Philippians 2:19–30

Philippians 2

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

In their book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, R. Kent and Barbara Hughes quote the following words from Hugh Evan Hopkins, the biographer of Charles Simeon, the famous British minister.

When in 1808 Simeon’s health broke down and he had to spend some eight months recuperating on the Isle of Wight, it fell to Thomason to step into the gap and preach as many as five times on a Sunday in Trinity Church and Stapleford. He surprised himself and everyone else by developing a preaching ability almost equal to his vicar’s, at which Simeon, totally free from any suggestion of professional jealousy, greatly rejoiced. He quoted the Scripture, “He must increase; but I must decrease,” and told a friend, “Now I see why I have been laid aside. I bless God for it.”[1]

Charles Simeon’s response to the successful preaching of Thomason in his absence is powerful. In seeing it as God’s will and in being willing to embrace second place, Simeon demonstrated:

  • that he considered the church more important than himself;
  • that he considered the effective preaching of the gospel more important than his own advancement;
  • that he loved the body of Christ.

I would propose that these truths apply equally to the Apostle Paul, and it is in the book of Philippians where this becomes most evident. Here, in verses 19–30 of chapter 2, Paul talks to the Philippians about two people who are with him: Timothy and Epaphroditus. In doing so, Paul demonstrates that these brothers also demonstrated the same kind of humility and love for the body of Christ. What is more, Paul helps us to see in the example of these two friends what true servants of God look like.

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Philippians 2:12–18

Philippians 2:12–18

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Thomas Merton tells the story of two monks who shared a monastic cell and lived together in peace. In fact, such was the peace they shared that they never argued and, believe it or not, actually forgot how to argue, how to have conflict! Merton tells us what happened next:

There were two elders living together in a cell, and they had never had so much as one quarrel with one another. One therefore said to the other: Come on, let us have at least one quarrel, like other men. The other said: I don’t know how to start a quarrel. The first said: I will take this brick and place it here between us. Then I will say: It is mine. After that you will say: It is mine. This is what leads to a dispute and a fight. So then they placed the brick between them, one said: It is mine, and the other replied to the first: I do believe that it is mine. The first one said again: It is not yours, it is mine. So the other answer: Well then, if it is yours, take it! Thus they did not manage after all to get into a quarrel.[1]

Now, there is something astonishing about this. I wonder how many of us are tempted to see this story as fictional, to find it to unbelievable? I suppose more than anything, we might just find it almost other-worldly…and, in a sense, it is.

The kingdom of God is not like the fallen world and when Christians actually start living out the life of the kingdom it is disorienting to the world and, sadly, sometimes to the church as well.

The New Testament calls this having the mind of Christ. Strange things happen when we truly start taking on the mind of Christ. That is what the first part of Philippians 2 is about: the need for us to have the mind of Christ. And now, beginning in verse 12, Paul is going to spell out in concrete terms what a church would actually look like if it had the mind of Christ.

Like the example of the monks above, the church would seem quite strange to the world were we to take on the mind of Christ! And yet, it is a strangeness that the world needs to see.

What would our church look like if we took on the mind of Christ?

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Ephesians 1:15–23

Ephesians 1

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

In a fascinating article for Christianity Today, Franco Jacomini wrote about how the government of Uruguay effectively removed Christmas and Easter from Uruguayan society. He writes:

Uruguay was one of the first countries in the Western Hemisphere to constitutionally separate church and state, and nowhere is secularism more apparent than in the nation’s rebrand of Christian holidays. In 1919, the government legally changed December 25 to the Fiesta de la Familia and Holy Week to the Semana del Turismo (“Tourism Week”), during which time the capital city holds Semana Criolla.

Jacomini explains that Semana Criolla (“Creole Week”) is

a series of festivals honoring the country’s gaucho heritage. Many come to watch Uruguay’s national sport, jineteada, where riders attempt to stay on the back of untamed horses. Few of the activities, which also include traditional music and dancing, acknowledge the Christianity calendar, except when it comes to eating asado criollo.

Vendors sell the country’s local barbeque throughout the week, except on Thursday and Friday, a nod to the country’s Catholic heritage.[1]

My goodness! The mind boggles.

In Uruguay, Holy Week becomes tourism week.

The great spectacle of Holy Week becomes watching people attempt to stay on the back of untamed horses.

And the only possible nod to Christianity is not being able to eat barbecue on Thursday and Friday, which is “a nod to the country’s Catholic heritage.”

I repeat: My goodness!

Church, Holy Week is more than tourism.

And the great spectacle of this week is not an untamed horse with a rider on it but a tomb without a Jesus in it!

In Ephesians 1, Paul lays out beautifully the amazing implications of this day, of the resurrection of Jesus.

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What Does It Mean to Be A Father?

A young man at Central Baptist Church recently asked me this question. I wrote the following in response.

What Does it Mean to be a Father?

Wyman Lewis Richardson

March 2024

To be a father is to reach the end of yourself.

To be a father is to allow the overwhelming privilege and weight of the stewardship of another life to drive you into the arms of Jesus.

To be a father is to protect without suffocating, to safeguard without stymying, to watch over without overwatching.

To be a father is to grow alongside your child.

To be a father is to say yes.

To be a father is to say no.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to be silent.

To be a father is to refuse to be silent.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to recognize that our own “fatherhood” is necessarily derivative of the Fatherhood of God without seeing that derivation as a functional replacement. You are not God, though you, like God, are a father. “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9

To be a father is to see the great gulf between your own “fatherhood” and that of the Father: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

To be a father is to lead your child to the cross without presuming to force the cross upon your child. They must own the faith…but through your stewardship as a father they should know well the faith they are called to own. This means exposure without indoctrination, immersion without the crushing of the intellect or will, and modeling without coercion.

To be a father is to be a pastor…not a cult leader.

To be a father is to listen and to answer…and to answer you must truly listen.

To be a father is to say, “I do not know.”

To be a father is to say, “I do know.”

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to see your child as created in the image of God and not to demand that they be created in the image of you.

To be a father is to say “I am sorry” when your child deserves to hear it.

To be a father is to not say “I am sorry” when they do not.

To be a father is to trust and to give space.

To be a father is to not trust and not to give space.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to allow.

To be a father is to forbid.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to comfort.

To be a father is to create discomfort.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to accept anger without being moved.

To be a father is to surprise with lavish liberality that is undeserved.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to never stop fathering…though to let your fatherhood grow with the needs of your child.

To be a father is to never stop seeing the child in your adult child…but to not treat your adult child like a child.

To be a father is to allow space for error.

To be a father is to not allow space for self-destruction.

To be a father is to step back and allow consequence to be the teacher.

To be a father is not to bail out.

To be a father is to step around the corner and weep.

To be a father is to weep openly with no shame.

To be a father is to laugh with your child.

To be a father is to listen to the voice of God speaking through your child.

To be a father is to realize that your child, no matter how wise, is not God.

To be a father is to refuse to idolize.

To be a father is to refuse to devalue.

To be a father is to not exasperate your child. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” (Ephesians 6:4)

To be a father is to have your child find you exasperating.

To be a father is to be thought uncool by your child.

To be a father is to be thought the coolest guy in the world by the same child.

To be a father is to put yourself between your child and the devil.

To be a father is to train your child to withstand the devil.

To be a father is to be ready to preach.

To be a father is to refrain from preaching.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to model what a man should be.

To be a father is to acknowledge you are not the man you should be.

To be a father is to provide.

To be a father is to prepare your child to provide for himself or herself.

To be a father is to pay the tab.

To be the father is to occasionally allow it when your child insists on paying the tab. They want to say “I love you” back just as you did for your parents. Allow this.

To be a father is not to dominate every conversation.

To be a father is to realize that you might be wrong in some of your opinions.

To be a father, however, is not to have your own convictions made malleable or amorphous or changeable in the name of loving your child.

To be a father is to say, “You are wrong.”

To be a father is to say, “You are right.”

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to let your child develop his or her own interests.

To be a father is not to look down on your child’s youthfulness. “Let no one despise you for your youth…” (1 Timothy 4:12)

To be a father is to accept that some of your child’s music might be as grating to you as some of your music was to your parents.

To be a father is to play.

To be a father is to stop playing.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to ask your child if they would receive Jesus as Lord.

To be a father is to recognize that you cannot force this moment.

To be a father is to see your child’s weaknesses.

To be a father is to recognize that most of your child’s weaknesses are your own.

To be a father is to forgive.

To be a father is to need forgiveness.

To be a father is to protect with ferocity.

To be a father is to let your child fight his or her own battle.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to let go.

To be a father is to never let go.

To be a father is to give away and give space.

To be a father is to never abandon your fatherhood, to never stop being “Dad.”

To be a father is to face your own death with the knowledge that if you have loved that child rightly, you can die in peace.

To be a father is to have another person on the planet say, long after you are gone, “My dad loved me. My dad did not hurt or abandon me. My dad valued and treasured me. My dad led me to the cross.”

John 12:12–19

(2024 Holy Week artwork by CBC student Shelbi Whitfield)

John 12:12–19

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Palm Sunday is that beautiful and electric day when Jesus enters Jerusalem. It is known as “the triumphal entry” and it sets in motion the events of Holy Week, culminating ultimately in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

I have preached many Palm Sunday sermons and you have heard many Palm Sunday sermons. The verses will sound very familiar to many of you.

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

If you grew up in church, this scene will, I hope, bring to mind familiar and powerful images. The King has entered the city and the King will now do His great work…though that work will be a work that nobody ever could have imagined. He will not ascend to a throne in Jerusalem. He will rather be raised on a cross. So this entry into Jerusalem is triumphal, yes, but not in the way the world thinks of triumph.

Again, I have preached this many times and you have heard this many times, with good reason! We dare not miss the crucial events of Palm Sunday.

Yet, John’s account offers us something interesting. John allows us to hear what the Pharisees think of Palm Sunday, what they were saying among themselves about Jesus entering Jerusalem to great acclaim. We find this in verse 19:

19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Now, there is something delicious about this! We are allowed to see the handwringing complaints and irritation of the Pharisees at the way Jesus is received, at Jesus’ popularity, at Jesus’ reception into Jerusalem. Their two statements to one another bear two parts:

  • Futility: “You see that you are gaining nothing.”
  • Exasperation: “Look, the world has gone after him.”

What are we to make of this? Specifically, what are we to make of the Pharisees’ assertion that “the world has gone after” Jesus?

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Matthew 26:36–46

Matthew 26

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And 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.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira has interestingly written of the “heroism” of Jesus.

The most perfect example [Jesus] gave of His own heroism was, in my view, the Agony in the Garden, which Nietzsche despised. Nietzsche said that Our Lord Jesus Christ had not shown himself to be a real man in this instance. Further, with His doctrine of forgiveness and His goodness, He showed He was just a soft sweet being. This statement is blasphemous, and had Nietzsche been ordered to carry the Cross, he would have handed it over 200 times. He would have abandoned that Cross, apostatized, done a hundred other things, but he would not have had the courage to carry the Cross.[1]

How fascinating!

Who is right?

Is Oliveira correct that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus is shown to be a hero?

Is Nietzsche correct that in the Garden of Gethsemane shows Himself to not be a real man, to be “just a soft sweet being”?

I stand strongly with Oliveira’s assessment, though the “heroism” that Christ showed in the Garden comes in unexpected ways. A lot is revealed in the Garden Gethsemane. Let us consider the full implications of what happened there!

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Philippians 2:5–11

Philippians 2:5–11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, `7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Harold O.J. Brown tells the following story:

In 1873, when the sport of mountain climbing was still in its infancy, an enterprising young Englishwoman climbed most of the way to the summit of Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc, to the place known as Les Grands Mulets. Her guide urged her to go on, as it seemed to him that she could easily attain the summit and incidentally become the first woman to do so. She demurred, stating that she had already accomplished what she intended, and that to go on would be nothing but vanity. That woman was Frances Ridley Havergal (b. 1836), one of the most gifted hymn writers in the English language.[1]

How fascinating. How unusual! A woman who did not have to attain the highest point, who did not covet ascendency, who did not have to hoard the heights. How unlike the overall bent and direction of our own culture!

It does not surprise me that Francis Ridley Havergal was such a great hymn writer. She clearly knew much of Jesus. For Jesus did not have to hoard the highest point, did not have to have constant ascent. In fact, Paul tells us in this most amazing passage, that Christ Jesus, above whom there is no other name, was willing to come down, down, down, to reach us in our despondency, to reach us in the deepest valley.

Our salvation depends upon Christ’s refusal to stay in constant ascendency, in Christ’s descent, in Christ’s willingness to come down to us where we are, to reach us in our lowliness.

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Matthew 26:30–35

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

Ryan Holiday is an interesting person. He is a young man who considers himself a Stoic. Stoicism is the ancient philosophical belief in and pursuit of four great virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance or moderation, and justice. Holiday writes very interesting books, one of which is Ego is the Enemy. In it, he writes:

“Whom the gods wish to destroy,” Cyril Connolly famously said, “they first call promising.” Twenty-five hundred years before that, the elegiac poet Theognis wrote to his friend, “The first thing, Kurnos, which gods bestow on one they would annihilate, is pride.” Yet we pick up this mantle on purpose!

Pride blunts the very instrument we need to own in order to succeed: our mind. Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride.[1]

There is wisdom here. To a certain extent, what Holiday has written here and quoted here helps us understand a bit about Simon Peter. Peter, of course, would deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed. But I believe that our text gives us some insights into the mindset and attitudes that went before Peter’s calamitous fall (and eventual, thank God, restoration!).

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Philippians 2:1–4

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Gerhard Frost wrote:

“The reason mountain climbers

are tied together

is to keep the sane ones from going home.”

I don’t know who said it,

or when, or where,

but I’ve chuckled over it,

thought about it, and quoted it, too.

With a mountain of mercy behind me

and a mountain of mission ahead,

I need you, my sister, my brother,

I need to be tied to you,

and you need me, too.

We need each other…

to keep from bolting,

fleeing in panic, and returning

to the “sanity” of unbelief…[1]

I think that is very well said. “I need to be tied to you, and you need me, too.” It is a deeply Christian sentiment, and one of the great Christian expressions of it is found in the first four verses of Philippians 2. In verses 2 and 3 and 4, Paul will show what this unity looks like. In verse 1 he prefaces his depiction of and call for Christian unity in the church with a series of seemingly conditional statements.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

Again, this sounds conditional.

  • if there is any encouragement in Christ,
  • if there is any comfort from love,
  • if there is any participation in the Spirit,
  • if there is any affection and sympathy…

But the “if” here does not actually point to a possible reality but rather to an actual reality. Fred Craddock writes that Greek has a

way of saying “if” which stated the case exactly. For example, “If I am your friend (and I am).” This latter type of conditional clause was used to lay a foundation for a request, a command, an instruction. Such is the case in 2:1: “…if there is any encouragement in Christ” (and there is). One could just as well begin the four clauses in 2:1 with “since there is.”[2]

So let us read verse 1 like this:

  • since there is encouragement in Christ,
  • since there is comfort from love,
  • since there is participation in the Spirit,
  • since there is affection and sympathy…

Since these things are true, the church can be what it is designed to be. The church can be the kind of community that it is entitled to be and the church can be characterized by those qualities that God intends and desires. By what should the church be characterized?

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Philippians 1:27–30

Philippians 1:27–30

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Philipp Jakob Spener was an interesting man.

He was a 17th-century Lutheran believer who became disenchanted with what he saw as the coldness and empty formality of the Lutheran church. In response to this, Spener called for a rebirth of experiential Christianity, that is, a Christianity in which believers had an actual experience of conversion and grace that gave way to lives of true holiness. Spener sought to create a collegia pietatis (pious assembly) within the church: small groups of intensely-committed Christians who would seek actually to live out the Christian faith. The Wikipedia article on Spener offers a nice summary.

Spener wanted to strengthen and renew the church through the development of more knowledgeable and devoted members. In his Pia Desideria, he gave six proposals of how to enact this reform: (1) to more thoroughly acquaint believers with Scripture by means of private readings and study groups in addition to preaching; (2) to increase the involvement of laity in all functions of the church; (3) to emphasize that believers put into practice their faith and knowledge of God; (4) to approach religious discussions with humility and love, avoiding controversy whenever possible; (5) to ensure that pastors are both well-educated and pious; and (6) to focus preaching on developing faith in ordinary believers.[1]

Now, for some people, “pietism,” the name usually associated with Spener’s movement, is a bad word. It has, for some, connotations of a highly-individualistic, inward-experience-focused brand of legalistic Christianity. Some also point out that Spener’s proposals attempt to create a church within the church, a group of actual Christians among otherwise nominal Christians.

I think, personally, that some of this is unfair to Spener and some of it might have a point. We also need to distinguish at certain points between what Spener was trying to do and what actually happened with some attempts to implement his ideas.

This much seems to be true: Spener appears to have been operating out of an actual, sincere sense of frustration that the churches he knew were not producing disciples. Furthermore, Spener seems to have understood clearly that the church is called to be a called-out and holy people. So whatever faults he might have had, I do not think Spener’s overall project of wanting to see the church renewed was a bad one. In fact, I think his overall desire was one with which the apostle Paul would likely have been sympathetic. After all, in Philippians 1:27–30, Paul appears to be calling the church to greater devotion, to unity, to Christlikeness, and to holiness in their lives. Let us see how Paul does this.

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