We are never meant to read scripture only with our mind. There are many parts of the Bible that require us to engage emotionally with the message. When Abraham is told to sacrifice his “only son—the one whom you love,” we are on the edge of our seat, struggling emotionally alongside Abraham. And it’s on the basis of these emotions that we are meant to understand in some way what the death of Jesus meant to God.
In order to understand the emotions behind this letter to the Philippian church (and it is a very emotional letter), we need to sympathize with Paul’s situation. It had been four years since the Philippian Christians had seen Paul. They had heard rumors about Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his travel to Rome to appear before Caesar. Had he been released? Had he been killed?
They eagerly awaited more news, and at last this letter arrives! Paul’s words quickly confirm all the terrible things which they had heard. Paul is imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial. And yet…in 1:12-14, Paul is basically saying, “Don’t worry. Everything is going according to plan!”
Paul takes joy in his suﬀering because he sees that the difficult things happening to him have actually advanced the gospel in 3 ways:
THE CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE
While being held under what we would call house arrest, diﬀerent members of the praetorian guard would be responsible for keeping him in chains. These guards were also official bodyguards for the emperor, so it is no small thing when Paul says that “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ.” The gospel is being preached in the heart of the Roman Empire with incredible results. In the last few verses of this letter, Paul tells the Philippian Christians that “all the saints send you greetings, especially those belonging to Caesar’s household” (4:22). His captivity has carried the gospel to places even Paul hadn’t expected.
Next, Paul says that his life in chains has given confidence to many brothers so that they are speaking the word or God fearlessly. Paul modeled Christian confidence, and it inspired believers who were in need of confidence. He isn’t whining about his situation. He isn’t complaining about the limitations of discipling while he’s imprisoned. He isn’t even complying about his critics who are trying to make his situation worse. He is rejoicing, because none of this is stopping the gospel message.
As young as she was, the church in Rome was struggling. The church was divided by jealousy, strife, and prejudice. Christians from a Jewish background often refused to cooperate with Christians from non-Jewish background. Many teachers fought to build their own platform while selfishly tearing down gifted teachers like Paul.
In all of this, Paul does not say that these preachers (1:15, 17) are anti-Christ, but he makes it clear that they are anti-Paul. Sadly, it is all too easy to find contemporary examples of these same problems among believers today. Jealousy within churches. Jealousy among national leaders. Denominations refusing to cooperate for the spread of the gospel and strengthening of common goals.
If Satan can’t stop the gospel from advancing, he will destroy it from the inside. But the good news is such good news that it can still proceed despite false motives. This is good for us when we are frustrated with the false motives of others and when we are blind to our own selfish motives.
This type of anger and jealousy has no place in the family of God. In fact, it weakens the impact of the gospel on our society. Plant bitterness, and you grow bitter fruit. For these Roman Christians, their bitterness and rivalry caused such a problem in Rome that Christians were expelled from the city during the rule of Claudius (Acts 18:2). Envy later led some Christians to denounce Paul and, as a result, Paul and perhaps others were executed under Emperor Nero.
“Never in the history of the world have opportunities been greater for the proclamation of the gospel. Yet never has the believing church been more irrelevant or divided.” – James Montgomery Boice, Philippians
What motivates you? Would you say that you are self – motivated? Are you chasing words of affirmation from others? Maybe you struggle with a lack of motivation!
In 1:20-30, Paul is trying to explain to the Philippian church what his deepest internal motivation is. He wants them to see that the Christian life is not primarily driven by external results. Internal motives are what drive us. 1:20 is meant to remind us of Romans 12:1. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.”
Worship—seeing, treasuring, and saying that God is worth it all. Can you say that your life demonstrates a conscious expression of how great and glorious God is. Do your inward motives and outward actions show how worth it all Jesus is?
IS JESUS WORTH IT ALL?
This is the great challenge of 1:21. If you substitute anything else for the word “Christ” here, then you cannot say that death is gain. If you are living to meet the person of your dreams, get married, and live happily ever after, death is not gain. If you are living to accumulate wealth and retire in comfort, death is not gain. Death will rob you of the things for which you have been living.
Not so for Paul. Paul was caught between two joys. He loves to teach, helping the church grow “joy in the faith,” but he longs to finish his work here and join Christ —“which is far better.”
Most of us would struggle to say that we are caught between two joys. Instead, we are caught between two things we don’t want. We’re weary of living and fearful of dying. A lot of this weariness comes from using weak motives to achieve disappointing goals.
I remember seeing a post a while back: “No oﬀense but what is like……the point. Are we just supposed to work and buy coﬀee and listen to podcasts until we die. I’m bored.” It hurts when we live life without an eternal perspective. It makes us think our story is the most important. Our problems are the biggest. We live with very little drive and determination because we have put the goal posts too close. Paul lives like there is something better than life itself, and something worse than death.
Our internal motivation for daily life should be worship—knowing, treasuring, and showing the worth of God. Cherishing Christ as gain. More gain than family, career, retirement, fame, food, friends. I show the worth of God, when in my death I am satisfied with him—when I experience death as gain because I gain him.
We should view our lives as film strip. Most movies are digital now, but think about film strip and cinema projectors for a minute. There is nothing impressive about a film strip itself. It’s just a long series of seemingly separate events. The plastic film receives no recognition for a great film. The person who gets the praise is the one who orchestrates the scenes of the film.
There is freedom in a life motivated singularly by the worship of God. It frees us to labor in obscurity. It’s not about me discovering who I am, but rather who I am in Christ. As Paul says in 1:27, “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The light of Christ will shines through us now for a time. One day, forever, we will see his light fully.
In 2007, Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth $3.5 million at a subway station. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play. As we now turn to one of the high points of the entire Bible, we must not rush past Jesus.
Philippians 2:6-11 appears to be an early hymn or poetic creed, perhaps used in ancient church worship. In these few verses we see the great sweep of Christ’s life from eternity past to eternity future, and we are admitted to the breathtaking purposes of God in human salvation. This text has both deep theology and practical implications.
HUMILITY IS PERSONIFIED BY CHRIST
While these verses are full of meaningful theology, we must remember that Paul’s purpose is not primarily to teach a lesson on doctrine. Facing divisions and infighting in the church, Paul sings gospel music, because he wants the church to treasure this truth and live out the humility of Jesus.
2:5-8, highlight the astonishingly giving nature of Jesus. He did not consider his position with God as a means for getting but for giving. Contrast this with some of the verses believed to speak of Satan’s desire to “ascend to heaven” and make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12-14). The chief evil, desiring to possess heaven and earth, leads humanity away from God to misery and death. Jesus, setting aside these things, living and dying in humility, leads humanity back to God into freedom and life!
2:9-11, show us the meaning of history and the future that awaits. The humble life and death of Jesus are not only the means of restoration for humanity, but this is also the lens that lets us understand the rest of the Bible.
HUMILITY PROTECTS THE FAMILY OF GOD
Study this ancient hymn carefully, but don’t miss how it illustrates Paul’s message to the Philippian church. Notice where this passage is located in the letter. It looks back to the previous verses on church unity (2:1-4), and it looks ahead through 2:18 on how we should live like this in public. But let’s be honest “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves”—that’s a pretty tall order. Here are 3 steps toward humility that will keep the family of God united and eﬀective.
The first step to acquiring humility is to (1) admit that you are proud. Not a small step. This is not a conclusion that you will ever reach on your own. The Spirit of God will convince you of your pride, but don’t be surprised if God sends a Christian friend to call it to your attention. I will never forget a dear mentor who sat be down to tell me how my prideful actions had hurt him and his wife. His perspective blindsided me. The truth was painful, but it healed the relationship and helped me grow.
Admit your pride and then (2) take conscious steps toward humility. You may feel like this is impossible, but Peter instructs us to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:5–6). Just make sure your eﬀorts to be humble are not a source of pride!
In order to maintain this momentum in the battle against self-centeredness, (3) study the way of Jesus every day. Memorize Philippians 2:6-11. Let it sink into your bones. He is the model and the means toward growth.
HUMILITY PREACHES THE GOSPEL
This idea is going to expanded in the next session, so we’ll conclude with this thought. You would be wrong if you read verses 6-11 and came away with the conclusion that Jesus humbled himself only for your salvation. There is a universe spanning plan at work here. Not universal salvation, but universal confession. And the astounding thing is that we have a part to play!
“For you were called to this, because Christ also suﬀered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
In an article on John Newton, John Piper reported a vivid illustration of the need to meditate on what we have in Christ and what we have coming in the future in order to put trials in their proper perspective…
“Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”
The previous session puts the beauty of Christ and salvation in clear view before us, now Paul challenges his readers to obediently continue on to maturity by the power of God’s enabling grace.
This church’s obedience was on display in its early days, but now Paul is looking for signs of their maturity through a steadfast obedience. We are all called to more than a singular moment of faith. The language of 2:12 is not about the means of salvation but the need for finishing the work that begins at salvation. (Luke 9:62; 2 Peter 1:3-8)
Our ability to faithfully pursue obedience is directly tied to our perspective of God. If we have a high view of God, then we will have awe-inspired obedience. Inspiration isn’t enough though. Watching a documentary on the Iron Man Triathlon, I may be inspired to compete, but that doesn’t mean I have the ability to race! Christians also need the means to obey. But Paul says that God takes care of that too (2:13).
I’m tall enough that when my kids were little, I’d pick them up so that they could “dunk” a basketball. They’ll happily boast of this accomplishment like they did it all on their own. Paul wants to remind us that even in the good we do, our eﬀorts are feeble and secondary. It is God giving us not only the strength but the desire for the task. And just like me and my kids, it pleases God to work this way.
What does it look like to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? It’s about everyday obedience to a lifestyle that honors God, but it is also grounded in an attitude that honors God. It may surprise us to see Paul’s only concrete example of this attitude is expressed by avoiding “grumbling and arguing.” What are we supposed to make of the all-inclusive command to “do everything” without grumbling and arguing? Why would he mention this as a serious temptation?
Christian perseverance is hard. Discipleship is not an easy road. I get frustrated by my own selfishness, laziness, and discontentment. When you bring in connecting with friends, loving my spouse, raising my kids, and discipling…we are all tempted to complain.
But once again, we go to the gospel for joy. The gospel tells us that we are far better oﬀ than we deserve. It tells us that people who cause us pain are also in pain and need grace. When we lose sight of the gospel, we are sticking our head in a hole. We live in an amazing world and no one is happy. The world complains—Christians rejoice.
God is at work in every conversation, every group text, and every phone call. He is empowering his children to speak in a way that glorifies Him and welcomes people into His family. We must rely on his grace to speak in ways that are gracious and appropriate.
Is your speech diﬀerent? Does your lack of complaining, teasing, and mocking make your life shine. Paul says this happens when you “hold firm to the Word of life.” Hold firm to what can keep you safe.
In 2:16-18, Paul models confidence in the joy that comes from obedience. The long race—the hard work—it’s all worth it. This “drink oﬀering” that Paul is comparing himself too is like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae or sprinting the last 40 yards to the finish line. He has given his all, but he takes joy in finding a little more strength to give.
Paul was called to serve people, and we see him now joyfully writing to all of these believers while he’s chained to a guard. Your salvation is not primarily about you. It’s about the people that you can help and lead to the truth.
The world didn’t give you this joy and they can’t take it away. Your friends didn’t give you true joy and they can’t take it away. A boyfriend or girlfriend is not your ultimate source of joy and they can’t take it away. A life of joyful obedience is a shining light to the world around us.
What matters to you more, your character or your reputation? Your reputation—the opinions that others generally hold about you—is mostly out of your control. Spending all of your energy propping up your reputation for the benefit of others will leave you drained. It feels like chasing your tail.
Your character on the other hand—the mental and moral qualities distinctive to you—is in your control. Character is who you are when no one is looking. These internal choices that we make, the choices that no one but God sees, truly define us. The Bible cares a great deal about our character, because who we are on the inside will make its way into our words and actions.
“A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Lk 6:45)
If you watch over your character, God will take care of your reputation. The gospel message we speak must be seen in our actions. We have to show that the message has meat. In 2:19-30, Timothy and Epaphroditus provide examples of humble, Christ-like character.
Paul plans to send Timothy to the church in Philippi so that Timothy can report on them. What Paul has to say about this young man displays a reputation supported by Christ-like humility.
Timothy’s character was uncommon. (2:21)
Timothy’s character was proven. (2:22a)
Timothy’s character served the gospel. (2:22b)
Just as your reputation is informed by your character, the reputation of the church is informed by God’s people. The church needs young people like Timothy to live their lives so that the work of the church does not appear empty.
“…train yourself in godliness. For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Ti 4:7-8)
The church is not supposed to look like a college football game—40,000 people watching while 22 people do all the work. We need fewer commentators, fewer spectators, and more participants. In 2:25-30, Paul affirms the visible character of Epaphroditus.
Paul calls E, who was Greek, a brother because there is level ground at the cross. The church in Philippi started with a rag tag group of people from very diﬀerent socio-economic backgrounds—a wealthy businesswoman, a freed slave girl, and a blue-collar jailor (Acts 16)—but all are one family.
Paul calls E a coworker. We work for the same boss and there is plenty of work for everyone—“the harvest is plentiful.” There is no need to snipe other people’s work or be jealous of someone else’s success.
Paul calls E a soldier. We are at war to win victory after victory against innumerable foes (Eph 6:12) while also guarding against internal threats from false teachers. In the next chapter, we learn a little bit about these “evil workers.”
Paul calls E a messenger. He literally says, “your apostle.” He is an ambassador of the Gospel from Philippi to Paul. He helps bring gospel-centered encouragement to someone in need.
Paul calls E a minister. If there is any honor in being called an ambassador of the gospel, there is little honor in being called a minister. A minister was called to the common services of worship in the temple. E simply carried some money from Philippi to Rome. His faithfulness to common tasks shows an uncommon, desirable character.
Following Jesus can be costly. For Epaphroditus it was health. It may be health, family, money, conflict…there is a cost. Those who take on this cost are to be received with joy and honor by other Christians, because it’s how they will be received by Jesus.
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.” (Mt 25:21)
This new section of the letter gives repeated commands to “watch out” for people who have missed the heart of the gospel. These “evil workers” are very diﬀerent from Timothy and Epaphroditus, because they put confidence in their pedigree, status, and outward righteousness.
HOW TO LOSE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF
Paul is saying this a good thing. These “evil workers” put too much confidence in themselves and things that are temporary. Paul pulls out his CV in order to show that his inherited privileges of religion, race/ethnicity, position, and pedigree/rank, nor his accomplishments, religious commitment, zeal, and morality give him any confidence.
Paul was stripped of all these things. The only thing standing was the privileges and accomplishments of Jesus.
In order to gain something you have to give up something. Eternal disappointment awaits those who take joy in these things which are temporary. We are all guilty of placing way too much confidence in things other than Christ.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
HOW TO KNOW CHRIST
In 3:7-11, we find not only a summary of Paul’s theology, but also his entire motivation for life. Paul mentions Christ 9 times in the next 5 verses. In verse 7 he says that everything in his life that he thought should go in the credit column (3:5-6) has been moved to the debit column. It’s all been a loss. The only thing left in the credit column—the only thing of any value—is knowing Christ and understanding what it means to be found “in Him.”
Justification: Trust Christ Alone for Your Righteousness
Here’s the problem. Only righteous people gain eternity with God. But none of us is righteous (Rom 3:9-18). We need something that we can never get and will never deserve. Our only hope is found in Christ. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co 5:21).
Paul makes two important points in 3:9 regarding this “righteousness.” (1) It is a gift from God and (2) it is received by faith. So many people assume that God grades on a curve and that they’ll fall into the “good enough” category. Please hear this…your best will never be good enough. Paul confidently says that according to what the world considers good—he was perfect. But when he caught a clearer perspective on God’s definition of righteousness, he knew that it was all worthless. We all must trust in Christ alone.
Sanctification: Know Christ More & Become More Like Him
In Knowing God by J.I. Packer (a book everyone should read), he says: “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” Everything in life flows from the fountain of knowing God.
Specifically here, though, Paul mentions knowing Christ and “the power of His resurrection” and “the fellowship of his suﬀerings, being conformed to his death.” One of Paul’s unshakeable truths is that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work within believers to make them more like Christ (Eph 1:19; Phil 2:13; Col 1:11-12).
But Paul wants more, he wants to suﬀer on behalf of Christ. This challenges the all to common teachings that Jesus wants us to be safe, happy, and healthy. It’s not that Paul enjoys suﬀering. He just knows that when you follow the Man of Sorrows, we, too, will encounter suﬀering and sorrow. But if we keep following closely, we’ll be right beside Jesus. It will all be worth it.
Glorification: Anticipate Your Resurrection
Paul is not uncertain about his resurrection here. The word “somehow” probably suggests that Paul is uncertain about the timing and circumstance of the experience. Will it be in his lifetime with the return of Jesus? Will he die and rise from the dead with others? He’s not sure, but he longs for this glorious end.
Let this same hope purify you (1 John 3:1-3). Let this hope encourage you in your suﬀerings (Rom 8:18-39). Let this hope help you put all things into perspective.
THE JOYS OF BEING HIDDEN “IN CHRIST”
“But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and justify the the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Ro 3:21–26)
“He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13)
“Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his power known…He saved them from the power of the adversary; he redeemed them from the power of the enemy.” (Ps 106:8–10)
“But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Th 2:13)
“For in my inner self I delight in God’s law, but I see a diﬀerent law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Ro 7:22–24)
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elements of the world. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.” (Ga 4:3–7)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Co 5:17)
““Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. You know the way to where I am going.”” (Jn 14:1–4)
In a 2012 championship race, Italian motorcyclist Ricar do Russo crossed the finish line following a grueling race. Russo was clearly delighted, fist pumping that air and standing up on his bike in celebration. But there was just one problem—he had not actually completed the race. With one lap to go, Russo lost the lead that he had held onto for so long because he started celebrating too early.
There is a danger with misunderstanding the grace of God. Paul and by extension you and I have not reached the goal. Conversion is not the finish line. Conversion is the starting line.
This helps us make sense of our messy lives. God’s desire is for believers who are “in Christ” to look more like Jesus over time. But why are we still so un-Christ-like? The selfishness. The anxiety. The anger. The lust. The doubt. Most days we feel like we’re losing those battles. It’s discouraging. But how do we avoid the other trap of feeling like we are already perfect? There’s nothing that needs to change, and we can just coast through life on grace.
Paul’s perspective in 3:12-21 describes the Christian life, through an intense running analogy, in 4 ways…
WE ARE FOCUSED
The truth of the grace of God is on full display in 3:12. When Paul says that he has been “taken hold of by Christ Jesus,” he is saying Jesus eagerly grabbed us as a victory prize! He, through great eﬀort, has achieved victory over, sin, death, and the enemy. His victory now motivates and empowers our passionate pursuit to know God more each day until we see him face-to-face.
This is not the only time that New Testament writers speak of life as a race. Read 1 Cor 9:24-27 and Heb 12:1-2. Running, exercising self-control, not running aimlessly, not boxing the air, disciplining one’s body—these things require passion and focus. The writer of Hebrews, in a book that emphasizes Christian perseverance, speaks of laying aside anything that doesn’t help us run, as we fix our eyes on Jesus. There is no illusion that the Christian life can be live passively or eﬀortlessly.
Earning is not a good word for Christians because we can’t earn any acceptance or merit before God, but eﬀort is a good word for those who have already been taken hold of by Jesus.
WE ARE FORGETFUL
Consider Paul’s running imagery closely. This passionate run involves forgetting what’s behind and reaching ahead (3:13). Every good runner knows that you can’t look over your shoulder without losing momentum. I used to think that this verse was only about forgetting the failures of the past, but Peter O’Brien in his commentary on Philippians gives the fuller meaning:
“He will not allow either the achievements of the past (which God has wrought) or, for that matter, his failures as a Christian to prevent his gaze from being fixed firmly on the finish line. In this sense he forgets as he runs.
Modern wisdom and psychology forces too high a value on understanding your past. You need a better path. Of course your past has shaped you, but it doesn’t determine your future. Look at the guy who’s writing this letter! He persecuted Christians “to the death” (Acts 22:4)! Yet we don’t find Paul limiting his potential or trying to pay God back for his failures. He simply forgets as he runs, and you can too!
WE ARE FOLLOWING
Some of you reading this probably don’t feel the level of focus that Paul is talking about here. And in 3:15-16, Paul says that’s okay. It’s something that God reveals in time. But God expects you to run at your best pace and look for other Christian runners to follow. Look to those who are further along than you in Christian maturity—live like they live. But when you are focused on Christ, don’t be surprised when others start following you.
WE ARE FARSIGHTED
In 3:18-21, Paul wants us to keep our eyes fix on the significance of eternity. He speaks “with tears” of people who “live as enemies of the cross” and who “focus on earthly things.” They live this life as if it is all that matters. These are people who are trying to run full sprint while looking down at their feet.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, the One who ran for “the joy set before Him” (Heb 12:2). Run for the one who joyfully took hold of you. Every day we’re closer. When we see him, we won’t regret the grinding eﬀort that got us there.
Something is at risk in Philippi. A lack of unity in the believers there is distracting from the gospel message. People who were once coworkers with Paul in growing the church are now bringing the church harm through their infighting. All of Paul’s teachings on putting others first, practicing humility, and not arguing suddenly have very specific application.
Paul starts naming names in the church at Philippi of people who are stirring up trouble, while at the same time calling out the peacemakers to help set these relationships right.
The health of the church body here can be compared to the immune system in the human body. Your body is constantly being attacked by damaging microbes that threaten to disrupt your health. And your body produces white blood cells in order to deal with these threats to your health. If there was no response from your body, the problem would keep growing and growing. Sometimes though, our body’s immune system responds too strongly and it self becomes part of the problem!
It is the presence of conflict with the absence of careful peacemakers at the heart of most church problems.
THE ACTIONS OF A PEACEMAKER
The simplest act of peacemaking might be doing what no one else wants to do. Are there two people that need to talk? Get them together and mediate. Encourage those awkward conversations.
Is someone found to be in danger or caught in illicit activity? It can mean calling the authorities!
Regardless, taking action as a peacemaker means that somebody’s mess just became your mess. This messy work is worth it, though. Not dealing with conflict or hiding mess in the church will undermine the church’s gospel witness in the community. Similarly, in marriage, not dealing with conflict is like throwing stuﬀ in a closet or junk drawer. One day it will demand to be dealt with, and you may fail to handle it well in the moment.
THE EMOTIONS OF A PEACEMAKER
Be humble – You don’t have all the answers. Bring in people with experience and training. Always put scripture in between disagreement.
Be hopeful – Some problems seem impossible. Some bridges look like they’ve been burned and their ashes thrown into the river. But Jesus taught us to pray for impossible things in faith and believe in his “impossible” promises.
Fight discouragement by rejoicing. If you’ve seen one relationship restored, celebrate that. When the lost are found and relationships restored—celebrate.
THE THINKING OF A PEACEMAKER
- Think about the facts of the conflict.
- Think about the people in the conflict.
- Find good things to say about both sides.
- Find agreement “in the Lord.”
THE PATTERNS OF A PEACEMAKER
Model patterns that you want to see in your family and friends. You will never make peace when you’re not trying to. Seek to be a person of peace. Don’t stir the pot. Don’t be passive aggressive. Don’t try to “win” arguments. The only one that wins when Christians argue is the Enemy. There will be times when you are technically right, but isn’t the mission of God worth more than being right.
When you see conflict, do you see an opportunity for the gospel to be preached? Do you see yourself as the means of peace and unity in the presence of conflict? Jesus does. He he has prayed for us to live in unity.
The night before the cross, Jesus prays for unity. He prays for his disciples—a diverse group with little in common— “that they may be one as we are one” (17:11). And then he prays for us—future believers—that “they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you…so that the world may believe you sent me.” (17:21) Christian unity has always been missional. We are living in a moment where we are surrounded by opportunities to exercise Christian unity so that world sees Jesus.
Being a reconciler is about bringing people back to God, but it is also about bringing God’s people back together to live in unity. Because that is the nature of eternity—the family of God at peace, unified in eternal worship. We who confess Jesus as Lord must live expectantly by this truth, and let our graciousness be known to everyone, because as Paul said “The LORD is near.”
Most people find it hard to depend on others. We want independence and freedom. Even the Christian idea “all I need is Jesus” might, at its heart, only be a spiritualized independence. In the closing section of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, Paul expresses his gratitude to God for the church’s support and the rare gift of contentment.
Paul begins this final portion of the letter with another burst of joy thanking God for the generosity of other believers. He receives the gift with thanks to God, because he sees the financial support of gospel ministry as evidence of their love and maturity. In 4:14-16, Paul views them as partners in his work because they put some skin in the game. Even though many of them were not wealthy, they earned a reputation for giving sacrificially, generously, and cheerfully to support mission (2 Cor 8-9).
4:11-13, Paul spends three verses explaining Christian contentment in order to clarify his motivation for receiving financial support. He sets money and circumstance aside in order exalt Jesus as his source of joy and strength. If the philosophy of the day is about contentment as “self-sufficiency,” Paul preaches “Christ-sufficiency.” Christian contentment is about believing that Christ is enough.
Unfortunately, contentment is not something that we just wake up feeling one day. Contentment is learned, often through hardship. Paul knew what abundance was like, but he also went without food. He knew what a nice host home was like, but he also knew nights in prison and days adrift at sea. Paul’s experiences teach us that God wastes nothing. Everything you suﬀer and every gift you’re given is being used to teach you that contentment flows from union with and reliance on Christ (4:13).
Ask yourself this question: Why do you struggle with contentment? Maybe it’s because you have avoided the kinds of opportunities that God uses to teach contentment. Should you be more generous? Spend more time fasting? Go out less?
Here’s another question: Has a lack of contentment made you less flexible to live on mission? Contentment makes you adaptable. How can people leave $100k/yr salaries to take a $30k/yr pastor’s salary? How can people leave it all for the foreign mission field? How can a family open up their home to 3 foster kids? Here’s how: they’re preoccupied with Jesus, not their circumstances. They don’t need a bunch of stuﬀ and the comfort of certainty in their surroundings. Christian contentment is a gift that comes from learning that Jesus is enough and following him in caring for others is satisfying.
“Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.” (Heb 13:5)
The most striking aspect of Paul’s final greeting is at the end of 4:22: “especially those from Caesar’s household.”
Most belief this refers to believers who served in various ways in the emperor’s home. This is a powerful encouragement that the strength of Rome can’t ultimately stop the powers of the gospel.
This remarkable letter is saturated with grace. We need to know this grace more. And as His grace brings us greater joy, let us advance the gospel of grace faithfully and courageously.