Saturday, November 07, 2009

Devotional: Phil. 2:14-18

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, so that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith I rejoice, and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, in the same way rejoice, and share your joy with me.

There's a lot to our work to be a community in unity. In fact, as Paul makes clear here, it has eternal significance.

Wow. It's one thing to think about how our selfishness and pettiness affects things in the temporal realm. But to realize that how we treat each other will be part of what is shown in heaven as proof that those who brought us the gospel did not do so in vain. Kind of makes the color of the carpet pale in significance!

For the Philippians, the lack of harmony was manifested in grumbling and disputing. This passage does have an outward view in terms of our relationships in the world, but the primary focus is the church. The words speak of an undertone - an undertone of secret whisperings (grumbling) and debate with an undertone of suspicion or doubt (disputing). Paul isn't saying not to ask questions or discuss our differences. He's saying that we should trust each other and stay above board. Differences aired openly can lead to growth, diversity, and unity; differences taken under the surface lead to dissension and divisiveness. John puts it this way: "Walk in the light as He is in the light."

Avoiding such undertones demonstrates who we are in Christ - that we are in the process of becoming blameless and innocent. That is important, because the world will always be crooked (in the sense of turning away from the truth) and perverse (twisting the truth). It is in that context that we are able to make the biggest difference. We can't isolate ourselves from the world. Instead, we need to be ready to engage the world by showing forth who He is. That's why the text says we "appear" as lights int he world. It's the fact of appearing that is in mind here, not the act of shining. That's important, because really we don't shine. He shines through us.

As we appear with His glory shining through us, we have something to offer the world: God's Word of life. "Holding fast" means "holding forth so as to offer" - it was used of offering wine to a houseguest. As they held forth the word of life Paul would have even more reason to glory, as more converts in other places came about through the multiplied efforts of this church he started.

Finally, Paul refers to his efforts in their lives as being "poured out". Here the reference is to pagan Greek religion, where a drink offering was poured directly on a sacrifice. Paul is living out his teaching about consider others as more important here; with humility he puts their life and service as the main sacrifice and his life as the lesser part. Essentially he recognizes that as they take the word of life, greater works are being done through them than he could have done alone - and he rejoices in it. This is so consistent with Jesus' words in John 14:12 that the one who believes in Him will do greater works "because I am going to the Father." Jesus isn't saying we are greater than Him, He is just recognizing the impact of multiplication in the kingdom of God. Through praying, giving, and going, we all have more impact than one. Paul's converts could have more impact than him, if they kept their focus on the mission and not on the things that could easily divide them.

And then we come to the word that many use to characterize Paul's theme in Philippians: "rejoice". One final key to unity is mutual rejoicing. We should rejoice when other believers find their ministry, go to a new country, have a successful conversation with a non-believer. We should not nit-pick their methods, criticize them for the cultural adaptations they have to make, or become envious that God used them instead of us! Even in rejoicing, we should keep the kingdom in mind.

So we come to the end of Philippians 2:1-18. I don't know about you but this has been challenging - not because of the memory work (which I have managed to complete, thank you Lord) but because of the content. It's hard to come face to face with the need to confront my selfishness, my grumbling, the things I do that hinder unity. But it is needed. Because at the end of the day, I want to be all about advancing God's kingdom purposes. And we do that as a community. I'm grateful Paul has given us so much guidance to help stir us in that direction!

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