Embers: Minor Meditations on the Bible

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? Luke 24:32

by Sylvia Nettles Dickson

Welcome to my posting! I hope you will find something helpful to your Christian walk. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. These thoughts are mere embers of greater fires that have burned through the ages. I am no where close to being a great theologian or exegete of the scriptures, and humbly walk in the shadows of people like my brother, Tom Nettles, and other men and women who have dedicated their lives to digging into God’s Word and presenting The Truth and Beauty that is Jehovah God.
My thoughts are embers that are meant to glow and warm our hearts toward God. They rest at the base of the fierce flames that sharpen our minds and cause our hearts to burn for God.

My first posting is on Philippians (ESV) 1:1-10. The Bible text is italicized.

1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:     Paul and Timothy are speaking in the role of servants of the Messiah Jesus. Their emphasis seems to be not so much as teachers or masters to them, but as meek, humble, obedient emissaries of Christ Jesus. Their letter is directed toward all the saints, as well as those charged with the teaching of doctrine and care of the believers.

 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  In keeping with the servant spirit, they first greet them to look and see the grace and peace they have from the Father and Lord Jesus. This grace and peace doesn’t come from only the Father or only the Son, but comes to them in perfect agreement in the Godhead, completely attuned to believers as one voice. There is great power and authority in this statement of grace and peace. Consider creation, incarnation, propitiation, resurrection, sanctification and glorification for starters.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,  Wow! What a commendation! I could only hope for someone to thank God as they think of me. I don’t think this means they were perfect (as we see later), but that this relationship between Paul and Timothy and the Philippian Church was incredibly special.

 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. They continue with the assertion that these believers are special in their continual partnership in proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior. The evidences of this would include being hungry for the Truth; putting aside their own needs in favor of others; giving generously; praying continually; etc.

 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.  They continue with assurance that God not only has begun work in them, but will sanctify them. They will never be stripped of their position in Christ or be denied access to God. From beginning to end, God and glorify is faithfully carrying, shaping, challenging, correcting, and cheering them on. He will never leave or forsake those He has called.

 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. This is not some mushy statement but a deep-seated love and attachment for the Philippians, based on the fact they are all together through God’s grace. Distance and time do not separate believers because through God’s grace we are joined together by His Spirit. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one shows more of Christ in his nature, we all rejoice. When someone stands firm in a tough situation, we all encourage and pray.

 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.   Paul longs for them in such a way that exceeds human understanding. It is a supernatural, God-given desire to not only write to them and pray, but to go to Philippi and sit in their houses, eat meals with them, have one on one conversations, weep and rejoice with them. No human has the other-focused longing without God’s gift of it. This is a pure love seated in Christ Jesus.

 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  So he continues by letting them know he prays that they will have this same kind of God-shaped love. This love is fueled by knowledge of God. It makes judgments and decisions based on humility and care for others, not self interests.

10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  Paul continues defining this love: winnowing thoughts and deeds to accept only the excellent ones; not settling for less than the Truth; purifying minds and hearts; staying away from temptations; not making excuses for sin; sitting at the feet of Christ to grasp what righteousness is, submitting to Him; staying focused on His return when only glory and praise of God will rule.


Embers: Philippines 2:6-8

by Sylvia Dickson

One daughter and one grandson

Looking at my heart–things I hold dear–shows me what I’m clinging to when the best thing I can do is cling to Christ. I love my husband, children and their spouses, and my grandchildren. Don’t mess with them, I say. Then my security: house and money are so important. What do I long for? nice vacations, beautiful things, new things, fun things. But, really, what I’m saying is, Comfortable living is my idol.

How do I make Christ the most important thought, pursuit, and treasure in my life? I came up with this: consider what Christ did so that He could be my treasure.

 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Jesus, God the Son, the creator of the universe became the creature, denying Himself the place, privilege, and right to heaven to bring us home. The Master became a servant; the immortal became mortal; the infinite became finite; the life-giver was defeated by death in order to defeat death. Who are we? Fallen humans who cling to the world. What do you want most in the world? Fame…wealth…belonging…fulfillment? Jesus gave all that up and more to deliver us from death and give us real life.  What would you give up for Christ? I know, it’s a hard question to answer. I believe that God, who is good, holy, just, merciful, and all powerful did what was necessary to rescue us from a hopeless eternity.

 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Here we go—God became a baby, then a boy, and then a man. No longer was he everywhere at once, but limited to a human body. No longer would others hide their faces from Him because of glory. They would laugh and ridicule and spit on Him. His humanity brought extreme humiliation and disrespect and beatings. But it also restored relationship between God and man. The eternal God dying could only be done in material form, and the reason for dying was to end death.

EMBERS: Philippines 2:3-4

by Sylvia Dickson

 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
Romans 11:33

 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

We are one body with Christ as the head. Therefore, we can count others as more important than ourselves. We don’t have to look out for Number One, because Christ looks out for us. We don’t have to be ambitious for self-preservation, self-glorification, or self-anything! Who are we anyway?

Do we identify with Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, much less Christ himself? There is no room for self-centered pride or false humility that really points to self. Paul is pointing out that love for Christ will show itself in our concern for brothers and sisters in Christ individually as well as the whole church body. We are always to put  the interests of others and the church body before ourselves.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Keep everything in perspective, looking through the lens of Christ. Considering our own needs and interests should not blind us to the needs of others. When we ourselves are suffering we are not to ignore the suffering or needs of others. You know how it goes: a mother is sick but she still meets her children’s needs. I’m sure you can think of other examples.  

Even looking to Christ for our strength, wisdom, perseverance should not be done in self-interest, but with the focus on serving the body of Christ, the church and displaying Christ to a dark world.

EMBERS: Philippians 1:29-2:2

by Sylvia Dickson

Chip, my newest grandson. An excellent gift!

Think about the best gift you ever received. How important is that gift now? I’ve received gifts that were exciting, valuable, beautiful, comforting at the time, that now have lost some of that luster. They were great gifts that were later eclipsed by others or that faded. Now, consider the gift of suffering for Christ and whether we value it or not:

 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. 

We are guaranteed that living for Christ is not a bed of roses without thorns. We will suffer for the gospel, but we suffer together. The strange thing is that when we suffer for Christ, we will look at it as a blessing! We are given suffering to mark us in our unity with Christ and our struggle against the world (things that war with The Spirit).  The “world” hated Christ and it hates us to, because Satan is the ruler of this world—here today, gone tomorrow. But we are here now, so we can expect him to attack us in various ways, but the same conflict: godliness versus evil. So, we are to guard our hearts and minds, bathe in the truth, and arm ourselves with righteousness in Christ. Stay engaged! Don’t be lulled into a stupor that all is well. Stay focused! Know the real deal, Christ, so you can see when the trickster strikes. Be confident that God is able to keep you from falling, holding onto you forever (Jude 24-25). If you do fall, He will restore you .

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 

Paul is laying the foundation for Christian relationships. He points us to Christ for encouragement and comfort. Suffering for Christ in prison, he points out that his joy comes from knowing that the Philippians and other believers are engaged with Christ, him and each other mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He appeals to us as we are connected to each other and Christ by the Spirit. He points us away from self-centered suffering by reminding us to be loving and sympathetic to each other. As Christ suffered, so we suffer. As Christ found comfort in the Father’s love, so we find comfort. As Christ was one with the Father and the Spirit, so we are one with Christ and each other. As Christ showed love and sympathy for others even in His distress, so do we. �-��

EMBERS: Philippians 1: 27-28

by Sylvia Dickson

I am posting on Saturday before Easter. In verse 27 Paul tells us to let our lives be worthy of the gospel. This is the gospel: Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, joyfully obeying all of the Father’s commands. He suffered from temptations by Satan, was reviled by mean, judged unfairly, and crucified as our sin-bearer and experienced God’s wrath for us. He was buried, but after 3 days, he came back to life as he had said. We believe and are saved.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. John 11:25

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 

So, here it is, folks. You are on the line for Christ. Your behavior matters. Your beliefs matter. Your affections matter. Your speech matters. Your relationships matter. Your work matters. Your unity as a church matters. Your worship matters. Your reputation matters. Is how you live gospel-worthy? Are you standing firm on the truth? Are you walking together in the faith? It’s not an easy road to walk, so you need to do it together, side by side. The church is a body, working together for the gospel, helping one another. Living for Christ is not a lonesome life, nor an independent one. With the Spirit of Christ linking us, we are a chain that has no weak links.

 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 

Together, by faith in Christ, we have security. Paul’s letter to the Romans expands on the fact that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). We meet opposition to the gospel in different places; however, we can stand firm and be assured that God is at work for our good and His glory. Putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) enables us to stand boldly—to fearlessly face opposition and persecution.

That’s Progress

by Sylvia Dickson

This is a short post, because if I included the next verse I would have to include the next verse and the next. That would be too long. Philippines 1:24-26 says enough for us to give us the glow of God’s Spirit at work.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.  Paul emphasizes that God is keeping him around to guide and build the church. He sees that remaining here is not for his preservation, comfort, or freedom. He is alive for the church. Paul’s joy is to see them/us faithful, finding pleasure in Christ, and being passionate for Christ. A growing, dynamic faith honors Christ. His aim is to glorify Christ through a faith that is mature, knowledgeable and deeply rooted in Christ. If and when Paul goes to Philippi, he wants them to see that his life is consistent with this faith he is holding up as worth living and dying for.

Embers: Philippines 1:18b-23

A blaze of azalea blossoms reminds me to keep God’s Word flaming in my heart.

I was blessed this week to hear a sermon from Tom Nettles on James 3:1-12. James admonishes that teachers are held to a higher standard and accounting than others (however, most of us are teachers in some way). I was reminded that what I write here is a manner of teaching and should be approached cautiously. In view of that, I ask you to read these small meditations with alertness to error and remember there are many others who have diligently studied these texts and are better suited for your in depth study than these embers. I do hope these fuel your desire to learn more of the mind of Christ and warm your hearts by the flames of the Spirit.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, The theme of joy is repeated. No matter how the gospel is preached; no matter that the church is opposed. He is confident in Christ and that all things work together for the good of those who are in Christ Jesus(Romans 8:28). Prayers of the Philippians are important because they show their love for Paul as they take their concerns into the throne room of heaven. The Holy Spirit is our helper in our prayers (Romans 8:14-17; 26,27). God’s Spirit confirms His unwavering love for each of them and His unchangeable faithfulness to His children, the church. It doesn’t matter which way the wind blows for Paul, he is convinced that God is directing his circumstances to effect his deliverance, especially his eternal deliverance from sin.

 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  He is happy and hopeful. He continues to talk about his goal of honoring Christ in everything. The only thing that can make him ashamed is dishonoring Christ. Even though he is in prison, he is not defeated. He is no wimp! Full steam ahead, he says. He turns every circumstance to positive advantage to talk about Christ and teach others. He honors Christ at every turn. If life continues, it is to honor Christ. If death takes him, he will be with Christ and honor Him unhindered. Let’s learn a lesson from Paul: death is not defeat for the Christian. It opens up new vistas that only those who live by faith can see and experience.

 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  Christ is Paul’s life.  Christ is more important than status, family, career, retirement. He is worth more than even staying alive.  Paul trusts Christ to keep his promises for the present and future. He is the most valuable treasure of his life and to lose his earthly life can only bring him into the presence of Christ, which is Paul’s goal anyway. This is not some mystic who sets himself apart from the world, to simply gaze upon Christ’s beauty, holiness, and completeness. He doesn’t sit back and only meditate: Paul knows that he is an active participant in the day to day struggle of the church, Christ’s body on the earth. He is energetic and interacts with other people: He lives Christ before the world. This is part of the suffering Christ told him about (Acts 9:16), to remain on earth.

 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  Staying alive means continuing to teach, support, guide, pray, encourage the Philippians. Paul longs to die and be with Christ. He sees the value of staying on earth, but he wants to be fully united to Christ. Again, leaning on the sovereign arm of the Lord, Paul is happy to continue serving in the church on earth. His fruitful labor is the work God has commissioned him to do: establishing and strengthening the church, and making sure the gospel is pure, free from contaminants.

Philippians 1: 12 – 18

The Advance of the Gospel

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  There is no doubt in Paul’s mind that God is sovereign and designed his imprisonment for His glory. We should not be discouraged when we hear that other believers are suffering for the gospel. Paul clearly sees that his imprisonment can only promote the gospel to benefit the world in revealing God’s glory back to a dark world. He doesn’t talk about being delivered from prison, but is focused on how God is using prison to change hearts in the Roman guards and others that come into contact with him and others converted by the gospel. Surely, he is not in the place of his choice: free to come and go. However, in this place of God’s choice he makes the most use of his time. He talks about joy and suffering in this letter, and certainly he is qualified to do so.

 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  So, what has happened because Paul is in prison? Are others ashamed to preach? Are they afraid? No, they see Paul’s model of turning a bad situation into something good. They see God’s faithfulness as the gospel is shared and lives are changed. They see the courage, peace, and joy of trusting in God. They see the Holy Spirit vividly working to encourage them through Paul’s witness.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. Some are preaching the gospel ‘They are preaching out of love for Christ and Paul. Others use the gospel to try to goad Paul, discourage him, get him upset, rile him up because Paul knows they are not true believers. Maybe they are using the gospel to get money, fame or a following. They are promoting self by using the gospel. Again, Paul recognizes that God will use whatever is spoken to glorify himself, spread the gospel, and draw others to Christ. The good will speakers are focused on serving others by preaching Christ’s love, love for Christ, Paul, and for the lost. Paul rejoices that Christ is the focus of the pretenders and the sincere.

18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.  If the gospel of Christ is the message, God can use it to save sinners. Even preachers who are self-centered, proud, who want others to serve them are used by God for noble purposes. Sometimes, it’s hard to separate the message from the messenger and we get upset. If people are responding to the true part by repentance and new lives, we should be happy. God will put a hunger and thirst for the truth into each believer.