Lasting Lessons from Philippians 2
Our study of the book of Philippians continues with a few takeaways from the second chapter.
1) The greatest problem in the church is me (2:3). I allow things in my life that dull my spiritual sensitivity and produce carnality and division in the church. Paul calls this "selfish ambition and conceit." It is hard work to maintain an attitude void of offense toward God and others. It takes a good dose of humility. The middle letter of "sin" is "I," and it is this Big I that causes most of the trouble in our churches.
2) The ultimate solution to the greatest problem in the church is Christ (2:5). We must have the same mind that was also in Christ Jesus. The secret of the early church is simply that it was Christ-directed and Spirit-filled. We need to return to the absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches. Are we ready to trash our plans if He decrees otherwise? To know Christ, to have His mind, to experience the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering -- that alone will keep us from wallowing in sin and selfishness.
3) The way up is down (2:6-11). Contrary to popular notions, our Father is pleased when His children cease striving after status, recognition, and honors. Our supreme business as Christians is not success but submission. What matters is that we have the mind of Christ, which means, first and foremost, taking a towel and water and washing the disciples' feet. From status to service! From majesty to meniality! From standing tall to bending low! We must live as He lived who took the form of a servant. True followers of Jesus not only sing, they serve.
4) Obedience is required (2:12). It is not enough to make a good start in the Christian life. Demas started well but ended poorly. John Mark started poorly but ended well (2 Tim. 4:10-11). Let us remain faithful and grow in our obedience to Christ. It is not enough to hate worldly things. We must love what God loves, go where He sends us, and spend time on what matters most to Him.
5) Obedience is enabled (2:13). It is God who is producing in us both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him. What would you do for Christ if you could? Or if you dared? God delights in using weak but yielded vessels. Together, verses 12 and 13 take care of a lot of questions about which the saints have differed. At the end of the day, our obedience to Christ is both required and enabled. It is both our responsibility and God's responsibility. All He asks is that we stay in tune with His Spirit. The power of God is not some exclusive enablement for pastors and missionaries. You and I can do all things through Christ. God is able to make all grace abound to us, no matter who we are. We are, every one of us, promised strength for the day.
6) Stop complaining (2:14)! Even when nothing works out according to our plans. Even when things don't make sense. Even when demons dance in glee. We can rejoice and praise God anyhow.
7) Am I "holding forth the word of life" (2:16)? Living as we do in a church culture of constant activity, it would be good policy to stop once in a while and find out why we are here. Our business as Christians is not to hoard our blessings but to share them with others. The early church had a deep sense of mission. They were not looking for comfort or honor or rewards. They were ready for dungeon, fire, and sword. They realized there was only one way of salvation, one life-giving word. God born as a baby in a feeding trough and dying between two thieves on a blood-spattered cross -- there is no other way to God! There are no simpler words to state the responsibility of the church than Paul's words: "holding forth the word of life."
8) Make room in your life for trouble (2:17). We cannot preach the cross and not share in it. Suffering is inherent in the very nature of the Christian experience. Jesus grappled with the ugly, the sordid, the hideous, and if we are to follow Him we too must grapple with a bruised and suffering society. Our proving ground is the world, not the church. Great soldiers are developed in battle, not on parade. Paul poured himself out for others, and so must we. It is a decadent generation that cannot endure sound doctrine and heaps to itself teachers who promise nothing but health and wealth. Our Lord, when He lived among us, worked tirelessly and died on a cross. He never meant to leave us smug and self-satisfied. A comfortable Christian is an oxymoron.
August 18, 2011
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.