Unity and the Glory of God (Theology for Living from Philippians)

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings.  All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 20-23)

For Paul, everything revolved around the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so he was most excited to greet those who had embraced this gospel and send greetings from those whom Christ had found through the gospel.  Such were those who had received his witness while in prison in Rome (we believe).  Once again Paul has a chance to emphasize that nothing can thwart the gospel, not even the great apostle’s imprisonment.

It is this unity of believers in the gospel that then becomes his most powerful message.  For even though nothing can thwart the gospel, disunity among believers can hinder it.  Disunity is the single most dangerous enemy of the gospel.  Unity is the most powerful base of our witness to the truth of the gospel.  When we stand together as one our enemies get truly scared.  When we fight, they laugh us to scorn.

And though we say that, for Paul, everything revolved around the gospel of Jesus Christ, we might also say that an even higher level of importance for him was to give glory to God.  But it is this same devotion to the gospel that brings God such glory.  It is His gospel, it is His message to a lost and dying world, it is His means of restoring His creation to its original beauty.

Would you bring Him glory?  Devote yourself to His gospel.  Would you be devoted to the gospel?  Devote yourself to the unity you must have with your bothers and sisters in Christ.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus,” the love that moved him to sacrifice his rights and agendas, “be with your spirit.”

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In Conflict the Third View Is Usually Right (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.  Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.  Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.  I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 10-19)

In most Bibles the heading for this passage is “Thanks for the Gift.”  But I am hard pressed to find straight out thanks in this passage.  In fact, if I got a thank you note telling me the recipient of my gift didn’t really need it I think I would be somewhat bummed or maybe angry.  This passage makes much more sense when seen in light of the conflict that has been raging at Philippi and when we assume that the conflict involves the very money given to Paul.

We know from chapter 1 that Paul has had to correct the impression some of the Philippians had that his imprisonment meant the possible death of the gospel.  He has prayed that their love would show an increase in knowledge and discernment.  If we suppose that one faction in the church (led, let’s suppose, by Euodia) felt it was crucial to send Paul money in order to preserve the gospel, then we could suppose that the other faction (led, we’ll say, by Syntyche) was opposed to sending a gift.  We know from 2 Corinthians 8 that the Macedonians (of which the Philippians were a part) were experiencing poverty.  It would have been easy for Syntyche’s group to argue that a gift for Paul was unreasonable at the moment because their own needs were so great.  It would have been easy for Euodia’s group to argue that this was selfish.

When we look at the conflict with this paradigm, the remarks Paul makes here in this passage take on the air of a brilliant third way between the two conflicting views.  To the group who wanted to send the gift (and won, in a sense, the conflict), Paul says he didn’t need it, because he has learned to be content in any situation and can handle all times of plenty or want in Christ’s power.  The other group might be congratulating themselves at this point as they hear the letter read.  But Paul’s next comments silence their congratulations.  He says it was good for them to send it, not because he needed it but because of the blessing that returned to them from God.  And God’s pleasure in their fragrant offering is only exceeded by His riches in Christ Jesus that are able to supply all their needs.  Both groups are wrong in their view.

In other words, Paul is not landing on either side of this conflict, but on a different side, the side that rejects the selfish agendas of each warring party and argues for a third view, the view of unity.  Both sides have legitimate concerns but need to see that the concern for unity is paramount.  When two people or two groups have competing views a third view is usually the right one.  It is the view that seeks to see the good in both views and see the best in finding ways to love each other despite the conflict.

Unity Through Right Thinking (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 8-9)

Have you ever been around someone whose focus was on things noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable?  Instead of looking for the things in others or in life that are wrong, impure, ugly and despicable, they are not discouraged but believe, instead, that God has His hand on the world and people still and that He will bring glory to Himself through it all.  This is not only an astounding attitude to have because of the peace it affords to one, it is an astounding attitude to have because it so contributes to peace among other people.

Paul knows, as we have seen, that anxiety does not lead to inner peace, nor peace within the Body of Christ (4:6).  The anxious people among the Philippians, concerned as they were for Paul and the gospel, had managed to frighten many others into sending Paul money in hopes of rescuing the gospel.  Paul commended their love but not their discernment.  Their love needed to abound in knowledge and depth of insight (1:9-11).

Here, Paul is giving a guideline for how love’s knowledge and insight might abound.  Think on the things that are worthy of praise.  Think on the things that are excellent.  Paul saw opportunity in his imprisonment because he thought this way and it resulted in those in Caesar’s household hearing the gospel.  Paul saw benefit in being humbled because it was a way of knowing Jesus in his suffering and being conformed to his death as a prelude to resurrection (2:5-11; 3:10,11).

So Paul again becomes the example of this positive mindset that he can point the Philippians to and command them to follow. And the promise is the presence in their lives of the God of peace.  The God of peace will bring both an inner strength to the individual that Paul embodied, and will bring to the relationships one has a freedom from conflict.  I will not be focused on pursuing my own agenda because of fear, anxiety and negative anticipation.  I will be able to see God at work in all situations, and I will see my unity with you and all other believers as paramount to the progress of the gospel.

Joy and Peace in the Gospel (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4-7)

It seems a little odd that right after Paul mentions the names of the prime combatants in the church conflict (with whom, of course, most everyone has taken sides) and asks other leaders to help them resolve it, that Paul would not stay more immediately with this topic.  But in point of fact, he is on topic.

The enjoinder to rejoice in the Lord is tantamount to saying, “Rejoice in what God rejoices about,” which is the saving of souls who are in darkness by holding out the word of life in unity with one another.  The gentleness that is to be evident to all is that gentleness of interaction with one another in the Body of Christ that views one another as more important than oneself, that is concerned not only for one’s own interests only but also for the interests of others.

And that kind of selflessness extends itself to unbelievers, also.  They sense that the most important thing to you is not your personal agenda, your pet doctrines or behavioral distinctives, but the person in front of you — them.  When that is the case, it is not the individual who is offensive but only the gospel itself.  And that is what we want.

The flip side of this is freedom from anxiety.  The Philippians had been anxious about Paul’s imprisonment because they felt the gospel was limited by his personal limitations.  It was not, of course, as we have seen.  Confidence in the gospel and in the Lord’s ability to have it make progress, frees us to make good decisions in love, not desperation.  And that helps us stay in unity, as well.

When we hand over all our concerns to God in prayer and experience His incomparable peace guarding our hearts and minds, we are ready to be a part of the progress of the gospel.  We are able to see each other not as enemies to our selfish ambitions but sisters and brothers who can stand firm in one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.

NOTHING is more important than the progress of the gospel.  NOTHING!

Dealing with Disunity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 1-3)

We learn at last the key players in the conflict at Philippi.  Two women (remember, women played key roles in the church at Philippi from the very beginning, Acts 16), two fellow warriors at Paul’s side, are not of the same mind.  We will see more clearly what they are fighting about at the end of the letter.  But for now, Paul appeals to other leaders in the church to help bring unity after begging the two women to pursue the same.

Paul has just finished teasing out the implications of the true gospel and it is this gospel that each player in the conflict agrees about.  This is what they can stand firm over in the Lord together.  This is what has brought them the certainty of reward in the kingdom.  To what greater issue could they give their attention?  And yet they were divided over such a lesser concern.

How were Paul’s true companion and Clement and the rest supposed to help these sisters come to unity?  Paul doesn’t spell it out.  But he is quite familiar with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18 (see 1 Corinthians 5) and no doubt mentions the overseers and deacons at the opening greeting to his letter to highlight their authority and responsibility for bringing church order.  Perhaps the next step was to challenge these women with the authority they possessed from God when they agreed together in prayer about the solution to this problem.

What are you out of sorts about with someone at your church?  Were you wronged and needing to confront them in love just between the two of you to find a solution?  Are you the wronger?  Have you enlisted the help of wise witnesses you both trust to help you resolve this, if indeed you cannot find a solution on your own?  Have you taken it to the authorities of the church to prevent this leading to further disunity?  Nothing is more important than the unity of the church behind the true gospel.

Setting Aside the Counterfeits (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 17-21)

One of Paul’s responsibilities, and a responsibility of all spiritual leaders, is to identify counterfeits to the true gospel.  Given the rebellious nature of human beings and the very active influence of Satan, there should be a high expectation of distortions to the message of life.  Paul leverages his own example of orthodox living and orthodox doctrine, then he begins to describe those in particular, the Judaizers, who are threatening all of Paul’s church plants.

Not everyone is agreed that these are “the enemies of the cross” to whom Paul is referring.  To some it looks like Paul is describing a group who seeks to push the limits of godly morality.  “Their god is their stomach” sounds to them like those who eat greedily. “Their glory is in their shame” sounds like taking pride in their willingness to push the boundaries ethically.

But in the context Paul has only identified one group of false teachers.  These appear to be people who teach the Jewish law as the standard of holiness and focus on the requirements of circumcision for males and kosher food laws for all.  With that in mind, “their god is their stomach” means their focus on keeping kosher has become their idol; “their glory is in their shame” means they rest confidence in circumcision as their badge of honor.  In all this “their mind is set on earthly things.”  What God designed as a picture of ultimate spiritual truths to be revealed when the new dispensation arrives, these false teachers are still clinging to and giving saving power to instead of looking at faith as the basis for salvation.

By way of contrast, Christianity, God’s new revelation in Christ contained in “new wine skins” (Matthew 9:17), is focused on heaven.  Though the Philippians might take pride in their Roman citizenship, the real reason to boast is their heavenly citizenship.  As citizens of heaven we need no longer be enslaved to earthly elements.  We are people of the last age, the age of the resurrection.  When Jesus comes He is going to resurrect us, make our bodies like His, with all the attributes of a body made suitable for the kingdom.

Focusing on the coming resurrection when Jesus returns to rule on earth helps us stay moored to the true gospel.  We are not trying to muster our own law obedience in order to earn God’s love.  We are operating in God’s already abundantly outpoured love.  We are depending on what Jesus can work in us (the willing and the doing of His good will, 2:13), something He is able to do as the resurrected one.  We are free from the earthly elements that so many have clung to as a means of earning God’s love.  We are in training to recognize the false so we may more readily embrace the true.

Casting for Christians (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Bust of Menander. Marble, Roman copy of the Im...
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Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Paul’s letter to the Phiippians, chapter 3, verse 17)

One of our most ancient arts is casting, that is, the use of molds into which some liquified material is poured, allowed to set or cure, and then removed as a solid replication of the mold.  The mold, by necessity, is a work of art in itself and is able to be used over and over to turn out replicas.  Lifecasting is the art of taking molds directly from the human body. It is an ancient art form dating back to the time of the Egyptians where body casts were made as a means of transport to the next world.

One of the words used for mold is the Greek word tupos, sometimes translated as here in Paul’s letter, “example, model”.  Paul is urging his friends in Philippi to beware of false teaching that leads to wrong living.  But first he encourages them to imitate him and replicate the model he and his team have set for them.  They are the positive “mold” into which the Philippians may pour themselves to ensure they come out in the form desired by Jesus Christ.

Have you ever noticed that you become like those with whom you spend the most time or those whom you idolize or respect?  We have a proverb, “Bad company corrupts good character,” from the Greek poet Menander and quoted in our own 1 Corinthians 15:33 by Paul.  Paul is stating the corollary here in his letter to the Philippians.  Good company casts good character.

We need Christian casting.  We need not only teaching about how to live the Christian life, but molds into which we might be poured.  We need people with whom we might “hang” who know how to live for Christ and become our tupos, our example or model, and show us how to live.  This means we need to become tupoi (plural for tupos) ourselves, casting for other Christians who need a model or mold to fit into.

Are you in need of a Christian model?  Find one and hold on.  Do you need to become a Christian model?  There has never been more need for Christian casting than today.