today.” I know this sounds ridiculous, but this is what happens in the body of Christ when we consciously decide to forsake the assembling of believers. When you are not functioning or participating in the body, the rest of the body suffers. Every part is needed.
You may be hearing this and say, “I don’t ALWAYS need to be in church to worship God” and you are right. You do not need to go to church to worship God. In fact, I HOPE Church isn’t the only time to you do worship God. We need to worship God every day, it’s just that Sunday is the day we gather together corporately to worship the Almighty God as one body of believers.
I hear people say, “I don’t like (insert what you don’t like) at Church so I am not going to attend anymore. I get more out of staying home and watching the TV preacher; this way I don’t have to deal with people. I like listening to the message at my own convenience.” Let me say, this is not Jesus’ intention for your life as a follower of him. He does not desire that you be a “lone ranger” Christian.
Pastor Mark Dever writes in his book WHAT IS A HEALTHY CHURCH, “God created the world and humankind to display the glory of who he is. Adam and Eve, who were supposed to image God’s character, didn’t. Neither did the people of Israel. So, God sent his Son to image his holy and loving character and to remove the wrath of God against sins of the world. In Christ, God came to display God. And in Christ, God came to save.
Now the church, which has been granted the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, is called to display the character and glory of God to all the universe, testifying in word and action to his great wisdom and work of salvation.
Friend, what are you looking for in a church? Good music? A happening atmosphere? A traditional order of service? How about:
A group of pardoned rebels…
Whom God wants to use to display his glory…
Before all the heavenly host…
Because they tell the truth about him…
And look increasingly just like him – holy, loving, united?”
The church is not just a place or a building, it is a gathering. In all honesty at the base level Church is not really even about you and me, it’s all about God! The Church is an assembly of believers (parts/members) who all possess unique God-given gifts who gather together as a larger unit. Simply put, you and I make up the body of Christ and this body is established and ruled by Christ alone. When we gather together, we are citizens of heaven who are living under the headship Christ and according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In our gathering we are living out our joy.
Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH (body of believers) and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What does this tell us? It tells us that Jesus has established the church. He has unified the church. He is the source of Joy in the church… and Satan and his minions cannot destroy it. They will try… oh, they will try their best, but the church will not be overcome by Satan. Why? Because Jesus loves and cherishes His church, and He will protect her and keep from the wiles of Satan who will try (and fail) to destroy all that Jesus loves. Of course, he cannot nor will not prevail, but he can certainly create havoc on it. Thus, it is important that we remain a joyfully unified church.
A Joyfully Unified Church
What does a joyfully unified church look like?
My prayer is that we be a joyfully unified church. We may not face the same difficulties the church in Philippi did, but we do face challenges on a regular basis.
Two Sundays ago, I shared with you an exciting future our church is facing, but not without challenges. I talked about the challenges of our building, finances, and attendance. I was encouraged with the responses many of you gave me following the message. I am also encouraged to tell you that what was said did not fall on deaf ears. Just last Sunday someone said they took the challenge to begin praying about who to invite to church and this person had invited someone and the person they invited said they will come on Easter Sunday. This is encouraging! I want to remind you to keep praying about who you will invite in the future. Secondly, this past Sunday we received the largest collective offering this church has had since we were adopted. Plus, the week before we were only $15 short of the amount, I mentioned we needed for our weekly offering. This is also encouraging. I want to thank you and continue to encourage you in your faithfulness in giving.
This shows me that we are becoming a joyfully unified church. We celebrate today because of your faithfulness but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We have just begun as we have seen the response to some of our physical needs, but I want to challenge you all today that we add to our spiritual challenges as well. I pray we start finding opportunities not only to invite people to church, but to share the gospel with those whom the Lord leads us to. I pray we become a church who values discipleship and does discipleship so we may grow in our walks with Jesus.
So, as I conclude today, I want to issue these spiritual challenges …
I encourage you as we close with this last song to begin this process. Pray that God will bring someone to you or will lead you to someone you can share the gospel with. Plus, you will start taking the necessary steps in making the commitment to grow in your walk with Jesus through discipleship. If you need guidance in either of these areas, you can talk to Harry or myself and we would love to help you start moving in the right direction.
Many commentators and pastors often attempt to put book of Revelation, including the seals, trumpets, and bowls into well-defined patterns. It is not intended to chronological in sequence and it is not intended to represent a corresponding historical development. It is often taught from a perspective that is nearly impossible to teach. In attempting to teach and understand the Revelation of John in a nicely wrapped package would thus give the impression that John was writing a work of literature rather than documenting and sharing with fellow believers the incredible, awe-inspiring visions from God. In other words, if anyone claims to have a firm understanding of or teaching that the Revelation of John is a chronological work then the letter would be more about John and not about the judgment of God. E.F. Scott writes, “that a perfectly logical apocalypse would be a contradiction. I tell you this because we are going to look at these visions of John do not follow a chronological sequence nor a reiteration of the visions.
Vs 1: Opening of the seventh seal – When the seventh seal is opened there was silence in heaven for about 30 minutes. This silence is not symbolic of eternal rest nor so God can hear the prayers of the suffering saints. In Jewish literature it speaks of angels refraining from singing during the day so that the praises of Israel can be heard in heaven. Instead, it is more of a dramatic pause, what we would call “the calm before the storm”.
Vs. 2 – 5: It is commonly held that the events of verses 2 – 5 takes place during this interval of silence. This is the preparation that takes place before the judgments are released. In this we see the seven angels standing before God and each were given trumpets. According to Jewish scripture and tradition it is believed the names of the seven archangels are Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraquael, Gabriel, and Remiel (1 Enoch 20:2 – 8). Their job in the book of Revelation is to announce the series of plagues which are to fall on the earth and its inhabitants. It is also probable that they are the seven angels who pour out the bowls of wrath from God.
In the OT the trumpet was used for a range of reasons such as calling the people together (Numbers 10:3), to move the people of Israel on their journey (vss. 5 – 6), to sound the alarm for war (vs. 9), and to celebrate days of sacred feasts (vs. 10). The priests led the army around the city of Jericho with trumpets. The Jewish new year is called Tishri which is the “day you blow the trumpets.” The trumpet was also used in the coronation of a King.
The trumpets in Revelation are called eschatological trumpets and they herald the coming wrath of God. These angels are used to call on the four great disasters of God in the material universe, two demonic plagues on unrepentant man, and the proclamation that the world has submitted to God’s sovereignty.
Vs 3: This other angel is not one of the seven. He performs the priestly duties of offering up the prayers of the persecuted. The incense is either mingled with the prayers of the saints or the incense is the prayers. It is likely he is the angel who is the heavenly priest who offers the prayers of all the saints (not just those martyred, but all saints) to God.
Vs 4: The incense is added to the hot coals creating a cloud of incense smoke and arises before God and this is a symbol of divine acceptance. According to Mounce, “The scene in heaven suggests that there is something sacrificial about genuine prayer. Both the believer and his prayer enter the presence of God by way of the altar.
Vs 5: The fragrance of incense of the prayer of intercession now turns to judgment. The prayers of the saints play a major part in bringing the judgment of God on earth. It is in this instance that the prayers of Revelation 6:10 are answered in part. We know the judgment is about to happen because it is preceded by thunder, lightning, and an earthquake.
The First Four Trumpets
Vs 6: The angels raise their trumpets in readiness to sound the trumpet.
Vs 7: Trumpet 1 - With the blowing of the first trumpet the second series of judgments begin. Now, we must remember the first four seals depicted judgment as a result of human sinfulness, the trumpets reveal the active involvement of God in bringing punishment upon the world.
Now, it is also important to know that these judgments are not intended for the church, they are intended or directed against a world that is hostile to God. It is interesting to note that as the intensity of the judgment increases, so does the hard-heartedness of man. These are not final judgments, yet they will affect a significant portion of the earth.
The judgment is hail and fire, mixed with blood. The result is 1/3 of the trees and grass burned up. This imagery is akin to the seventh plague in Egypt. The fire which accompanies the thunder is most likely lightning and the blood refers to the awesome storm rather than the fire and destruction that the lightning would cause. Great devastation follows the storm. The fraction is not intended to be literal; it refers to a portion of destruction but not the majority, this judgment is not final. This serves as a warning that the full wrath of God is yet to come.
The trees that were burned up are probably fruit trees, because fruit trees were important to the maintenance of life in Israel. Thus, this plague is aimed at nature and yet, it does affect humanity as well.
Vs 8- 9: The second trumpet – This judgment results in in the destruction of a third of the sea which kills a third of the sea creatures and a third of the ships. Again, the fraction is not to be taken literal; it refers to a significant portion of the sea, sea creatures and ships being destroyed. Some find the mountain being cast into the sea is a volcanic eruption. It is believed so because 20 years previous to the writing of the apocalypse Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii. According to some Jewish writers this was a judgment on Rome for having destroyed Jerusalem. The mention of fire in the first three plagues corresponds with the Angel of verse 5. With the second trumpet and the mountain being thrown into the sea results also in the water turning to blood. This is a reminder of the first plague of Egypt in Exodus where the rivers are turned to blood, making the water undrinkable (Ex. 7:20 -21). However, this plague is to be understood as not poisoning the water, but a judgment that goes beyond explanation in turns of natural phenomenon.
This week we are starting a new series going through the book of Philippians. I am really excited for this series because I love to teach books of the Bible verse by verse. I believe this to be the best way for Christ followers to see the true context in how and why a certain book was written and then determine how it applies to us today. It may come as a surprise, but scripture is often misquoted or taken out of context in order to fulfill an agenda, condemn someone or give false hope and this is not what scripture is intended for. You have heard the old real estate mantra that goes, “location, location, location” the biblical mantra should be “context, context, context.”
In our series my goal is to read, teach, and preach through Philippians with context in mind. Now, this does not mean that this will be a history lesson, (although there will be some historical data I will talk about to set up how the letter can be better understood) but that it will be a series where we can look at the context, and determine how we can benefit from it today.
As a way of introduction, I think it is important to look at the three themes the letter to the Philippians may pose to the church today.
The City of Philippi
Philippi was a city that was rich in tradition and unique in culture. It is located in Macedonia about 800 miles east of Rome. It was in 42 B.C. at the Battle of Philippi where Mark Antony and Octavius defeated Brutus and Cassius (Julius Caesars assassins) that Philippi became of Roman province. Many Philippians were descendants from the soldiers who settled there after the battle. As a result, Latin was the common language in Philippi and thus kept the Roman characteristics such as architect and Caesar worship.
The Philippian Church
Paul’s second missionary journey, after he chose Timothy to come with him, took him to the city of Philippi. According to Acts 16, Paul met with “God-fearing” women by the river and one woman named Lydia was in the group meeting for prayer. They met by the river because there was no synagogue in Philippi. During this encounter Lydia and her household were baptized and she invited Paul and his companions to her home. It was not unusual that women were given prominence in Macedonia and in Philippi, thus it was not surprising that the first Christian converts were women and the early church met in Lydia’s house. It was here that the first church was established in Philippi. Interestingly the nucleus of the church was formed by a group of women around 49 A.D. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke established the church and they stayed in Philippi for some time. We are not sure how long, but it was enough to form and establish close friendships with them and the community of believers.
It was during this time that Paul and his companions (excluding Luke) left Philippi at the request of the city magistrate as a result of casting out of a demon from a young slave girl and an ensuing riot, which led to their imprisonment, which also led to the conversion of the Philippian jailer. By the time Paul left it is probable that the house church consisted of Lydia and her family, the jailer and his family, and perhaps the slave girl. It appears this church was Paul’s favorite. They were generous to him and supported his missionary journeys and were faithful in their support when others could not or would not support him.
The Letter to the Philippian Church
Some time has passed since the events of Acts 16. It is probable that Paul visited the church on other occasions not recorded in Acts. However, the letter written to the Philippians was written in early 60s from prison in Rome by the Apostle Paul. The reason for writing this letter is in the elements of friendship and exhortation.
When the Philippians heard Paul was in prison, they commissioned Epaphroditus to bring money, gifts and encouragement to Paul and assist him in prison. During his travels he became sick and nearly died, but he was able to bring the gift to Paul. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus could not stay due to his illness, but it is very probable he gave Paul an update on the church in Philippi and according to Paul’s tone in the letter it was a positive update, but he did mention some division that was happening. Paul was concerned the quarrels that had risen could taint their witness before the unbelievers in the city and his concern was that it would be difficult for the divided church to withstand the persecution that they continually experienced.
Philippians 1:1 – 18
Vs 1 – 2: This is a traditional introduction of a letter that begins with the name of the author, the recipient, and a greeting. Paul does not just mention his and Timothy’s name, he declares that they are servants or more literally “bond servants” of Christ Jesus. This context shows the humility and submission the two had to Jesus. The letter is written to all the “saints” in Philippi, namely the church in Philippi. The word “saints” refers to the status of the believers as people of God who are set apart or called out from others and carries out the ethical responsibilities of the new covenant. This is more than one who is a Christians in name only, but one who is actively living a life set apart from the influences of the world. This letter is addressed to ALL the believers, and yet he wants to recognize the leaders as well.
Vs 3 – 8: The Apostle begins by telling the Philippians that he prays prayers of thanksgiving for the church in Philippi and he does so joyfully. It is interesting to note that this joyful prayer and petition is not circumstantial. Remember, Paul is writing from prison and his encouraging optimism is noteworthy. Paul’s joy was not rooted in feelings, emotion, or situations.
Paul’s joy was rooted in…
12 – 14: The reason the Philippian church sent Epaphroditus to Paul was to support him and to check on his living situation. They wanted to alleviate his suffering and find out how he was really doing. Paul assures his readers that he is in fact do fine despite his current situation. Even though he is in prison, this has not stopped his mission of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In reality the opposite is true. His current situation is actually working to advance the Kingdom of God. The gospel has advanced as the imperial guard and all around him now know that Paul is not your ordinary prisoner. His suffering, chains, and situation has not affected Paul’s attitude at all. His joy is found in Jesus and he has found ways to embrace his chains and suffering and this spoke volumes to the those around him. People saw his faith was real and rooted in something higher than his current situation.
Not only is Paul’s faith contagious to those around him in prison, but also to the believers where he has given them great encouragement to give them confidence and boldness in preaching as well. The progress of the gospel swept through the ranks of those who work and live around Paul’s imprisonment, so there is no need for the Philippians to be concerned for Paul.
Vs 15 – 18: However, not everyone who is emboldened to preach are motivated for upstanding reasons. One group preaches from envy and rivalry, and the other preaches out of goodwill. The one group preaches out of envy. These are those who are annoyed by others’ successes and desiring that they don’t get what they desire. It is hard to imagine that there would be people who were jealous of the successes of others who proclaimed the Gospel, but it was real and remains an issue today. Unfortunately, there are pastors who are envious of others’ successes in ministry that their motivation is to try to thwart or discredit other ministries simply out of envy. One pastor may see the success of another pastor and desire that his church would not continue to succeed. He may go so far as to try and undermine the ministry, the pastor, or the church. These individuals are motivated by rivalry and envy.
But Paul is assuring his readers his motivation is of genuine and from goodwill. His motivation is to see Christ proclaimed in truth and rejoice when this happens.
Finding Joy In
As we have looked at the opening to the letter to the church in Philippi our challenge is in determining what our take is? Joy is the word that jumps out at us throughout Philippians. So, the question for us today is, how and where do we find joy in our lives and in this world today? We can take some advice from Paul in the first part of Philippians.
How Other Groups view the 144,000
According to the Divine Principle, “In order for Christ at the Second Advent to complete the providence of restoration, he must find a certain number of people who can restore through indemnity the missions of all the past saints who, despite their best efforts to do God’s Will, fell prey to Satan when they failed in their responsibilities. He must find these people during his lifetime and lay the foundation of victory over Satan’s world. The total number of saints whom Christ at the Second Advent must find to accomplish this task is 144,000.”
Revelation 7:9 -17
Vs 9 - 10: This is the beginning of the second vision of this chapter. John (in heaven) does not see the 144,000 instead he sees a great multitude that could not be numbered. This multitude included people from all nations who were standing before the throne of God and before Jesus clothed in white robes and holding palm branches.
This second vision is intended to show the anticipation of the future day when those who were persecuted will enter into eternal glory.
“white robes” symbolize victory in Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus.
“palm branches” signify festive joy (John 12:13)
The multitude was joyfully declaring their salvation from sin and its consequences.
Vs 11 - 12: It is here that we see the angels and elders from chapters 4 & 5 are part of this great multitude, and they respond to the joyful cries of those clothed in robes and they fall down, prostrate before God and offering him a seven-fold doxology of praise. (Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and power and might).
I like what Robert Mounce writes in his commentary of Revelation, “If there is ‘joy before the angels of God over a sinner who repents (Luke 15:10), how unbelievably great will the joyful adoration o the heavenly host when all the redeemed stand before God!”
Vs 13 – 14: John has an interaction with one of the elders as he asks John the question that he is probably thinking to himself, “who are these, clothed in white, and from where have they come?” to which John says, “Sir you know.”
The elder tells John that the robed ones are those who have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes in the blood of Jesus. These may be individuals who are still arriving from persecution or they refer to the point in time when the complete number of the redeemed stand before God and the blessings of the eternal state are to be realized.
“great tribulation” indicates a time when the final series of woes which will immediately precede the end. This would be the final hour of trial that the Angel spoke of in Rev. 3:10 which is to come to the whole earth. Persecution has always been promised to those who follow Jesus and the final conflict of righteousness and evil will rise to intensity as it will become the great tribulation.
Vs 15: Since they are clothed in righteousness of Jesus and they will serve him without pause. The words “day and night” is an expression that means unceasingly. This Temple is not a physical building in heaven. In Revelation heaven is the temple.
Vs 16 – 17: This is the promise that God will be their provider, protector, and comfort. The promise of never being hungry or thirsty is significant in an ancient area where this was a continual threat. The shepherd language tells how the LORD himself will guide his people to the springs of living water.
The tears that God wipes away are the tears like a child who is brought from sorrow to joy and the linger on the face of the redeemed.
We are continuing our series titled “Friends”. Since the start of the new year, we have been looking at friendships throughout the Bible. I began the series by talking about the most important friend we can have, and that friend is Jesus Christ. The second week I talked about David and Jonathon’s friendship and how this relationship was grounded in love and loyalty. John Glass preached about Moses and Aaron and the supportive role Aaron played to Moses. Last week we looked at the mentoring relationship Paul had with his travel companion and the young pastor Timothy. This week we are going to go back to the Old Testament as we look at the relationship between two prophets with similar names and different ministries. We will be spending most of our time in the books of 1 Kings 19 – 21 and 2 Kings 2:7 -15 as we look at the lives of these two prophets of God.
Elijah was a prophet who lived in the ninth century during the reigns of King Ahab (874 -853) and Ahaziah (853 – 52). Elijah was called by God during a particularly critical period in Israel’s history. The nation of Israel was divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and at the time the northern kingdom was in its strongest financial position since its separation. The king at the time of this writing was Ahab and he married a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel was not a nice woman, she was evil, manipulative and she brought Baal worship to Israel and it began to spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom. This new interest and commitment to Baal worship angered God thus Elijah was sent to turn the nation and its leadership back to God through prophetic messages and miracles.
Elijah begins his biblically recorded prophetic ministry abruptly in 1 Kings 17 when he proclaims a prophecy to the king (Ahab) that there will be a drought in the land until the prophet himself declares the end. This prophecy begins a tumultuous relationship between Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel.
We see the conflict between these three throughout the book of 1 Kings, as we read about Elijah’s tense relationship with the king and especially his wife as he proclaims judgment on the nation because of their sins of Baal worship. One of the most notable and memorable acts as a prophet of God is found in 1 Kings 18:20 when Ahab summons the Israelites and prophets of Baal to gather at Mount Caramel to confront Elijah. On the mountain the challenge was made by Elijah when he says, “If the LORD is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” To which the people did not answer. Continuing on to 18:22 – 24, Elijah issues a challenge against the 450 prophets of Baal. He asks for two bulls, one for the prophets of Baal and one for him. The challenge? Cut the bulls into pieces, place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then the prophets are to call on Baal and Elijah will call on the God of Israel and whichever God answers with fire is the true God.
The contest begins. The prophets of Baal prepared the sacrifice and began calling on Baal. They called from morning until noon and nothing happens. So, they up their game by dancing around the altar in hopes their god will respond, and nothing happens. Elijah begins to mock them by telling them to shout louder because maybe their god is busy doing his god-work and cannot hear you. Or maybe he is asleep, and he needs to be woken up? In frustration the prophets start cutting themselves, creating a a bloody mess, and this kept going on until the evening, but nothing happens.
Now, it is Elijah’s turn. He builds an altar and has a trench dug around it, the trench was large enough to hold four gallons of water. He then arranges the wood, cuts up the bull, and places it on the wood. He then tells the people to pour four pots of water three times on the wood and on the offering. The wood and offering are drenched with water and the trenches are filled. Elijah says, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me LORD! Answer me so the people will know you, the LORD, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Suddenly, a fire came from heaven and consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the water, and the dust. When the people saw this the people proclaimed “The LORD, he is God! The LORD, he is God!” Then Elijah ordered the 450 prophets to be seized and had them slaughtered. After this, the Lord sent rain, thus ending the drought.
When Jezebel heard what happened she sends a threat to Elijah declaring, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow!” Elijah was afraid of this threat, so he ran away and hid in a cave. It was here that the LORD spoke to Elijah in a soft whisper and he was encouraged by the LORD when he learned there were seven thousand people in Israel that have not bent the knee to Baal.
The prophet Elijah is ordered in 1 Kings 19:16 to anoint a man named Elisha as his successor. We are not sure if Elisha was already a disciple of Elijah currently or not. The two met as Elisha was plowing with twelve teams of oxen. Since Elisha had charge over such a large flock it is quite likely that Elisha came from a wealthy family. As Elijah approaches Elisha he places his mantle or robe over him and this this symbolized that he was being called as Elijah’s successor. In response Elisha has his fleet of oxen slaughtered and prepares a great feast for his neighbors. This act shows everyone that he would no longer be a farmer, but he would now prepare for his new ministry with Elijah.
In 2 Kings 2 Elijah and Elisha are traveling together, and Elijah tells friend to stay where they are as he needs to go to Bethel, then to Jericho, and then to Jordan in three different instances. In all three times Elisha refuses and declares he will not leave his side. When they arrived in Bethel, Jericho, and Jordan respectively there were groups named “the Sons of the Prophets” who came and informed Elisha that his master would be taken away from him that day. His response to the groups are a classic, “Yes, I know… Now shut up!” When they came to Jordan the sons of the prophets came and observed from a distance as Elijah took of his robe and struck the water, and the water parted, and they crossed to the other side.
In this moment Elijah says to Elisha, “What can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha answers, “Please let me inherit two shares of your spirit.”. This was not an arrogant request for more power, but a request of a legitimate heir. This request was important to show the observers that Elisha was the person to assume the role as Elijah’s successor. Elijah replies, “If you see me being taken from you, you will have it, if not, you won’t.”
As they continued walking a chariot of fire with horses of fire appeared and separated the two. Elijah was then taken to heaven in the whirlwind. When Elijah was gone, Elisha tore his clothes in half and picked up Elijah’s robe that was left behind. He took the robe, struck the waters again and they parted as they did for Elijah. When the sons of the prophets saw this they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha,”
Elisha’s prophetic ministry was now recognized, and he began his ministry around the time of king Ahab’s death (853). His ministry lasted about fifty years, and unlike his predecessor his ministry was quieter and took place among the regular people of Israel. He had opportunities to address the royal court at times, but not in conflict like Elijah. Miracles were prominent in his ministry. They ranged from turning brackish water to fresh water, calling down a bear attack on a group of youths who mocked him (that is another story for another time), mercy and charity, to his final miracle which happened post-mortem. A corpse was tossed into the prophet’s tomb and he abruptly came back to life.
We have looked briefly at the lives and calling of these two prophets of God. In these accounts we do not find out much regarding the friendship/relationship between these two prophets Elijah and Elisha. All that we do know is they were contemporaries, they traveled together, and Elijah passed his mantle to Elisha to continue God’s work. We do not know much more, like were they friends or was their relationship more professional? Did they have similar interests and passions or were they merely brought together by God’s divine providence? There are a few unanswered questions but what we can gather is that it was a relationship built on three foundations that can and should apply to us today.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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