Monday, April 04, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: What We Face Together

When someone says they are "looking forward" to something, we generally take that in a positive way.  But truthfully, not everything we look ahead to is a good thing.  A group of Marines about to deploy have much to "look forward to," but most of it isn't good.

And sometimes, even what seems good is accompanied with less pleasant prospects.  A bride and groom standing at their wedding altar, for example, have much to "look forward to."  Some of it is great.  Some of it is horrible.  The issue isn't so much that what they face is good or bad, but that what they face, they face together.

This is also true for any church family.  Two weeks ago we saw where Paul painted a picture for the church at Philippi--a picture of the power of perspective, courage, and focus that comes to any church that finds its ultimate identity in the person of Jesus.  Yesterday, we saw in the closing verses of Chapter 1 some of the things churches that find this kind of solidarity have to look forward to.

1. Confidence.  Paul was certain that, no matter how circumstances transpired around his imprisonment, the Gospel would go forward.  To be sure, he'd much rather be released and have the freedom of movement that would help him be personally involved in the spread of this message.  But either way, he is confident, not only that his circumstances can't hinder the spread of Jesus' message, but also that his circumstances can't stop his own spiritual growth and progress.

When we stand in the fullness of the faith Jesus provides for us, there is absolutely nothing that can shake our confidence or stunt our spiritual growth.  Even when the water is over our heads, our confidence in our Lord grows.

2. Contentment.  Paul is going to speak a LOT more about contentment later in the letter, but his basis for everything he will say later is expressed clearly in verse 21, which may be the most powerful statement in all of his correspondence to Philippi!

We talk a lot in our culture about "quality of life."  Usually those conversations are related to health care, mental health, maintaining a certain standard of living, and having peace of mind.  But the darker side of those conversations are fueled by fear of economic adversity that takes away our ability to live at a certain standard, or adverse health that limits our mobility, or even to be able to think clearly and be in our right minds.

Paul dispenses with that fear with four words: "To live is Christ."  That is the greatest quality of life statement in all of history, because it enables him to say "its OK if I'm in a prison cell.  Its OK that I don't know my own future.  Its OK that the circumstances surrounding me are completely out of my control, because the essence of life only consists in union with and devotion to Jesus.  He is my whole being!"

What would it look like for an entire church to be filled with people who assume this attitude? What power would exist in the midst of one body of believers saying in unison "Our whole life is Christ!"  That's a powerful picture of a contented people.

3. Blessing.  We in the Christian community talk a lot about "being blessed.  We hashtag the term on social media, emblazzen it on T-shirts and tatoos.  But what does it really mean?

For most of us, our default is to use this word to describe when our lives are going well.  I have a tax-refund coming and don't have to pay, so I"m "blessed."  I got the promotion, so I'm "blessed."

Though its not inaccurate to use the word in that way, using it only in that way is a failure to grasp the depth of what it means.  Paul is describing a life of blessing, which he defines as a statement of contentment that allowed him to see God's work in absolutely everything--including his own hardship, persecution, or even execution.  Verses 22-24 are a picture of the most positive internal struggle that can take place. In the end, Paul expresses a feeling of "blessing" that is completely unconnected to his own personal future.  "Whether I remain with you, or go to be with Christ, my biggest struggle is that I can't do both and I can't decide which I want more!"

4. Self-Denial.  In the midst of all he faced, Paul's mind wasn't primarily on himself.  It was on his church family at Philippi.  This is a guy who is committed to live out his life for the good of others!

This comes because he realizes--as we should--that what transpires around us is always, ALWAYS bigger than us!  We will see with much greater clarity what this kind of self-denial looks like as we move deeper into Philippians.  But for now, Paul's example should prompt a question in each of us:  How willing are we to deny ourselves for the greater benefit of the ONE BODY Christ has called us to be?

5.  Solidarity.  Verses 27-30 aren't just a wish Paul has for one local assembly of believers.  Its a picture of where we all should be headed.

If you don't grasp fully what he is talking about here, find a believer who is a combat veteran and talk to them about what this means.  We have many of them in our church family, and as I'm sure they would tell you, when soldiers are in a foxhole together they don't argue over the wording in their "mission statement" of debate for hours about their "values."  They lock and load, stand shoulder to shoulder, back to back, and do what has to be done--EVEN if what has to be done is to throw myself on a live grenade and die for the benefit of my unit!

That is the solidarity that Paul describes in the spiritual realm--ONE body, with ONE mind, striving TOGETHER.  In other words, moving forward, thinking and acting, not as several hundred people, but as ONE body under the Lordship of Jesus.  And everything I do as part of the body of Christ--every action, thought, and word--is either contributing to that solidarity, or destroying it.  

There is a reason we have euphemisms in our vocabulary like "laser focus."  I have to think if Paul were writing this letter in the 21st century with our knowledge of how to convert light into laser power, he might have expressed his desire for Philippi in this way: "I want all of you to be laser-focused, as I am, on the glory of Christ."

That's our task:  stand together in such confidence, contentment, and blessing that we are, together, able to rise above our own foci and help each other grow toward Jesus in the process.

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