We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
In today’s section Paul continues to encourage his friends to live out the implications of the gospel.
Paul – I had written to my friends in Philippi – more than friends, partners. I wanted to thank them for their generous support of my ministry and the gospel cause. I wanted to tell them about my situation so they would know how to pray and wouldn’t be worried. I wanted to send Epaphroditus back to them too. But I also wanted to address a situation that I’d heard about from the delegations from Philippi that had come and gone in the last few months.
Clement – The letter had certainly gotten our attention. It was a joy to see Epaphroditus again and to know that Paul had received our gift. We thrilled to hear that the gospel was continuing to be proclaimed even in Rome and among the palace guard and that Paul had, in answer to our prayers, been given boldness and that the believers with him had also begun to proclaim the gospel more courageously.
It wasn’t as good to hear that some did so out of jealousy; trying to make trouble for Paul. But our anger on his behalf was almost immediately defused by his own attitude towards it; he didn’t care! As long as the gospel was proclaimed he was happy.
The first part of his letter did more than tell us of his situation but really challenged us as a community. In the face of his potential death he wished to remain with us for our benefit rather than go to be with the Lord. In fact, his example was for our benefit too.
Paul – The external pressure of a disbelieving society is enough to show the cracks in any unity and that was added to by the very human desire to put oneself first. They needed to be reminded of the example of Jesus and the call of the cross on how they lived with one another before it got worse. But I wasn’t trying to correct a theological heresy like I was in Galatia and I wasn’t dealing with factions like I was in Corinth. No, Philippi has a special place in my heart and the people are very dear to me. I didn’t want to sound harsh, but wanted to be strong in what I said…
Clement – It was clear that Paul had a pretty good idea about what was happening in our little community but he addressed it so gently but so powerfully. His own example is always a challenge for us, but his reflection on the example of Jesus spoke even more powerfully.
We were to be like Jesus in our interactions with each other – not using our rights and privileges for our advantage but for the advantage of others. This is the sort of life that is prized by the Father.
Epaphroditus, who had come home, was the emissary of the epistle and was reading it to us as a community. In part because not everyone could read, but also because he would be able to emphasise the things that Paul would want emphasised.
Immediately after the example of Christ Paul pushed his advantage.
Paul – After the “extreme” example of Jesus I returned to the gentle persuasion based on our partnership in the gospel.
Read Philippians 2:12-13
Clement – The language of friendship was mingled with Paul’s very biblical way of speaking of salvation.
Paul – Salvation is always corporate. To be saved as an individual, isolated from everyone else is ludicrous. And, salvation is not just some future reality but one that must affect how we live. And putting the two together, it must affect how we live in a new community.
Clement – Paul urged us to work hard at our relationships; how we lived out our salvation but didn’t leave us under an illusion about whose work it really was! It was God’s own energy that is at work in us. He initiates and stirs and empowers the whole process, but we aren’t passive in this!
And there’s another reason to work out our salvation as well; the witness that it bears in the community.
Read Philippians 2:14-16
Paul – The history of my people, the nation of Israel, is a warning and example about how important it is to live out the implications of God’s rescue. They were selected out of all nations to be a light to the world and to show the nations what it looked like to live in relationship with the one true God.
In this they failed. They did bicker and second-guessed God. The wilderness generation quarrelled with Moses and with God. The nature of their quarrel was their perceived suffering. They ended up suggesting that God’s salvation was not complete and that it was not good. That the food in Egypt as slaves was better than God’s provision in the wilderness. This happened again and again and ended up dividing the community and bringing judgment. I didn’t want to focus on the judgment that came but did want to gently warn my friends that bickering and selfish ambition have the potential to do the same thing to the community of faith.
Clement – One of the challenges of The Way is that it includes everyone. For some this is a great thing; it lifts them from their poverty and slavery to equality with others. It looks beyond the earthly fortunes or misfortunes of our lives to create a new community that is based on something utterly different than money, or birth or eloquence; the normal symbols of status and importance.
To others it is anything but good news; to become part of a new community where all the status and honour is found elsewhere and where the significance we have in society needs to be reconsidered is incredibly challenging.
But it is a sure way to get people to understand the good news. It shines in the world in a remarkable way. It really is light and darkness and people respond in very different ways.
Paul – The inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God has been a stumbling block for many of my own people. The fact that God’s plan might include “Them” is too much to bear. But this – the inclusion of all people together – this is the bright light of the gospel.
Clement – It was remarkable to consider what Paul was saying. In essence, he was saying that the evaluation of his ministry among us – and he’s done so much here – would be based on how we love each other. Not on how many churches he founded, etc.
Paul – Proper belief is important; I can’t deny it. Getting the gospel right is important and there are some things that I will simply not stand for. However, he proof of right doctrine is in the way in which people live!
To think about
Clement made a very good point about the equality that the gospel brings – it raises some people up and brings other people down. The important thing is that the gospel is good news for both groups! It’s often easier for us to see how being raised up is good news, but not how leaving our status and rights behind is! And yet, this is the litmus test for how well we understand what Jesus has done! It’s too easy to see the gospel in terms of what we miss out on or what we’ve lost. This is not how Paul sees it!
Pray that you wouldn’t grumble about the implications of the good news and that the Spirit would empower you to embrace your new life in Christ.