Teaching at the Tree is communicated in a practical, easy to understand way that is relevant to your everyday life. It’s not religious jargon, just the truth of God’s word presented in a loving and challenging way.
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Title: Staying Faithful
Scripture: Philippians 3:17-4:1 (ESV)
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Explanation: The underlying theme of every single one of Paul’s letters is the call to stay faithful to Jesus. No matter what he is addressing, the hope is that the church looks to Jesus for their needs, acts like Jesus in their attitudes and actions, and holds on to Jesus through their trials. Paul knows that their natural desires, satan’s temptations, and a distraction-filled world all have the very real power to pull them away from Christ, and Paul wants his church to fight to hold on to Christ. Paul offers two things to help when they find themselves in a trying situation: He offers an example to look to and a reward to look forward to. He offers himself and the other faithful Philippians as an example to test themselves against and see how they stay faithful. Then he reminds them of the reward for those who do stay faithful. He wants his church to keep their eyes on the coming reward in Jesus.
Title: Pressing On
Scripture: Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Explanation: Some would consider those who run marathons or compete in an ironman races to be insane. For these competitors, there is a prize worth straining for, and what keeps them pressing on through all the struggle is their goal to reach the prize ahead. This prize matters more than anything they could have possibly left behind them in the race. The prize is most often something different for each individual, and the finish line they aim to cross gives them their “own” personal win.
This is true of these types of races, but on a much deeper level, this can be true of our lives as well. For Christ, the prize was a relationship restored with us, His children, once again. He strained forward at all cost to attain this goal. Fully aware of this, the Apostle Paul, compelled by this love that Christ demonstrated, made his personal prize the “upward call of God” to live a life now and into eternity in complete satisfaction in Christ Jesus. This upward call, as we explored in yesterday’s devotional, was all that Paul wanted. There was nothing on earth that he would leave behind or lose that would deter him from attaining this prize. Paul states that his race is not quite complete yet, but he will not abandon all that he has eagerly worked for and gained in Christ up to this point in his race, because the prize at the finish line is just too good. He urges us as well, to maturely make Christ and the hope of life with Him our own personal prize. Friends, we must hold true to whatever “straining” we have experienced and will continue to experience in this life. Christ has made us His own, so let’s make Him our prize.
Title: The Surpassing Worth of Knowing Jesus
Scripture: Philippians 3:7-11 (ESV)
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Explanation: How can you gain something, yet consider it a loss? The short answer is you’d have to consider the value of whatever you gained as less than what you were comparing it to. For instance, in today’s reading, we see the Apostle Paul has reached a point in his life where he has discovered nothing is more valuable to him than knowing Christ and being found in Him. As you read in yesterday’s devotional, Paul was a highly qualified individual. In his day and time, he would have been the cream of the crop in the religious world. Yet Paul communicates that he has come to realize all of that is rubbish in comparison to his relationship with God now and into eternity. For those who admired Paul for his religious status, this would have been a daunting thing to hear him communicate, because so many wanted what Paul had…status, influence, power, the appearance of perfection…yet Paul compares these things to trash, at least in comparison to the amazingness of Christ. He was willing to throw all of that away, at any cost, because in faith he believed what Jesus offered was, and would always be, better than any earthly gain.
Title: Religion vs. Relationship
Scripture: Philippians 3:4-6 (ESV)
though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Explanation: These verses are Paul’s past glory. When it came to the right pedigree, Paul had it in the flesh. Here Paul is taking on the Judaizers on their own ground...their religiousness. He needs to illustrate to them where all of his confidence used to be. It’s his version of “I know how you feel.” It is smart on his part to play his religious card, because he once sat where they sat, thought as they still thought, and did what they still were doing. He wants them to relate to him, so he can show them that the things they are trusting in are worthless. The emptiness of self-righteousness was something he remembered well. I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the next verses, but Paul is setting them up. In Acts 9:4, Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, and mere religion was scraped out of his soul forever!
The religion versus relationship game is still very much alive. Paul wants us to know that religion is a pittance compared to a full-on love relationship with Jesus. Do you ever find yourself thinking, “I’m a good person?” That may be your pedigree talking. Reflect on your pedigree. We all have things we have absorbed in our religious life...sort of like lint on black pants, we just pick it up. It’s dull and lifeless. Only a true revelation of Jesus is energizing and freeing. Only He can peel your past away and replace it with your future.
Title: No Hope in Ourselves
Scripture: Philippians 3:1-3
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
Explanation: It seems at every church Paul writes to, there is always a group there opposing him. Most of the time, it is a group of Jewish Christians who insist on Gentile believers first becoming Jews, and then they can accept Christ. Their greatest demand was male circumcision, Israel’s sign of the covenant. It was a mark each Israelite male wore that signified they were part of God’s people. It was the mark and pride of the Jewish people, and their claim to being in relationship with God, because they were circumcised and Jewish. Paul spends his entire ministry (read some of Paul’s other letters like Galatians and Colossians) fighting the idea that Gentiles needed to become Jews to be a part of Jesus. Paul emphatically claims that trusting in Jesus is the only way to become one of God’s people. He would fall in line with Peter, who says in Acts 4:12 that there is no other way to be saved…no amount of good works, not being a Jew, not getting circumcised, not attaining certain spiritual or religious practices. Trusting in Jesus is the only thing we can put our confidence in, because He has the ability to make us right with God and change our lives. This was central to Paul’s teaching, so when he saw those who opposed it, Paul did not mince words with them. Not because he wanted to be violent or angry, but Paul knew this group would lead people away from the life that Paul was trying to lead them to. So Paul fought for his churches.