When I ask folks what is their favorite book of the Bible, many enthusiastically say, "Philippians!" When I ask them why, they respond, "Because it's the book of joy!"
The richness of emotion and familiarity in Philippians grabs our hearts. Paul's exhortation to "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" is rooted in what Jesus has done for us and is tied to the true peace that Jesus longs to bring to us (Philippians 4:4-8). Paul's language of affection for these people he misses is deeply moving and emotionally genuine (Philippians 1:3-8). No wonder so many of us love this little letter.
Yet underneath these words of affection, peace, and joy lurks the reality so many of us face in our churches. Many of the typical problems of any small and struggling church made up of new disciples are behind what we find in this little letter. They were trying to hold up under persecution as Paul, their founding minister, is in prison (Philippians 1:12-26). They found themselves divided by a squabble between two leading women who had led many of them to faith in Jesus (Philippians 4:2-3). In addition, they were facing elitist false teachers who were flashing their religious credentials as proof of their legitimacy when their lives and teaching were out of phase with Jesus (Philippians 3:1-16).
In modern terms, these people were facing...
- Hostile culture on the outside.
- Selfish division on the inside.
- False teachers distorting grace.
This dreaded 1-2-3 punch from the devil knocks many vibrant churches to their knees. How could a small church of new disciples without its key leader survive such an attack? What does Paul do to help them survive? How does Paul help them find joy and peace in the middle of such a mess?
First, he points them to Jesus! He reminds them that they need to invite Jesus back to church!*
Second, he insists that all that they do, say, and think** must be filtered through Jesus and his example.
And the way he does these two things is as simple as it is powerful!
Paul tells them how to live:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus... (Philippians 2:3-5 NIV).
Then he reminds them of a song they sing and urges them to live like the Christ Jesus they praise when they sing these words!***
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal's death on a cross.Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 NLT)
This song gave the Philippian believers a simple "Jesus filter" — something they could use to evaluate everything they thought, taught, and did through the sacrificial example of Jesus. Their doctrines, attitudes, and behaviors could be held up to what Jesus taught, what Jesus did, and why Jesus did what he did. This song would be their reminder that Jesus was more than just a Lord to praise in song, but also the template for the way they were to live their lives.
What Paul did for them, the Holy Spirit has done for us by preserving our favorite little letter of Paul. The joy and peace we seek is found in the Lord we follow as his life of servant-sacrifice becomes the guide for our own lives.
Paul's "Jesus filter" reminds us that we don't have right doctrine — no matter how correct theologically we may be — if we treat people in ways that Jesus would never treat them!
Paul's "Jesus filter" convicts us that we cannot claim to be spiritually mature while looking down on our brothers and sisters as uninformed, ignorant, and beneath us.
Paul's "Jesus filter" tells us that we can't legitimately call ourselves followers of Christ and then put our own preferences above the needs of those in our spiritual family.
In other words, Paul tells the Philippians — and us — to invite Jesus back to church. To put all we do and all we teach and how we treat each other through the "Jesus filter" and see how it holds up.
Do we find the same folks wanting to be with us that crowded around Jesus?
Do we welcome people into our fellowship and friendship the way Jesus did?
Do we care for people the way Jesus did?
Do we emphasize the teaching of Jesus above our own opinions?
Do we spend our money on the things Jesus invested his life doing?
Do we love each other the way he taught and demonstrated love to his closest disciples?
Do we have the same intimate relationship with the Father that Jesus showed us?
Do we run our interpretations of scripture through Jesus' teaching and example of ministry?
Do the way we handle our situations in the way that Jesus handled them?This song gave the Philippian believers a simple "Jesus filter"!Do we "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus"?
Each congregation, every small group, and each missional community that claims to follow Jesus needs to use this "Jesus filter." For church plants or for the launch of a missional community or for any group evaluating its mission to bring the Kingdom of God to a broken world, the "Jesus filter" must be front and center in what we do and why we do it. Jesus must become the true North Star we use to align ourselves, our budgets, our teaching, and our treatment of each other with the Father's will.
For congregations in transition, using the "Jesus filter" is even more important. Whether the transition is because of the loss of a minister, conflict, outside pressure, loss of joy, decline, or disharmony, Paul's "Jesus filter" becomes even more crucial.
To use Paul's words, we are to "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus"!
Let's sing the Jesus song and then live it!
Images courtesy of Free Bible Images.
* This is the third in a series of posts by this title.
** The key thought running as the lifeline through this letter is captured by two key phrases:
- "[T]o be of the same mind in the Lord" found in Philippians 4:2.
- [B]y being "like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind" found in Philippians 2:2.
*** Any really quality conservative commentary can give you the background discussion to what is often called "The Christ Hymn" and many date this song to the earliest stages of Christianity found in the early chapters of Acts. The similarity of the themes of the Gospel of Mark and "The Christ Hymn" have also been intriguing, especially the key statement of Jesus: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The humble service of the foot washing Jesus (John 13:1-17) and the radical death on the cross Jesus (John 19:1-30) we see in the Gospel of John and in John's teaching on loving each other (1 John 3:16-18) is also striking! These examples are clearly reminders of the truth, importance, and power behind singing and living the truth of the Jesus song!