“Tan!” “I like it on the hook by the door!” “I’m going to Kalamazoo for 32 days!” These are some tame samples of some of the nonsensical things you might have seen on Facebook over the past few years, all coming back to breast cancer awareness. Other diseases have their specific “awareness” advocates as well.
I mused on someone else’s status that I wish I needed a game to make me aware of cancer. In the past few years, I have known people who have had to fight breast, liver, kidney, prostate, lung, and bladder cancer; some have won, some did not, and others are still fighting. There are two big reasons that I’m so aware of cancer at this point. The first is that some of these have hit close to home, striking friends and co-workers. The second is through praying for those who have these terrible diseases. While I don’t recommend the first, the second is where we’ll focus today. Let’s start in Philippians.
6…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Here, Paul sets us up with a negative and a positive instruction. The negative instruction, “do not be anxious about anything,” is a necessary reminder. When we humans are dealing with troubling times among friends and family, we tend to worry for them, on their behalf; when we deal with troubling times in the world at large, our anxiety tends to be more focused on ourselves. Neither of these are acceptable, and Paul continues by giving a solution that works in both cases - tell God about it. However, this is not a heavenly-directed spleen-venting session. Paul uses “prayer and supplication” to describe how we are to take everything to God. Prayer is a reverent request, not a vent and not a demand; supplication carries the idea of a fervent, urgent request. We are to reverently, but fervently, bring our requests to God.
However, there’s another piece - “with thanksgiving.” Even in the most dire of circumstances, there are things for which we can be thankful. We can be thankful that we have the ability to pray. We can be thankful for our knowledge of the people for whom we are praying, and for the benefits we have seen in our lives from them. We can be thankful for things that God has done in the past, and the opportunity to see what He will do this time. Being thankful has two benefits. First, it lets God know that we remember His blessings. Second, it helps us; it’s very difficult to be worried or angry over something for which we are giving thanks.
This brings us to one of the most curious things about prayer that I’ve learned over the past few years. Yes, prayer is important, and can lead to big changes in circumstances. But, more than changing God’s mind, prayer changes the one who prays. God, though prayer, can reveal His will, and give peace when His will is not the result we are expecting. I think that the best example of this type of prayer was Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. (emphasis mine)
39And going a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
My suggestion, given the above, is two-fold. First, if you are not aware of anyone with cancer, or whatever disease has your attention, remedy that; find someone (at least one, but more if the Lord leads) and start praying for them, and see if you don’t see the difference. Then, instead of playing games that can be zany at best, and offensive at worst, post the details of the people for whom you are praying. You’ll raise awareness, and you’ll be encouraging others to pray as well. That sounds like win-win to me.
In this case, I believe that some context would help. Philippians 3:14 is a very popular verse, but let’s look at verses 12 through 16 to get the full picture.
12Not that I have already reached [the goal] or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this to you also. 16In any case, we should live up to whatever [truth] we have attained.
Paul was a traveling evangelist, and the last person to see Jesus face to face (Acts 9:1-7). If there was anyone on this earth who would have achieved “perfect Christian” status, it would have been Paul. But, here in verse 12, Paul tells the church that he is not a fully mature Christian - he still struggles to grow in Christ. In verses 13 and 14, he tells them that he doesn’t think that he’s arrived, but that he pushes on every day, reaching towards that goal.
In verse 15, Paul encourages the church to adopt his mindset. And, we should adopt it as well - none of us will ever know everything there is to know about the Christian life, and the blessings that God has in store for us. And, notice what Paul says will happen to us when we do this - if we “think differently about anything,” God will correct our errant thinking.
This brings us to verse 16. Whether we’re striving towards the goal, or we’re content to sit stagnant in our current level of knowledge and fellowship with God, we are responsible for living up to the knowledge we have. As the Spider-Man adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have been given knowledge and power by the One Who has all the power and knowledge in the universe. We are definitely responsible for discharging this power and using this knowledge the way He wants us to.
When Jesus was on earth, He told a parable about a servant who had been given responsibility while a master was away, and what happens when that servant does not faithfully use what he has been given.
42The Lord said: "Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? 43That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 44I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. 48But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.
Notice verses 47 and 48 - the one who knew what he was supposed to do and did not do it would be punished severely, while the one who didn’t know what he was supposed to do would be punished much more lightly. In the case of us knowing God’ Word, though, knowing that God expects us to study and learn the Bible means that we know our Master’s will.
So, then, our responsibility with regards to Philippians 3:12-16 is two-fold. First, we must strive to know God on a deeper, more intimate level, and the way to do that is by studying His Word. Second, we must live up to the knowledge that we do have. While ignorance of the law does not necessarily make one’s actions illegal, knowingly violating the law not only makes one’s actions illegal, but shows a lack of respect for laws and the ones who have made them. The same principle applies spiritually - knowingly disobeying God’s laws shows contempt for the One who has made them.
I pray that each of us will gain knowledge and understanding, and, having gained it, be able to live up to its expectations in our lives.
When Paul wrote to Titus, he stopped one verse short of us having a 3:16. Instead, we’ll look at Titus 1:16 (with verse 15 included for context).
15To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. 16They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work.
Paul had been to the island of Crete, and when he left, he left Titus there to continue the work of building the church on Crete. It was a tough mission field for Titus – there were people who wanted to overthrow the church, and were financially profiting from teaching what was wrong. (Titus 1:10-11) In fact, here’s how one of their own described them.
12One of their very own prophets said,
Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.
Titus certainly had his work cut out for him! But, Paul’s advice to him on selecting leaders of this young church can help us today, even though most of us probably attend well-established churches (or could if we wanted to). Paul starts verse 15 by saying “To the pure, everything is pure…” Paul hasn’t been talking about those who are pure, but he is reminding Titus that there are people who have accepted the Word of God in their hearts, and have been made pure. This is the type of person we should strive to be. Paul mentioned purity when he told the Philippian church where they should focus their thoughts.
8Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things.
Paul follows this short description with a contrast. The “defiled” are different; they claim to know God, but their words and their works are at odds with one another. They may know about God in their heads, but they do not know Him in their hearts. Paul describes these people as “detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work.” (v. 16)
Rather than focus on what these folks (or us today) have done wrong, think about this. If Paul had thought that the detestable, disobedient, vile beasts of Crete were beyond hope, would he have gone and started a church, and left Titus there to continue it? I doubt it. No matter how far gone we may think we are, it is God’s grace that can bring us out of that, and purify our hearts. The purity that Paul spoke of in verse 15 is not something we can manufacture ourselves; rather, it is the outcome of us allowing God to come into our hearts and lives, and Him getting rid of the things that are keeping us from the purity He desires.
I pray that we will allow the Holy Spirit to purify our hearts, and make us willing, strong vessels for His work.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.