Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Inner Otherwises and the Revelation of God

          I am feeling very excited about what I am reading in this next passage in Philippians. I'm working on this verse, "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”[1] On Sunday we focused on the way the mature should think,[2] and now Paul is dealing with the fact that there may be those who think "otherwise" from what he has just taught.  The question is, how “otherwise” was Paul talking about?
          I am quite sure he was not talking about the extreme otherwises of the legalizers who were trying to add the law to the gospel. He had already expressed harsh words about them.[3] And he would not have been including clear differences of an immoral nature, as he dealt with in I Corinthians 5. He couldn’t be talking about the church allowing unresolved divisiveness, or unrepentant sin to flourish while everyone waited on God to reveal to the sinning and divisive people that they needed to do what was already clearly revealed.  
          While it seems quite clear what Paul did not mean by the otherwises he was talking about, it didn’t seem so easy to settle on what he did mean. However, as I took another look at the context, I began to think of specific ways I have already seen this happen in churches. The fact that God has a plan to help with this made everything very encouraging.
          Paul’s primary teaching in the previous section is about how we do not rely on the law for anything to do with our standing with God, but have everything by grace. At the same time, even though we now have new life in Jesus Christ, we do not act as if we have already attained everything, but live like a runner straining for the finish line.
          Therefore, to think "otherwise" must be in reference to these two components of what Paul was teaching. On one side, thinking otherwise is to have some sense that we surely must need to do something good (law-based) to win God's approval. It doesn’t mean that someone is in the legalists’ camp, but that they are coming from a good works mindset, and haven’t been able to fully change their minds just by a once-through reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
          On the other hand, thinking otherwise could include the thought that, if God has done everything for us by his grace, then we are good enough the way we are, and we don't need to strain for anything at all. This could have been a legitimate conclusion people came to, and now that Paul had presented his example, they realized they weren’t on the same page as him about how much effort they had to put into their walk with God.
          What this reminded me of is a very common quality I have come across in churches. Many people hear what God is saying about everything being about grace through faith,[4] and they fully agree with the doctrine in their minds. However, they also have these inner "otherwises" going on because they have been taught that they need to be good Christians in order to have God's approval.
          At the same time, there are some in the church who have struggled through abuse issues, childhood trauma, or bad circumstances of various kinds, and have developed an inner victim-mindset that says they don't need to try hard at anything because they are too wounded. They are not disagreeing with the doctrine Paul teaches, but something inside them thinks "otherwise".
          The encouragement is that "God will reveal that also to you." Paul has already “revealed” God’s will regarding how we relate to those who try to add the law to the gospel, and how we think about the effort we put into living for Christ. What he is now dealing with is what the church does with the otherwises, the things going on inside of people that do not yet agree with what Paul just taught. What are people to do with these differences between what they hold to be true in their minds, and what feels quite different in their hearts?
          Paul turns us to God. The answer to any difference between the clear teaching of Scripture, and the thinking otherwise that we face at different times, is to look to God, because God will reveal things to us in direct relation to what we are thinking otherwise.
          This is what God is doing when we meditate on his word privately, share it together in emails and gatherings of the church, listen to sermons, meet on Sundays, share after church, and interact with each other's sharing. God is working in all these things to reveal to us how the truth we struggle with from his word can be real in our lives when we think otherwise.
          When I think of those who have had a lifetime of training that they can only be accepted by playing the role of a good Christian, we can encourage them that it is God who will reveal these things to their inner being. We can expect that their issue may come up over and over again, and keep pointing them to the transformation that comes through the renewal of the mind,[5] not by trying harder to be the mythical good Christian.
          At the same time, when believers are so reluctant to put any effort into striving for maturity in Christ because they have been shot down so many times, or they feel too wounded, we can draw their attention to what God will do to make things clear to them. Instead of a victim-mindset, we can expect God to reveal the realities of who we are in Jesus Christ, so that people know that they are not only saved by grace through faith, but also that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[6]
          As I considered the two sides to this picture, that there are some people who can’t escape that they must be good in order for God to accept them, and that people can be so wounded by life-experiences that they really don’t think that striving for maturity has anything to do with them at all, I realized that the same painful life experiences can create both extremes.
          What I mean is that, the same inner feelings of worthlessness can cause a person to think they are not accepted unless they are good, and that the drive to strain for a finish line sounds so impossibly hopeless that they cannot find it in themselves to make the effort. The “otherwise” is not so much that they think that the gospel teaches good works as the means of acceptance, or that it teaches there is nothing to do once saved by grace through faith.
          Rather, there is an “otherwise” that is really about not experiencing “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,”[7]and needing this good news that God will reveal such things to the longing heart. It is when God reveals what it is like to experience this surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord that the heart begins to believe that God truly does accept even such people as ourselves. It is when we feel the inner knowledge of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ that we begin to desire to know him more. The thought of running the race starts to feel real within us.
          One reason I am so excited is that God KNOWS that we have these otherwises inside us. So, instead of leaving us beating ourselves up because we have this conflict with what Paul teaches, he tells us that even those things are in God's hands. He will reveal those things to us in our innermost being so that our inner selves will come to fully agree with what Paul has written. We can admit we have an “otherwise” because God has the revelation that will set us straight.
          All this means that we come to Jesus as we are, we share all the otherwises that come to mind, and watch for the ways God reveals these things to us. For me, this is what it was like this morning, coming to God's word not really sure how far these otherwises apply, and now seeing these two very clear otherwises that God is already helping us with (that we need to be good Christians to have God's approval, and that we don't need to strain for anything because we are such worthless creatures). It is no wonder that Paul prayed,
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.[8]
          Such a prayer as this can be answered even when the otherwises inside us leave us wondering how it will happen. If God says he will reveal how to get from our otherwises to what Scripture already reveals, he will do it. He already is.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 3:15
[2] You can watch the video message at:
[3] Philippians 3:2
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9
[5] Romans 12:2
[6] Ephesians 2:10
[7] Philippians 3:8
[8] Ephesians 3:16-19

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