Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Mature Way of Thinking

          This morning my attention was drawn to, “Let those of us who are mature think this way…”[1] There is a connection between the “those of us who are mature,” and the “think this way.” This brings to mind that being mature, and what we believe, are not identical. People often argue doctrine out of immaturity. They grab hold of facts about God, holding on to the right information (or not), but without having the maturity to think in the Spirit, or to think of others.
          What becomes clear is that, while both the mature and the immature may hold the same beliefs, the mature are able to relate to people differently than the immature. Paul shows this when he identifies the possibility that the mature may have things in which they “think otherwise.”[2] When there is a way to think about things, the mature are able to process this in the fellowship of God, the apostles, and the church,[3]even while working out differences of belief. They are not only dealing with information, but the relationships the information speaks about.
          This means that the “think this way” is not so much about the facts and details, as important as they are, but about the relationship connection in our thinking. There is a way to think, and to fellowship in our thinking, that is of the Spirit, that is of our new heart, and God wants us interacting with him in our thinking.  There is a way to think that governs not only whether doctrine is correct, but whether relationships are working properly.
          This brings us back to where we set our minds,[4] not the just specifics of what we believe. When people band together in different denominational groups, there is often very little thought to where we are setting our minds. Most of what I have seen in churches is the expression of people who set their minds on the things of the sark, not the Spirit. Even the so called “Spirit-filled” churches seem more filled with sarky interest in excitement and sensuality than with a true connection with the Spirit. When the most experiential churches seem the most distant from true doctrine, something is suspect![5]
          What Paul is speaking of in his “think this way” is what comes before this. When he says that we ought to think “this way,” he is not about to introduce the thing we ought to think. He is concluding what he has already said with the clarification that all in the church who are growing in maturity should have this same way of thinking. All the mature in the church are to lead the way, or set the tone for the church, by setting our minds on the same things. Paul has already told us to “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”[6]He now clarifies that the things he has just expressed to them are the way all the mature in the church out to think.
          So, what has Paul written in this section that we could say that these are the things on which our minds must be set? The chapter begins with, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”[7]
          The first thing that stands out is that Paul is speaking to them of things in way of reminder. On one side, he has to speak of “the same things” as he has already stated; on the other side, he wants them to receive these things as no trouble for him, and necessary for them.
          It almost sounds as if Paul is encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord about what he is sharing, not become sad or disappointed that Paul is writing these things because he is in prison, or that he needs to address these things for their own safety. If they would receive his letter with rejoicing, perhaps with that underlying reality of God working all things together for our good,[8] they would then be able to receive the goodness of God as expressed through this letter.
          Then Paul jumps into a very strong statement: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”[9] Because of Paul’s love for the churches, and his brothers in the Lord, it is not trouble for him to remind them of the danger of the counterfeit teachers. It is for their good, and their safety, for him to do so.
          The way Paul wants them to think of these people who seek to bring the church back to dependence on the law, is that they are dogs, evildoers, seeking to mutilate the flesh. They are not doing good, but are like ravaging dogs seeking to mutilate people, seeking to destroy their faith, hope, and love. No matter how nice people are in their presentation of law-based thinking, they are the enemy, leading people astray.
          On the other hand, and as motivation to watch out for the flesh-mutilating legalists, Paul clarifies, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”[10]
          Paul is making clear that it is not those who perform circumcision who “are the circumcision,” but those who believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. What was once an external evidence of obedience to the covenants of God has been replaced by the new covenant in Jesus’ blood. All requirements of the earlier covenants are now fulfilled. The law is abolished from usage, not as something discarded and unfulfilled, but as something that did its work, is complete, and is now declared a finished thing that is replaced by something vastly superior.
          What stands out here is that this is one more expression of how the law has been replaced by the “Spirit of God.” We were once guarded and guided by the law, but no longer.[11] The law was put in place to get us to Christ, but now the Spirit works in us, lives in us, is Christ in us the hope of glory.[12]
          I think of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well.[13] She wanted to know where to worship, whether Jerusalem, or the mountain of the Samaritans. John describes Jesus’ response like this:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”[14]
          When Jesus said, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father,”[15]he was making another statement indicating the end of all earthly systems. What Jesus came to do was not to pick sides between Jews and Samaritans.[16] He would not answer what they were asking, but give them an answer that none of them could have imagined.[17] He was going to replace religion with relationship. Instead of worship defined by or confined to a place, God was about to bring about the transformation lives that would cause sinners to become worshipers.
          The distinctive quality of these worshippers would be that they worship “in spirit and in truth.” The Father is looking for those who will worship him in spirit and in truth, or in spiritual reality, or in a genuine spiritual encounter with God that is plumb to the truth. Instead of living by the law that communicates doctrinal truth, the true worshipers will worship by the Spirit who is truth. The true worshipers will put their faith in Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.[18]Through him, the church will be those, “who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.”
          Everything in the new covenant is about the Holy Spirit. We are not led through the wilderness of the world by the guardianship of the law. We are now led through everything in a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit that is given to us through the finished work of Jesus Christ.[19] We glory in Christ Jesus who fulfilled the law, and we glorify him by living in the Spirit.
          In fact, when we revert to the law, even to say we must keep the ten commandments, we insult the work of Christ that gives us the completeness of righteousness by faith. Instead, we glory in Christ Jesus by living in the Spirit.
          While Paul has much more to say in this chapter about how the mature should think, this contrast between the legalizers who wanted to return the church to law-based thinking and action, and the true church that worships by the Holy Spirit and glories in Jesus Christ, is enough to encourage us greatly.
          I am very thankful for the way God has been emphasizing to me that there is one kind of religious life we can live in the sark, or the flesh, and another relational life that we live in the Spirit. Knowing that the only worshipers God seeks are those who worship in spirit and in truth, who are identified as those who worship in the Spirit and glory in our Lord Jesus Christ, invites us once again to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.
“Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!”[20]

© 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] Philippians 3:15
[3] I John 1:3-4
[4] Romans 8:5-6
[5] I am speaking of my experience with churches, not a detailed analysis of all churches.
[6] Philippians 2:5
[7] Philippians 3:1
[8] Romans 8:28
[9] Philippians 3:2
[10] Philippians 3:3
[11] Galatians 3:23-29
[12] Colossians 1:27
[13] John 4
[14] John 4:21-24
[15] John 4:21
[16] Ephesians 2:11-22 shows how both Jews and Gentiles are brought together into the one new man that is the church. This would have included all Samaritan believers as well.
[17] Ephesians 3:1-13 describes Paul’s connection to the mystery of the gospel which no one would have known apart from God revealing it.
[18] John 14:6
[19] Romans 8:14
[20] Psalm 96:9

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