Archives For Mike Riccardi

“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .”
– Philippians 4:1 –

Laurel CrownThe way Paul addresses the Philippians in this verse is unparalleled in his writings. It is a piling up of no less than five terms of endearment, and it illustrates the love and affection that can and should exist between believers. Over the past few Fridays, we’ve looked at the first three of those designations and the implications they have for the relationship between fellow believers (see here: brethren, beloved, longed for). Today we come to the final two, which are particularly noteworthy.

His Joy

He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout the letter (there is some reference to joy and rejoicing 16 times in these four short chapters), it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.

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Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
– Philippians 4:1 –

Phil 1;8Over the last few weeks, I’ve been examining each term of endearment that Paul lists in Philippians 4:1, by which he describes his relationship to the believers in the church of Philippi. By looking at this example, we are enriching our understanding of the true nature of the fellowship which fellow believers enjoy with one another. We’ve seen that we are brothers and sisters—marked by a unique, objective, familial bond as a result of our union with Christ. And we’ve seen that we are not merely to tolerate our brothers and sisters, but to love them.

A third term of endearment that teaches us much about the nature of Christian fellowship is best translated as a longer phrase: those whom I long for.

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January 21, 2016

Beloved Brethren

by Mike Riccardi

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
– Philippians 4:1 –

BelovedAs glorious as it is to be brothers and sisters in Christ, that metaphor alone does not exhaust the description of believers’ relationship to one another. It goes even deeper than that. It’s true that the familial bond wrapped up in the term “brethren” is objective; you don’t have a choice who your brothers and sisters are. And sometimes you don’t always like them, do you? And almost as if the Apostle Paul is thinking that very thing, he adds a second term of endearment to describe his relationship with his fellow-believers in Philippi. They are beloved.

Look again at verse 1. Literally, “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for….” And then after he gives them the exhortation to “stand firm in the Lord,” again, at the end of the verse, Paul repeats this designation and calls them “my beloved” again. The relationship he has with the Philippians is not one of feuding brothers and sisters; there’s no thought of, “Well, you’re my brother and so I guess I’m stuck with you.” No. He brackets the verse by expressing his deep and heartfelt love for them.

This word that the NAS translates “beloved” is the adjective form of the Greek word agape, which scholars describe as “the richest, deepest, and strongest Greek word for love.” William Hendriksen writes that this love is “deep-seated, self-sacrificing, thorough, intelligent, and purposeful—a love in which the entire personality takes part.”

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“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”
– Philippians 4:1 –

FamilyBefore Paul arrives at the crescendo of his exhortation to stand firm in our battle against sin, he couches that exhortation in a flood of the most warmly affectionate and tenderly endearing language found in any of his letters. And the first term of endearment that Paul uses to designate his relationship with the Philippians is brethren. Most fundamentally, Christians relate to one another as brothers and sisters. At the most basic level of our relationships with one another, we are marked by a unique, familial bond.

This designation dominates Paul’s thinking throughout his letters, especially in this letter to the Philippians. He addresses them as brethren six other times (1:12; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:8, 21). Although it’s well-used, it’s anything but just some sort of filler-word for the Apostle Paul. Sometimes I get the impression that we’ve begun to treat the term “brother” or “sister” as a sort of throw-away word, evacuated of all of its meaning. “Hey brother.” “What’s going on, brother?” But it wasn’t like that for Paul. He used the term purposefully, knowing that it would engender tenderness and affection from his readers by reminding them of their spiritual union in belonging to the family of God. On the basis of the atoning work of Christ on behalf of His people, all those who are united to the Son by faith have been adopted into the family of our Heavenly Father (cf. Gal 3:26; 4:5).

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New Year 2016As we enter the beginning of the New Year, many people are reflecting on the previous year and how they’ve lived their lives, and are making resolutions and determinations to live better in the coming year, whatever that may mean. The process seems to involve a kind of refocusing on things that are important to us so that when we will have come to the end of this next year we will look even more favorably on it than t20he previous one.

As we anticipate the challenges and opportunities of 2016, I want to write an open letter of sorts that focuses on the most important realities in the world. And the addressee of my open letter is you. No matter who you are—whether young in the faith, a seasoned saint, or not a believer in Jesus at all; whether we’re good friends, have only spoken a few times, or if I don’t know you from Adam—I can think of nothing more profitable that I’d like to say directly to you. And perhaps the most interesting distinctive about this open letter for 2016 is that it’s nothing new. It’s the same old message for a brand new year, because it’s the only message that is sufficient to transcend all times and cultures. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll read carefully.

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December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

by Mike Riccardi

As you celebrate the incarnation of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, enjoy the Christmas story from this blended harmony of Scripture, originally prepared by Frank Turk. Merry Christmas from all of us at the Cripplegate!

Merry Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

    “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

    “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

    “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

    “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to her. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. … For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. (this fulfilled what the prophet Micah had said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when [the child] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

(they said this because the prophet Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, and he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,

    “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;”)

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Glory of the IncarnationIt’s a joy to reserve this part of the year to remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. This, of course, is what Christmas is about in the truest sense. Amid all the tinsel, the gingerbread cookies, and the trees and stockings and gift shopping, true Christians pause to reorient our thoughts and our affections to what Christmas is really about: the incarnation of the Son of God.

And that kind of theological shorthand has become so familiar to us that we cease to be amazed at the truth we speak of when we speak of the incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

God. Becoming man. The infinite, eternal, self-existent, self-sufficient, almighty God, without shedding His divine nature, taking upon Himself—in addition to His divine nature—a human nature—truly becoming one of us. In the incarnation of the Son of God, it can properly be said that the immutable, unchangeable God became what He wasn’t, while never ceasing to be what He was.

The incomprehensibility of that thought alone is sufficient to bow our hearts and intellects before divine wisdom in worship. This kind of mind-bending wisdom is so lofty—so far beyond our natural understanding—that we wouldn’t believe it if Scripture didn’t teach it so plainly. We already referenced John 1: The Word was God, and the Word became flesh. We also see it in Philippians 2:6–7, where Paul tells us that while Christ was existing in His very nature as God nevertheless assumed to Himself the very nature of a servant, and was born as a man.

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“But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”
– Philippians 4:18 –

Worship through GivingIn the final phrases of Philippians 4:18, Paul describes Christian giving in the language of Old Testament sacrificial worship—language that originated all the way back in Genesis 8. After Noah and his family emerged unharmed through the flood of God’s judgment, he worshiped God: “Then Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. Yahweh smelled the soothing aroma (same as “fragrant aroma” in Phil 4:18) and Yahweh said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man…’” (Gen 8:20–21).

This was the essence of worship under the Old Covenant. God’s people were commanded to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5), to worship and serve Him only (Deut 6:13; cf. Luke 4:8), and to have no other gods before Him (Exod 20:3). And a principal way in which His people demonstrated that He had occupied first place in their hearts was by offering up to Him of the firstfruits of their livestock, by dedicating animals to God that would have otherwise been used for food or for securing profit through labor. As an act of worship—as a lived-out demonstration that they regarded God as more worthy than their own possessions—like David (cf. 2 Sam 24:24), they gave God that which cost them something.

The one who recognized God’s worth above all things and thus could part gladly and even eagerly with a portion of what God had given to him. And because that was the heart attitude of a faithful worshiper who brought a sacrifice to God, when the odor of the burnt flesh of an ox or a bull or a ram ascended into the heavens, rather than a disgusting stench, the text says it reached the nostrils of God and was to Him a soothing aroma—a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

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TriageMore than ten years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!), Al Mohler wrote a seminal blog post outlining what he called “theological triage.” Borrowing the term from the emergency room, Mohler discussed the need for Christians to prioritize certain doctrinal issues over others. In what can be the chaos of an emergency room, medical professionals need to know how to weigh the urgency of various patients’ needs against one another; that is, a gunshot wound should be prioritized over a sprained ankle. Similarly, in the theological world, Christians must understand the difference between (a) “first-order” doctrines—where to hold an errant position actually precludes one from being a true brother in Christ—and (b) “second-” and “third-order” doctrines—issues on which two genuine Christians can disagree and nevertheless be truly saved. In other words, we need to be able to discern the difference between bad doctrine and heresy.

All biblical doctrine is important. I would go so far as to say all biblical doctrine is essential. It’s difficult to put any doctrine into a second or third tier, because it somehow feels as if to do so is to say it’s not important. But employing theological triage doesn’t mean that everything that’s not first-order is unimportant, any more than a doctor prioritizing a gunshot wound means that he necessarily thinks a sprained ankle is unimportant. But the fact remains: genuine Christians can disagree on things like the mode and recipients of baptism; but if two people disagree on the triunity of God, one is a Christian and the other isn’t.

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Don't Miss the Forest for the TreesSome time ago I wrote an as-condensed-as-possible version of the great story of redemption, tracing God’s gracious promise to provide the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent through the Old Testament. I examined how that promise narrowed from the seed of the woman, to the seed of Abraham, to the nation of Israel, and to the line of David. We saw how Israel’s repeated failure to be faithful to the covenants Yahweh established with them all pointed to the One who would exemplify covenant faithfulness and fulfill all righteousness on behalf of His people. To put it another way, contrary to what some believe about dispensationalists and the Old Testament, we observed how the whole of the Old Testament finds its climax and fulfillment in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Israelite par-excellence, and the Son of David. If you’ve not read that post, I’d encourage you to do so.

I mentioned in that post that a great help for interpreting the Bible properly consists in keeping that big picture in the front of our mind so that we can interpret the parts in light of the whole. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. This is especially helpful in the Old Testament, where the increased historical, cultural, geographical, literary, and even covenantal gaps can make us raise our eyebrows at not a few passages, which just seem wholly unfamiliar.

Now, we need to be sure that we interpret each passage on its own terms, according to its context, always in search of the intent of the original author. But keeping this grand narrative of redemptive history in mind and locating at what point in the story of redemption that a particular passage finds itself, can often help us understand why some more obscure (or at least, seemingly-removed) passages are in the Bible. Passages that look like road blocks or obstacles in our Bible-reading plans can be transformed (at least in our perception, anyway) by relating them to the larger story of redemptive history.

Today I’d like to just share a few examples.

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