PREPARING FOR THE DAY OF CHRIST

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:7-11

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

We must always live our lives in light of the fact that Jesus is coming again. What will it be like when we see Him face to face? The Day of Christ is coming and we should live our lives as though it is today that we will see Jesus in His glory.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the Philippians (v. 7). He loved them dearly (v. 8) and thus wanted them to be ready when Jesus comes back. So he prayed for them. He prayed that their love may abound more and more. I am sure that he was referring both to their love for Christ and their love for one another. However, love for Christ is what motivates us to live for Christ’s glory and praise. Paul prayed that out of their love for Christ, they would be filled with knowledge and discernment so that they could live their lives in a pure and blameless way until the Day of Christ comes.

This is the prayer we should be praying for ourselves. We need to pray that our hearts will be filled with love for Christ so that we will approve what is excellent. We need to pray that the fruit of Christ’s righteousness will be evident in our lives so that we can be prepared for the Day of Christ.

Lord Jesus, I anxiously await for Your appearance here on earth when You come again in glory. I pray that my love for You may abound more and more, so that I may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless when You return to earth again. May my life be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Your presence in my life. And this prayer is to the glory and praise of God.

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THE PERSEVERANCE OF GOD

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:3-6

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am so thankful that God is not finished with me yet! I am a work in progress. It is so comforting to know that God will never let me go. I cannot fall from grace because He is the One who saved me and He will keep me. I am eternally secure and God will continue to work in me until I am glorified with Jesus. This is the perseverance of God — He will persevere with me to the end of time and then through all eternity.

Paul is talking about God’s sanctifying work in this verse. He is the Potter and we are the clay — “But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). God is molding and fashioning us into the image of His Son — “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). This is His goal for our lives — to make us more and more like Jesus.

Notice that it is God who initiates this work and it is God who will see it to completion. His Spirit is changing us from the inside out. This is the transforming work of God that is taking place within us. And He will bring His work to completion when Jesus comes back again and we are glorified.

O Spirit of the living God, I know that You are at work within me. You are changing me from the inside out. You are conforming me into the image of Jesus Christ. Thank You that You who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.

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PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-5

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

As we begin looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it is important to remember where Paul was when he wrote this epistle. Philippians is one of his prison epistles, along with Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians. Paul was in prison because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Yet the overwhelming message of the epistle is one of joy — we can experience joy even when we are facing difficult situations in our lives.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the Philippians. When he thought about the people there, he prayed for them. His heart was filled with joy because of them, for they participated with him in ministry. They were partners with him in the gospel.

As a pastor of many years, I understand what Paul is saying. I have always had faithful brothers and sisters who partnered with me in ministry — those who prayed with and for me, who served faithfully along side of me, and who loved me and encouraged me.

Individual churches, as imperfect as they are, are essential for our growth in grace. We need each other because God established the church to be a community of faith. We were called to be in fellowship with other believers. We are called into partnership with others in the gospel.

I fondly remember many faithful Christian brothers and sisters who partnered with me in ministry. Some of them are in glory now, but I will always remember them and the love and encouragement they gave me. Like Paul my heart is filled with joy when I think about them. Think of those who have come along side you in your Christian growth and give the Lord thanks for them.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your church. Thank You for bringing many people in my life who partnered with me in ministry and who prayed for me, encouraged me and loved me.

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THE QUESTION FOR US

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:9-11

“And should not I have compassion for Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)

The book of Jonah ends in as surprising way. It ends with an unanswered question from God. We are not told what Jonah’s answer was. We are left hanging.

Let’s remember what had happened to Jonah. He was thrown overboard and was doomed to die. But God intervened and saved him. Jonah repented and called out to God. God granted mercy to Jonah and saved him.

But now when God granted mercy to the people of Nineveh, Jonah resented it. In fact, it made him angry. How can we explain this? Jonah received God’s mercy, but he resented the fact that God granted mercy to other undeserving people. Jonah became more passionate about the plant God provided to give him relief from his discomfort rather than a passion for the well being of other human beings. Thus, God asked the question to Jonah.

Because the book ends this way, we are invited to write our own answer to God’s question. Do we really care about lost people? Do we have compassion for those who are spiritually blind? Are we more concerned about our own comforts than we are about the mission Christ has given us to be His witnesses? I am convicted. Are you?

Lord Jesus, forgive me for my lack of compassion for others. Forgive me when I get more concerned about my comfort than I do about being a faithful witness of Yours. Let my heart be broken with the things that break your heart.

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MISDIRECTED AFFECTIONS

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:9-11

“But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry enough to die.’ And the Lord said, ‘You have compassion for the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.'” (Jonah 4:9,10)

The bottom line is that Jonah cared more about a plant than he did about the lost people of Nineveh. I call this “the Jonah syndrome.” I’ve seen it many times across the years in my ministry — people who get all worked up over insignificant things rather than being passionate about the gospel and its impact on people’s lives.

Over the years, I have regularly preached this passage at missions conferences. I’ve said may times that people get angry, passionate and even unreasonable over small things in churches — the color of the carpet, screens in the sanctuary, the way people dress for worship (I actually had this happen recently when a person complained that one of our instrumentalist didn’t wear a coat and tie), etc. I was told by a member of one church I preached this sermon in that their church almost split over a plant! It seems that someone gave a plant for the chancel area. A decision was made to remove it and major chaos followed. How sad!

Jonah had misplaced affections. The real issue was self-love and self-comfort. The plant had given him relief from his “discomfort” (v. 6). We get comfortable with certain traditions, worship styles, and forms. Then when we change them, people get upset. They put a lot of emotional energy in things that don’t really matter.

Where is our passion for the gospel? Where is our passion for lost people who are heading for a Christ-less eternity? “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

Lord, I confess that I like Jonah have misplaced affections at times. I love my own comfort rather than being willing to think about others. I get more passionate about things that don’t really matter, than I am passionate for the spread of the gospel. I know there are times that I love myself more than I love Jesus. Forgive me, Lord.

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THE COMPASSION OF GOD

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:2,9-11

“And he prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.'” (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah now clearly states why he attempted to flee from the presence of the Lord. He knew that God was a gracious and compassionate God. And because of this, Jonah wanted to forestall God from being gracious and compassionate to the people of Nineveh.

When God confronted Jonah at the end of the story, He asked Jonah a question: “And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” God verified to Jonah that He indeed is a compassionate God.

The word “compassion” is a word that means to grieve over someone or something. It is really stronger than pity; it means to be heart broken. It implies that one feels so deeply about someone or something that he or she weeps over it. God had compassion for the people of Nineveh. He wept over the evil and lostness of the Ninevites. He looked at the spiritual condition of the people, “who do not know their right hand from their left.” He is referring to their spiritual darkness and despair.

I believe that the compassion used to describe God in Jonah is the same compassion Jesus experienced when He looked at the spiritual darkness and despair of the people in His day — “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). It was the compassion Jesus felt when He wept over the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 23:37-39). Yes, it was the compassion Jesus had for those who crucified them, when He said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Even while being mocked and tortured, Jesus knew how confused and spiritually blind the people were. He had compassion for them; He grieved over them; His heart was broken over them. Here is the unrelenting love and compassion of our Savior!

Lord Jesus, You have wept over me and with me, because You are gracious and compassionate. You are my great High Priest who sympathizes with me in my sorrow and who grieves over my sin. I know that You love me and that You are gracious and compassionate toward me. Thank You for Your tears, Your steadfast love, Your grace, and Your compassion that has been directed toward me all through my life.

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JONAH’S DESPERATION

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:5-8

“Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.” (Jonah 4:6)

It is almost comical to envision what happened to Jonah. He went outside the city and wanted to see what God was going to do with Nineveh. He was being stubborn and hard headed! So, the Lord “appointed” a special plant that came up in a Jack and the Beanstalk manner. The plant provided shade for Jonah in his discomfort (which he brought upon himself). As a result, Jonah was very happy over the plant.

But God was still working on Jonah. So at dawn on the next day, the Lord “appointed” a worm that attacked the plant so that it withered (v. 7). Then when the sun rose, God “appointed” a scorching east wind, “And the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint” (v. 8). This was the end for Jonah. He wanted to die — “It is better for me to die than to live.” God brought Jonah to the point of desperation and he saw no way out of his misery, a misery that he brought on himself because of his stubbornness and pride.

I have heard it said by many that God will not give us more than we can handle. Let me assure you that such a statement is not true at all. Sometimes God does give us more than we can handle. He may even bring us to the point of desperation. He will bring us to the point of surrender. There are times that we bring these things upon ourselves (like Jonah). At other times we face difficulties that come along because of the brokenness of the world we live in.

God may give us more than we can handle; but nothing is too great for Him to handle. There comes a time when we have to cease from striving and surrender ourselves to our God and King. Even when we do not sense it, God is with us and He will take us through our times of desperation. The Scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Isaiah 46:10,11).

Lord, You are my fortress and my strength. I confess that I often bring problems on myself because of my stubbornness and pride. You allow me to be brought to a point of desperation when I finally surrender to You. I fail to be still and know that You are God. I try to fix things myself. Forgive me and enable me more and more to come to You for my refuge and deliverance.

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THE LORD’S PATIENCE

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:4-6

“And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?'” (Jonah 4:4)

One of the attributes of God for which I am very thankful is His patience. Look at the way the Lord dealt with Jonah. Jonah had experienced the consequences of his disobedience when he was thrown overboard and was doomed to die. Yet God saved him from death in an extraordinary way — “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days” (1:17). Jonah cried out to God and the Lord delivered him — “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (2:10). God gave Jonah another opportunity to obey (3:1).

Jonah experienced God’s mercy and grace. Yet when God granted mercy to the Ninevites, Jonah became angry. God asked Jonah a question — “Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah did not respond to the question. Instead he “went out of the city, and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city” (v. 5). I assume Jonah still had hope that God would destroy the city; but He did not.

So God patiently continued to deal with Jonah. God made another provision for him — “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah’s head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant” (v. 6).

God was not finished with Jonah yet. But do you see how patient God was with him? And do you see God’s patience in the way he dealt with Nineveh? Now you can see what the Scripture means when it says, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as seem count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

Gracious and patient God, thank You for loving me and for being patient with me. I know that I deserve Your judgment, but instead You lovingly and patiently grant me mercy. Forgive me for my lack of patience when You are so patient with me.

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HEART TROUBLE

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:1-4

“Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3)

As we have seen Jonah had two problems — a theological problem and a heart problem. I think his heart problem was much worse than his theological problem was. Read Jonah’s words again — “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Where did these words come from? Out of Jonah’s heart — “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18). Jonah’s heart was full or anger and bitterness. He was so angry that he told God that he wanted to die!

We must acknowledge that the Assyrians were the greatest threat to Israel at that time. There is no question that Jonah loved his country. He was a patriot and nationalist for sure. He was afraid that the Assyrians would attack his country and his people.

Jonah was bitter toward the people of Assyria. They were a cruel and violent people. Jonah carried deep resentment in his heart toward them. While these things are true, I think Jonah’s real heart problem was that he was angry at God. He was bitter at God for asking him to go to Nineveh in the first place. This is why he attempted to flee from the presence of God. But the crowning blow came when God granted mercy to the people of Nineveh. The bitterness, wrath and anger in Jonah’s heart were so great that he wanted to die.

Anger and bitterness can destroy a person. We are not to harbor bitterness and anger in our hearts — “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32). Christ alone can give us the ability to be gracious, loving and forgiving toward people whom we dislike.

Lord God, forgive me when I harbor anger and bitterness in my heart. I acknowledge that at times I do so toward certain people. Give me the ability to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. Cleanse my heart of sin and enable it to be filled with the grace and love of Christ.

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JONAH’S PROBLEM

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:1-4

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” (Jonah 4:1)

What was Jonah’s problem? Here was a missionary who was highly successful in his mission, but he was exceedingly displeased and very angry over the repentance of the people of Nineveh. Jonah had just preached to the toughest audience of his life and they responded positively to his message, from the greatest to the least of them.

It seems that Jonah had two problems: a theological problem and a heart problem. We get insight into his theological problem by reading the words he said to God — “For I knew that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (v. 2). But Jonah also knew how evil the Assyrians were. How could God be a God of justice and allow such evil, oppression and violence to continue? There was a contradiction in Jonah’s mind between the justice of God and the steadfast love of God. In fact, Jonah resented the mercy that God extended to the Assyrians. He felt that God’s justice was not being carried out.

Fortunately we know how these two attributes of God come together. Let me jump ahead to the cross of Jesus Christ. This is where the justice and love of God meet. Jesus paid the price we owe to satisfy God’s justice on our behalf. God’s steadfast love for us is so great that He provided the means for our salvation — His own Son as our substitute.

In order for God to grant mercy to us, He had to pay a pay a great price — the death of His Son. His love for us is beyond comprehension. Yes, look at the cross and you will see the justice of God and the love of God meet.

Lord Jesus, I know that You bore God’s justice on the cross. You suffered the wrath of God in my place. Your love is so great for me that You willingly came to his earth and died for me so that I could have eternal life. When I consider Your cross, I see both the justice and love of God coming together. Thank You for the huge price You paid to redeem me.

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