Philippians 2 is like a deep well I can’t find the bottom of. I keep dropping stones down it, listening for them to hit ground, but all I get is silence as if its depth is never-ending.
If I could define my life with one passage; if when I die they would say of me, “He did this one passage well.” I would want that passage to be Philippians 2.
“He was a miserable failure in life. He didn’t do anything right. He died penniless, friendless, and alone. He raped the horses, rode off on the women, and pruned the hedges of many small villages (to quote Three Amigos)…but he lived Philippians 2 to the hilt!” That is all I would need as a eulogy. I would be happy.
That is how important Philippians 2 has become to me.
It starts with this massive build up.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion…”
I imagine in my mind Paul standing in front of a huge modern church saying, “Listen gang, if you’ve gotten anything out of your time in this church at all, if you’ve gleaned anything out of this whole Jesus stuff you’ve been doing, if you’ve been enjoying these worship services, if you’ve been participating in ministries, if you’ve been challenged by my sermons, if you’ve liked a worship song, received a warm fuzzy, ate a good brownie at small group, or even giggled at some point…seriously anything at all, then listen up…”
Paul then drops the thesis statement, “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”
That is a pretty huge statement. “Make my joy complete.” It’ a “if you could only do one thing for me for the rest of your life it would be…” statement.
And what is that one thing?
That they (the followers of Christ in Philippi) are united, like-minded, with one spirit and purpose. Simply put, that they are all defined by the same thing.
I feel like much of my time in ministry has been spent working on this concept of definition. What does it mean to be the church? Every where I go the question hangs in the air? Who are we? What are followers of Jesus supposed to be known for?
I’ve been part of the church in town that had the amazing music program. I’ve been part of church that had the incredible communicator who seemed to speak directly to you every Sunday and rip your heart from your throat. I’ve been part of church that did small groups like no one else, or the church that did amazing work in the community, or the one that served the poor, of the one that thought out of the box, or the one that put on crazy programs that wowed and amazed. I’ve been part of the church that had the most fun, or the one that pondered deep theological concepts, or even the one that felt like most like family. But I was never satisfied.
We would arrive, look around, and then ask ourselves, “Really, is this where we were supposed to be?”
I hear this search in others as well. Some pronounce answers with confidence. They write books about it. They hold conferences. They declare, “This is what it means to be the people of God! These concepts! These activities! These actions! This understanding!” Like Charlie dancing in the street, they sing about finding the golden ticket. And the rest of us encourage them, myself included. We are all in search of the magic bullet. The one thing that will bring the move of God we are all looking for. The one single component we all seem to be missing.
And don’t get smug with me right now and say something trite like, “Jesus should define you.” Jerk. What does that mean? As if the personhood/diety combo of the messiah is an easy concept of grasp.
“Oh! Jesus! Crap! Why didn’t I think of that?”
Also, don’t try and throw at me some Mr. Spock sounding jargon about the journey toward Jesus being the key to enlightenment live-long-and-prosper. When I read the Gospels I find a very real guy with dirty hands and feet immersed in the frustrations, pain, politics, and daily grind of life. Sure, there is room for philosophical metaphorical ponderings; but at best they are the gravy in the Gospels not the meat and potatoes.
Sorry…where was I…alright…so we are all looking for it. The one thing, that magic answer, that single definitive statement that explains to us who we are supposed to be.
The whole journey is a little funny to me. I’ve searched for it as if it was hidden. As if it were some invisible easter egg God, the Big Bad Easter Bunny, had hidden in the back yard under a rock. But it was right there in Philippians 2 all along. And again in Matthew 22. And in 1st John 4. Come to think of it…it is all over the book. I just couldn’t see it.
What is that defining characteristic?
In Philippians Paul actually says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” But simply put – love others.
It’s not about a program, worship style, preaching genera, or some other gimic. It’s not about a doctrine, organizational structure, or some other internal strategy. It’s not about a marketing plan, a discipleship process, leadership style, or a membership course. All of those discussions are extra. There is a reason we don’t find any of them in the New Testament.
It is simply about loving other people.
Why has that been so hard for me to see? Why have I chased my tail with such intensity?
There are two things that have gotten in my way.
Two things that I think get in most of our ways.
Selfish ambition and vain conceit.
More on those tomorrow and how they blind me.