Mid-Week Musing 4/10/18
2 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, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
There will be many weeks when you will come into church wondering what the text I might be preaching about will be. However, some weeks are a lock. Christmas, Easter, and Palm Sunday.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Lectionary—which is a suggested set of scriptures to be considered for that day—aren’t listed. It is just that they aren’t ever used—at least not on that day.
Such is the case with the passage from Philippians. It is the other New Testament lesson for this Sunday. In my study I also discovered this passage is the other New Testament text for every Palm Sunday. While the story of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem will change from Gospel to Gospel, each year this text remains the same.
So perhaps there is something for us to learn from it as we approach Holy Week.
The 2 things that come to mind for me as I look at this are these:
#1. We need one another.
The text begins Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…The you in this line interestingly enough is plural. If I was translating it, I would say if ya’ll have any... It is not just about my being united with Jesus it is about us together.
Shirley Guthrie was a longtime theology professor at Columbia Seminary and writer of the iconic book Christian Doctrine. He once said, “It is impossible to be Christian by yourself. If the central tenet of this faith is to love, then there has to be someone we love. We can’t love in isolation. So Christian faith is unavoidably life together.”
Again and again scripture teaches us that God creates humanity so that we might be in relationship with one another. And those relationships are not limited to those just like us. We need to be open to all. The human experience is about life together. It is not good to be alone. This is a truth we know at our very core.
#2. The people of faith should strive to live and work together in unity with one another.
As we continue to read this letter of Paul, we see the text goes on to say that within these relationships, we should be united in our love for Christ and one another.
Will Willamon, who is a Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School at Duke University, says the following.
“There's a lot we don't know about Christ. But one thing we know for sure is that He brought people together. He begins His ministry by assembling twelve disciples, people who had nothing in common with one another except that Christ had called them to walk with Him. Jesus got into trouble for uniting despairing sinners and presumptuous saints. He saves us by assembling us, by putting us in a group, by teaching us to call those whom the world regards as strangers or enemies as ‘sister,’ ‘brother.’ Anybody who says, ‘Love one another...bless those who persecute you...pray for your enemies’ has got to be somebody inclined toward unity, reconciliation, union, communion, community.”
Now I don’t think that Paul means everyone must agree on everything in the church. Our diversity in not only genetic characteristics but our preferences and thoughts are part of God’s beautiful creation.
Instead I believe Paul is saying that we must at least have a like mind by “valuing others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Paul then points to Jesus, who as God incarnate chose to be a servant for the entire world, as our greatest example of how to live our lives.
Beyond the understanding that our lives are incomplete unless we live as a community which is focused on serving others more than self, I also think that Paul was being pragmatic in understanding what was necessary to grow the church.
Studies of church growth show that churches in conflict, churches suffering divisions, don't grow. "People do not affiliate with a conflicted organization," observes one church consultant.
Paul knew that the church at Philippi and everywhere else needed to both have a unified mission and be on a mission. And that mission should be loving God and loving neighbors.
If we as a family of faith will do this—show our love of God by serving others and proclaim we are doing this because of faith in Christ, the church will grow. The growth may or may not be in membership, but it will surely also be in our closeness to God and one another.