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Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. - Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)
If anyone ever writes a book about my life, I hope it’s my best friend. Jamie would tell the story with flair, humor, and omit the parts that don’t paint me in the best light. Oh, she knows those parts, alright. A friend for over 35 years, she was there when most of them happened! You know how it goes… at some point you just have to remain friends because you know too much on each other, right?
More than that, we’re connected with deep, spiritual bonds. We forged our faith and pinned our hope on Jesus together as young women. We grew leaps and bounds as we trudged through mission fields. We’ve walked through the fire of life’s trials, fully present in each other’s best days and darkest moments. We’re so unified, her husband often jokes that we share a brain! Jamie is my kindred-spirit friend.
It’s this kind of unity I believe Jesus wants for all of us. One of the hallmarks of the early Church was the way in which they “had each other’s backs,” so to speak. The message of the Gospel spread like wildfire as a result of their fortified focus, their unified community. Acts 2:44 declares, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.”
Why do you suppose that existed? Was it because it was so easy to do? No. Was it because they never had anything to disagree about? Nope. Or were they so filled and focused on things of the Spirit that they were able to let go of anything that got in the way of the mission? They lacked nothing. They faced their fears together.
Friend, where unity abounds, fear disappears.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. - Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
I’m not exaggerating when I say my grandchildren are brilliant and beautiful. Well, not much anyway. They’re truly adorable. I’m sure yours are, too.
Recently, my granddaughter was visiting for the weekend. She is creative and spunky, breaking into song any moment she has a captive audience. She’s headed for the stage someday, I’m sure. Following one particularly dramatic concert, I wrapped her up in my arms, saying, “Charlie, do you know how cute you are?”
To which she gave a heavenward look and replied with equal attitude, “Mimi, I look in the mirror sometimes!” At seven, that one has the eye-roll capability of a fully formed teenager! Listen, I pray she never loses that confidence, but I pray as well that it’s tempered with a little humility! After a few intentional conversations, she now tells us that to be beautiful is to be strong and kind and to show Jesus’ love to everyone. Whew!
Humility is a hallmark of the Christ-follower. Paul, the author of Philippians, had a resume for being a Jew with which few could compete. Yet he called all his accomplishments rubbish in comparison to knowing and serving Christ. Skubalon in the Greek, the word translated “rubbish,” actually means something else. Translators were being nice. It really means “dung, excrement.” Poo.
Whatever we think we have talent for, however, we excel, wherever our abilities rise above the average … it’s all poo, friends. When we stack it up against the incomparably right attitude of Jesus. It will always get in the way of establishing God’s Kingdom, dividing us along lines of accomplishment rather than availability.
Where humility leads, harmony follows. And the cause of Christ is advanced.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)
There’s a little song I learned as a child. It teaches a great lesson: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
A beautiful description of the ministry and personality of Jesus, today’s passage is actually thought to be an early hymn, sung by Messianic Jews at Passover and Communion. Its content is made up of specific and unusual Greek wording that depicts how Jesus demonstrated what God desires each of us to emulate. We don’t have to figure this whole thing out, friends. We just need to follow the Leader.
In your relationships with one another… empty yourself of yourself. You’re not so hot anyway. Shed that old skin. Let go of your coolness. It will lighten your spirit and lessen the stress of keeping up with what amounts to nonsense. The phrase “he made himself nothing” actually means He emptied Himself of His own glory.
In your relationships with one another… take the very nature of a servant. Do things that have absolutely no benefit to you whatsoever. And don’t tell anyone you’ve done them. Let it be a little secret between you and Jesus.
In your relationships with one another… be obedient. No matter the cost. No matter the outcome. Be obedient. I wish I were more nuanced, but sometimes we just need the basics. If God says do it, do it. If He says don’t do it, don’t do it.
What could happen inside our relationships if we simply followed the example Jesus set? Little things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What could change in the culture if they saw those attributes in us? Well, everything.
… by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Still singing, aren’t you?
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. - Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
Here in the midst of the Winter Olympics, I’m in awe of those athletes who have trained relentlessly to be the best in their sports. They’re laser-focused on winning, so they’re willing to do the work that sets them apart from the pack. When I watched the figure skating short programs, I almost chewed my nails off when the fella from the U.S. didn’t land his quadruples! Then that poor Russian kid fell on every single jump! My manicure was ruined!
In this passage, Paul calls us to action. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” Now, don’t go thinking you ever work for your salvation. Or toward it. Salvation has occurred and isn’t fragile. He’s simply asking us to get serious about it. Really serious. Work out your salvation. The Greek verb “work” here means “bring to full completion.”
Listen, friend. Think hard about the fact that God has chosen to redeem and restore ALL that you brought into the equation. And if the thought of His kindness toward you doesn’t then make you fall to your knees, weeping… well, you might have a gratitude deficit. Paul’s good news here is that we have help -- from God Himself. He “works in you to will and to act…”
Focused, determined, proud of who and what they represent, Olympians never give up. Even when they fall or fail. They get back up and finish the course. We could take a lesson from them when it comes to working out our faith, our salvation. Are we so laser-focused on winning the world to Christ, that we will abandon anything that hinders us from completing our mission?
Do the work. Then run the race in awestruck wonder.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. - Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV)
My mom raised five kids. The noise level of our home was deafening at times. Come to think of it, we’re still pretty loud people. With our dad a military officer, the parenting often fell to Little Mama.
I was certain she had a hearing problem. I’d tug on her, calling her name, repeatedly. Zero acknowledgment! Finally, a sigh escaped her. Glancing at me, she’d say, “George. Tom. Harry. Call me anything but Mom.” Imagine five different voices all day long. Mom. Mom. Mom.
Then there were the days she spent her energy pulling us off each other, someone crying because someone pushed someone or hit someone or, horror of horrors, bit someone! Multiply it by five and you’ve got any given day for her. We grumbled. We argued. She refereed. I’m pretty sure the only thing that salvaged her sanity was that we had super early bedtimes!
I wonder sometimes if that isn’t how God feels. He has to look down on us, grumbling and arguing -- kvetching -- over small, petty matters. He must shake His head and think, “Will they ever get it?”
Grumbling is a distinct word. It is to mumble or murmur, expressing dissatisfaction. It’s the same word describing the Jews wandering in the desert. Their grumbling kept them going in an endless circle, instead of reaching their God-designed destination.
We have places to go, friends. It is ever toward looking more and more like Jesus. Paul has spoken a powerful word to us. Change any attitude that smacks of complaining, bitterness, dissatisfaction. Grumbling and arguing are always in the way of blameless and pure.
Get this one right? We’ll shine like stars. How do we do it? Hold tightly to the Word of Life. Let’s get this one right. Among us. Starting today.
Anything less is a waste of time. And time is short, y’all. Tick, tock.