In my morning devotions, I’m currently working my way through Philippians in the company of Alec Motyer (through his excellent commentary). In Chapter 1:13-14, Paul is explaining how his suffering is advantageous for the advance of the gospel. Listen to how Alec Motyer unpacks this:
“He [Paul] did not see his suffering as an act of divine forgetfulness )’Why did God let this happen to me?’), nor as a dismissal from service (‘I was looking forward to years of usefulness, and look at me!’), nor as the work of Satan (‘I am afraid the devil has had his way this time’), but as the place of duty, the setting for service, the task appointed. When the solider came ‘on duty’ to guard Paul, did the apostle smile secretly and say to himself, ‘But he doesn’t know that I am here to guard him — for Christ’?”
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blamesless for the day of Christ …”
Here is an excellent and challenging comment on these verses from Alec Motyer:
“the hymn-writer caught the matter perfectly:
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
In this respect Christian love is no different from any other sort of love: it can both waste itself upon unworthy objects and also bestow itself on proper objects in unworthy ways. In other words it needs divine illuminative knowledge in order to know what to love, and discernment to know how to love.”
Following on from quote yesterday from Alec Motyer, here is another section which speaks (again) with such clarity into local church life:
“the scattered churches were not isolated. Their great link with each other was the person of the aspotle; they also shared apostolic letters with each other; and in addition there is evidence in the New Testament of a variety of travelling ministers, dependent on the hospitality and support of the churches to which they came.”
If apostolic ministry is still a legitimate ‘function’, then the picture painted by Alec Motyer must help shape our understanding and expectation of what it means to be part of a family of churches.
I’ve just started reading Alec Motyer‘s commentary on Philippians in my morning devotions. The following long-ish quotation is an amazingly clear picture that is painted of leadership in the local church. I would encourage you to read the whole quotation:
The impression we receive in the New Testament is of local churches loosely federated under apostolic authority, with each church managing its own affairs under the leadership of overseers (who are also called elders) and deacons.
Deacons were obviously a distinct office, but we are told nothing about the functions a deacon was meant to fulfil. There is insufficient evidence to enable us to identity the deacons of 1 Timothy 3:8ff. with the ‘seven’ appointed in Acts 6 to ‘serve tables’, even though the identification is not in itself unreasonable. The word ‘deacon’ (diakonos) and its related verb (diakoneo) are used too widely–of ministering the gospel as well as of ministering to bodily or social needs — for us to say what the deacons (and deaconesses, cf. Rom. 16:1) may or may not have done in the enviably flexible arrangements of ministry in a New Testament church.
The word ‘flexibility’ seems equally to apply to those church leaders who are described as ‘elders’ and ‘overseers’ (‘bishops’ in older traditions). It is clear however, that the two titles describe the same person. Possibly such an official could also be called ‘pastor’ or ‘teacher’. the title ‘elder’ expresses seniority and experience; ‘overseer’, ‘pastor” and ‘teacher’ refer to the functions of leadership, care and instruction. Indeed ‘teaching’ is the only specific function required of elders: apart from this the lists devote their attention to personal qualities rather than job-descriptions.
One thing, however, is plain: the were ‘elders’ (plural) in every church. From the first reference to apostolic practice in Acts 14:23 onwards through the uniform testimony of the New Testament, and even earlier according to the testimony of Acts 11:30, local leadership was committed not to an individual but to a group. And if we ask why their respective functions are not more closely defined, then surely the answer is this: ministry arises from the nature and needs of the church, not vice versa. The elders shared the qualities which fitted them for office. they probably shared also that one thing without which a church cannot exist: the ministry of the God’s Word. But otherwise they wrapped their ministry round the needs of the local church in which they served.”
Phil 1:1 “… To all God’s holy people (Saints) in Christ Jesus at Philippi…”
“But the heart of the matter is this: the saint’s separation is not a reaction against but a response to; not a more determination to be different from the world but a whole-hearted determination to be like God by obeying his word.”
Here in this wonderful definition of what is means to be God’s separate (or Holy or Saints) people, are some helpful ideas/phrases for helping each one of us to work out how to live this in the cut-and-thrust of life:
“not a reaction against” – we live in a culture that loves to react action things
“But a response to” – a desire to respond to God’s every whisper
“Not a determination to be different from the world” – this is the road to deathly law
“but a whole-hearted determination to he like God” – to live each day looking to be more and more like our great saviour
“by obeying his word” – lives centred around God’s word, not my feelings, opinion or perspective.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been using the Valley of Vision (a collection of puritan prayers and devotion) in my morning prayer times. Although some of the wording is slightly antiquated, it has really helped me to deepen my prayer life. Here is just a short extract from the opening prayer that sums up why this book is called ‘The Valley of Vision’: