Earlier this week, I was honored to be able to speak into the lives of the students at Belleview Christian School during their annual week-long spiritual retreat.
I decided to study through the book of Philippians with the students—to cover the four chapters of Philippians in four 30-40 minute sessions. Below are the audio files from each of the sessions:
Below is the (rather lengthy) transcript of the entire study.
CHAPTER ONE: THE GRAVITY OF JESUS
I guess we can start with just a few words about what I’m aiming for this week—and what I’m NOT aiming for.
I don’t speak at these sorts of retreats/camps/events very often, so I don’t know much about camp from the speaker side of things. But I remember what youth camps and youth retreats were like when I was in seventh or tenth or twelfth grade.
There was a lot of genuine excitement for the week—about maybe learning something about God or Jesus or the Bible BUT there was even more excitement about spending a week away from home, thinking stupid amounts of time about “that girl” and whether we might have a shot, staying up all night with friends laughing and doing stupid things.
Then by the end of the week—I was so physically exhausted (from lack of sleep) and emotionally exhausted (from “that girl” not noticing me) that I came into the last night just wiped out—and had what felt like an amazing spiritual experience with God. My friends and I were all crying and hugging and singing, the worship band was playing, we were all raising our hands—God seemed so close.
It was like climbing to top of a mountain.
It was like getting high on Jesus.
And then I got home—I settled back into regular life.
I came off the mountain. The rush ended.
And my life didn’t change much.
I’m not sure how many of you might be familiar with this sort of “mountain top experience” at camp, but I’m fighting tooth and nail against it.
My goal is NOT for us to get high on Jesus.
My goal is NOT to take you to God on the mountain top.
My goal is that we might just begin to recognize that God is present in all of life. That God is present here on the mountain, yes. But he’s also in the canyons, the valleys, the plains, the rivers, the woods—everywhere.
Every bit of our lives are saturated by the presence of God.
We’re just too busy to recognize it.
But this sort of setting, here in the mountains, helps us begin to refocus our minds on what is true everywhere and always.
This week, I want all of us to walk away starting to actually see the world we live in.
I want all of us to understand the reality of God a little bit more.
I want all of us to begin to fall a little in love with Jesus.
And I want us to catch a glimpse—if ever so briefly— of the meaning of life.
That’s a pretty high bar, right? (I just wanted the speaker to tell some funny stories…)
The meaning of life—how in the world can we dare to hope to come within a mile of this?
Well, first we’re going to pray. We’re going to ask and expect that God’s spirit be present here—yes here in this room—and working among us. And then we’re going to spend the week reading the Bible. I don’t have any kind of words that can shed light on the meaning of life—but God’s Spirit has inspired some words that do.
So let’s pray:
By my math, we’ve got four teaching sessions and the letter to the Philippians has four chapters. So we’re just going to work through Philippians. Sound good?
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (1:1-14)
Let’s stop here for a second and remember a few a things.
First, Paul is a real guy.
For a lot of us on a lot days, we might say that we believe that this is book is somehow connected to God (!) but then we kinda yawn when we hear it read. Despite what we believe about the Bible (or say we believe about the Bible) we find it kind of boring and irrelevant.
But hear me—Paul is a real guy.
We’re reading a letter from a real guy.
That’s not a statement of faith.
That’s a statement of history.
We’re reading someone else’s mail here.
Even if you don’t have any interest in Bible, church, Christianity, Jesus—even if you have no interest, we can all agree—eaves-dropping is kind fun, right?
Reading someone else’s mail is at least somewhat interesting.
This is an ancient letter from a guy in a prison in the ancient Roman world.
Prison isn’t exactly the place any of us want to go in 21st century, right? Well, you definitely didn’t want to go to a holding cell in the first century in the Roman Empire.
Imagine being lowered into a underground chamber through a manhole.
Every kind of water—from rainwater to sewage—seeps down from the streets above.
You’re shackled with chains so there no escape from the rodents and roaches.
You can barely see because there’s virtually no light.
And you’re at the mercy of people bringing you food to keep you alive.
And yet here’s a guy that seems absolutely delusional.
He’s seems absolutely brimming with excitement. He can’t stop thanking God (v3).
He’s giddy with joy (v4). He’s consumed with thinking about and praying—not for himself—but for these people in another city—in the Roman colony of Philippi. He’s confident that God won’t stop working in their lives (v6).
Excuse me, Paul?
It sure looks like God has stopped working in your life
Can’t you hear the rodents and roaches?
Can’t you smell the sewage you’re living in?
Can’t you feel your chains?
This guy is living in an upside down world.
Again, we’re talking about history here—it’s easy to forget that. We go pick up a Bible from Barnes and Noble, and the words and pages are so neat and tidy that it’s easy to forget that we’re reading words that were originally scratched out on papyrus and covered in filth. Paul is a real historical figure. A real dude—and a real dude who seems off his rocker.
How can he be writing with excitement and joy and confidence at a time like this?
How can he be thinking about people in another city when he’s stuck underneath a city?
Well, the answer has something to do with what Paul calls “the gospel” (v5, v7). That word—in greek—is the word “euangelion.” It was a word on the street—a word everyone knew in the first century. It meant “good news.” It was a word used to declare that the king of the world—caesar—ruled and reigned from Rome. All were safe and secure in his kingdom.
That was the gospel in the ancient world:
Rome rules. Caesar is lord.
But Paul seems to be using this word in a completely different way.
In the worst of all places, he seems to be declaring a different sort of euangelion.
This letter begins in Greek this way: “paulos kai timotheos douloi christou iesou.” The NIV translates that as “Servants of Christ Jesus.” And that succeeds in sounding downright churchy—downright irrelevant.
I’m not sure it means much when we read it.
“Servants of Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that nice?
It sounds a little different, though, when we hear:
From Paul and Timothy, slaves of King Jesus, to all God’s holy ones in King Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus the king. (NT Wright, The Kingdom New Testament)
That’s the way one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars has recently translated the first two verses of Philippians.
That really is what the greek word christos (or christ) means. It’s not Jesus’ last name, it’s a word that just means “anointed one.” If you said it in Hebrew you would say messiah. In everyday English, we can probably just say king. That’s what it means.
Now that’s something different.
Paul is a slave of King Jesus.
And his euangelion is an announcement of a different king than the one in Rome.
And he’s reassuring the Philippians (and us too) that his current position—quiet possibly without light, down a manhole, under a marketplace, covered in sewage, soaked to the bone and having food brought to him—all of this has (v12) actually served to advance this gospel.
This “gospel” seems all-consuming to him. And he’s heard that others are proclaiming it:
It is true that some preach Christ [or we could just as rightly translate it as “proclaim the King”] out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ [or “proclaim the King”] out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (1:15-20)
This is amazing. He’s not the only one proclaiming Jesus as King—and he doesn’t care why people are doing it.
He doesn’t see people genuinely doing it as competition.
He doesn’t see people doing it to somehow cause him trouble as enemies.
“What does it matter? The important thing is that the King is proclaimed.”
How many of have ever found something so much bigger than ourselves that we lose ourselves in it?
We’re almost always consumed with ourselves.
Consumed with our wants.
Consumed with our needs.
Consumed with our fears. Our pain. Our insecurities. Our secrets.
Consumed with our dreams. Our plans. Our agenda. Our fulfillment.
It’s rare that we lose ourselves in something,
so much bigger than ourselves,
so much more powerful than our problems,
so much more expansive than our agenda,
so much more important that our fulfillment,
that we can honestly say with Paul:
“What does it matter? There’s something so much more important than me”
It’s rare for anyone in our culture to taste the freedom and joy that comes from forgetting about ourselves. And it really is joy for Paul. Just listen to him—he’s celebrating:
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.(1:18b-20)
He absolutely expects that he’s going to be delivered, that he’s going to be rescued, that he’s going to be saved through all of this (v19). But evidently he’s not quite sure if this will be through him living or him dying.
For me, I’m not sure I could (honestly) count death by disease or starvation in a dark, sewer-like prison as rescue.
How can that be rescue?
But Paul’s world has been so turned upside-down by King Jesus that he’s just grateful that he can play any kind of role in exalting him. He’s just wanting Jesus to be proclaimed to and recognized by everyone. He writes something really familiar to anyone who’s been around Christian churches for a while:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (1:21-26)
Do you hear what he’s saying? Do you hear what he’s struggling with? I think sometimes that we think we already know what the Bible is saying and so we don’t really hear anything it’s saying.
We hear “I desire to depart” (v23) but we don’t hear it.
Paul is wishing that he could just die.
He says that would be way better for him.
But he says that he’s pretty sure he’ll keep on living—
not because it’s fun,
not because he’s living out his dreams,
not because he’s healthy and safe and fulfilled at the moment,
but—what does verse 24 say?—
”it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Paul wishes—he really wants—that he could die and be with Jesus.
But that’s selfish. It wouldn’t be helping the people of Philippi.
It wouldn’t be helping others.
It wouldn’t be like his King. You know his King—King Jesus—who (we’re going to see tomorrow morning) was willing to die for others?
This is an instance where “What Would Jesus Do” is a less-than-helpful question.
Paul could say, “Jesus died so I’ll go ahead and die.”
But for Paul, what Jesus did would be self-serving.
For Paul, he’d love to go ahead and get to that dying part.
But Paul realizes that he’s not called to die for others.
He realizes that he’s called to live for others.
So he is called to die—to himself.
He’s called to die to his desires. Right now, his desire to die.
And he’s called to live a life centered in serving others.
Paul is living in an upside down world.
It’s not a world where he gets everything he wants,
it’s not a world where he doesn’t suffer,
it’s not a world where he doesn’t sometimes wish for a way out.
But it’s this crazy upside-down world where he’s celebrating in midst of pain,
this world where suffering means that he’s close to his King (to live is Christ)
this world where sometimes he does wish for a way he could just go fully be with Jesus
BUT he’ll die to his desire to die so that others can live.
We ought to look at this and say—man, that’s wild.
As a historical letter—this makes no sense.
How did this guy get turned so upside-down?
I was thinking about it, and I could only think of one thing that would literally turn the world upside-down. You know what it would take?
Jupiter and the moon trading places.
Think about it.
The moon’s pretty small, but the gravity of that little sucker still tugs at things.
You know, little things things like… the oceans.
The moon is 1/4 the size of the earth.
Jupiter—in contrast—is bigger than the earth.
Over 300 times bigger.
If it trades places with the moon, I’m thinking it’s not going to tug at our oceans.
It’s just going to take our oceans.
Along with everything else.
Something that big,
something that heavy,
something that significant,
if it came close, it would literally turn the world upside-down.
That’s what’s happened to Paul.
He’s been caught up in the gravity of something bigger than himself.
Something heavier than himself.
Something more significant than himself.
Paul has been caught up in the gravity of Jesus.
And it’s turned his world upside-down.
So tonight, let’s reflect a question:
Whose gravity are you living in?
If it’s your gravity—if the primary person that you’re living for is you—you may not know it yet, but you’re living in a black hole.
You as the center or your universe will destroy your universe.
You make a lousy center of the universe.
You make a lousy god.
Maybe Paul isn’t upside down—maybe we are.
Maybe Paul isn’t in prison—maybe we are.
Maybe the way most us live our lives is completely backwards.
Completely upside down.
Maybe we all need Jesus to show us which way is up.
That’s my prayer for us this week. That you would glimpse something better than you. Because the world is bigger and more beautiful than we can ever imagine when we get caught up in gravity of Jesus.
CHAPTER TWO: GOD IS JESUS
So last night we started reading someone else’s mail. We started reading an ancient letter written by a guy named Paulos (or Paul). He’s writing this letter from a Roman prison because he’s been traveling around the Roman Empire proclaiming that the world has another king—another lord—than Caesar.
And this king has completely changed the way Paul views the world.
This king makes Paul celebrate while he’s sitting in filth.
This king plunges Paul into something bigger than himself.
This king has freed Paul from fear—even the fear of his own death.
And this king is forcing Paul to die—to himself—and compelling him to live for others.
This King has turned Paul’s world upside-down.
Paul has been caught up in the gravity of Jesus
And we kept reminding ourselves that this ancient letter is actual history. Whatever else you may believe about the Bible, Paul was indeed a historical man who lived, breathed, walked, talked, ate, slept, laughed, cried and who traveled around the Mediterranean perimeter of the Roman world under the reigns of Caesars Claudius and Nero proclaiming euangelion (“good news”) and establishing counter-colonies of citizens devoted to King Jesus.
None of that is in dispute.
That’s just history.
We’re reading his mail.
But this is that point where we’re about to realize we’re not just spectators.
We’re not just eaves-droppers. We’re not by-standers.
This is the point where we’re reading someone else’s mail and we begin to realize that even though we’re not the original receivers of this letter—are there any Philippians in here?—Paul is describing something that affects us.
More than that.
It demands something of us.
If Paul is right about this king of his, he doesn’t just want the Philippians to get caught up in his good news—he wants you to get caught up in it too. And so he says:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (1:27-30)
Paul knows that his readers are often struggling. And that applies across the board—to the community at Philippi in the first century or the community at Camp Elim in the twenty-first.
He knows his readers have got circumstances that dog at them,
that they’ve got people in their life who are causing them trouble,
that they’ve got problems that plague them,
that they’re often hurting, angry, scared, exhausted, lonely.
And you know what he says?
He says that suffering is part of the good news.
I think that’s what he said… let’s check:
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.” (v29)
Yeah, that’s what it says.
Celebrating that Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean our problems vanish.
Suffering and hardship aren’t excluded from this good news.
In fact, it seems like they’re expected in some form or another.
Just look at Paul.
And what’s he telling them to do in the midst of their hardship?
He wants them to stand firm in one Spirit. (v27)
He wants them strive together united without fear.
I think he wants them to be a family.
I think he wants them to love one another.
And did you catch that weird little thing (v28) that when they do, its a double-edged sign? It’s a sign that the Philippians are OK and a sign that their opposition isn’t.
It’s as if it’s a sign that when we unite together, we’re tasting real Life (capital L)
and anyone working against this is actually already living in Death (capital D).
It’s like our day-to-day decisions reflect some kind of deeper truth about us.
And Paul ultimately wants them to do all of this because (v27) this is what it looks like to live a life worthy of the good news of the King. That’s why he wants them united.
He uses a word here (“politeuesthe”) that the NIV translates as “live a life.” It’s another word on on the street. Politeuesthe. The beginning of it sounds like our word “politics.” And it should. Politeuesthe and politics are both related to the greek word for “city” (polis).
He’s using a political word.
It means something more than just live a life.
It means something like “live as a citizen.”
People on the street in the Roman world knew politeuesthe. Because they knew what it was like to a general or an army come rolling into their region and conquer them. They knew that life changes when the person on the throne changes. When someone new is in charge, they needed to politeuesthe. They needed their lives to line up with what’s already happened—with what’s already true. They need to line up with who is on the throne.
Well what do you know?
That sounds remarkably like the way Paul is using the word:
Politeuesthe in a manner worthy of the good news of the king.
Evidently this is a king who has already conquered.
Who is already in charge. Who is already ruling and reigning.
Life has got to change because of who is already on the throne.
Let’s keep going, because Paul’s developing this thought:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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. (2:1-4)
It sounds like he’s saying, “If any thing that I have told you has made any kind of impression on you at all…”
then live a particular kind of way.
Be united in spirit. In your thinking. In your attitude.
Value each other. Watch out for each other.
Love each other. Serve each other.
And he’s going to go on to tell us why.
But let’s pause for a second. Why should we do this? If someone asked you why in the world your behavior ought to be different as a Christian, what would you say?
Well, you know, because that’s just what Christians do.
Because that the way good people are supposed to live.
Because you’re supposed to be moral.
Because there are rules, and we can’t break the rules.
Because if you don’t, you’re not in our club.
Except he doesn’t say any of those things. What he actually says is:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (2:5-11)
Why should we live a particular way? Well, as an answer to that, he gives us an amazing little poem that retells the story of Jesus.
It tells the story of Jesus,
who ascended to his throne by descending into slavery,
who conquered by being conquered—by carrying a cross.
who began his life as a king, by dying for all men.
Paul links why we ought to live a particular kind of way with this story—with this person.
The reason he wants them to be united together, to value each other, to watch out for each other, to love each other, to serve each other—the reason he wants them to do all of this—is because that’s what Jesus is like.
That’s what our king is like.
We should ponder this for a few minutes.
If you’ve been around Christians or churches or bible studies for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this bit of Scripture. I grew up going to church, and I heard it a lot. It always seemed like verse six was where the money was:
Being in very nature God, Jesus didn’t count equality with God something to be used to his advantage. (2:6)
BOOM—Jesus is God.
There it is. Check-mate.
Right there. We’ve got it in black-and-white.
It’s right there.
Of course it’s right there.
Historically, the entire Christian movement came about because people were absolutely convinced that Jesus is God. They were absolutely obsessed with the notion that the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh—the God of Israel—had actually become an Israelite. That the Creator of the cosmos had actually become part of his creation. That the infinite had become finite. That God had literally become human.
Congratulations. We found it in the Bible.
I don’t mean to minimize this—it’s huge. It’s incredible. It’s absurd. It’s unbelievable. It seems too-good-to-be-true. And it’s the center of the Christian faith from its very beginning to today. Most people who call themselves Christians believe this.
But maybe there’s something even more surprising here.
A lot of people are comfortable with the idea that Jesus is God.
I think a lot less people have worked out the implications that God is Jesus.
God is like Jesus.
God is Christlike.
Have you ever thought about that?
The all-powerful one who created all things,
the ever-present one who maintains all things,
the all-knowing one gives meaning and purpose to all things,
is willing to empty himself.
God is humble. He is humble enough to serve.
God is good. He is good enough to love.
God becoming Jesus wasn’t an exception to the rule of what God is like.
God becoming Jesus shows us exactly what God is like.
The reason Paul wants them (and us) to be united, to value, to watch out, to love,
to serve, is because that’s what God is like.
God is humble, self-giving love. When you’re proud and self-seeking—whenever and however you sin—you’re not violating a rule somewhere.
You’re tearing at the very fabric of reality.
You’re stabbing at the very heart of the universe.
When you sin, you’re violating the very meaning of existence.
You’re not becoming like the Creator. And since God created us in his image,
You’re not becoming what you were made to be.
You’re trying to play football on a baseball field.
You’re trying to breathe underwater.
You’re raging against gravity.
Sin is when we live falsely.
When we refuse to live in the real world.
And the real world is the world of Jesus.
The real world is the world of sacrificial, self-giving love.
How many of you have had a moment when you were serving someone—a parent, a sibling, a friend, a stranger—and you were doing something absolutely brutal and you were exhausted and uncomfortable but then you suddenly realize, “I’m quite enjoying this.”
You weren’t getting anything out of it.
You were just giving—just pouring yourself out.
But you found yourself full of the deepest kind of happiness?
A happiness way deeper than you ever find when you’re searching for it?
Let’s name that. That’s called joy.
That’s what God created you for.
Because that’s what he is like.
I think that’s what salvation tastes like:
We begin experiencing what we were always meant to be.
And you don’t find salvation by searching for it.
Salvation finds you—in fact, in the person of Jesus, it’s already found you.
That’s why Paul continues like he does:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2:12-13)
We often talk about salvation like it’s an abstract category.
Some of you in the room have a Twitter account.
You’ve signed up for one.
It’s floating out there… in cyberspace… somewhere.
We can’t see it. But it’s there.
And you use it when you need it.
We think about salvation in eerily similar terms.
Some here in the room are “saved.”
You’ve asked Jesus into your heart.
Your salvation… it’s kinda… somewhere out there… in heaven.
We can’t see it. But it’s there.
And we’ll use it when we need it.
The problem is salvation is nothing like that. Because what Paul is saying here doesn’t make any sense when we think like that. Work out your salvation? Doesn’t that sound weird? How do you do that?
I think Paul has already been telling us:
Be united. Value each other. Watch out for each other.
Love each other. Serve each other.
Salvation isn’t an abstract personal account that you just sign up for.
Salvation is something we get to embody—we get to embody the heart of God.
Salvation is something we get to become—we become like Jesus.
Which is to say—this is staggering—we become like God.
We don’t save ourselves.
We can’t save ourselves.
We could never in a thousand lifetimes save ourselves.
That’s why it’s so crazy to think it’s something we can sign-up for.
The reason we can do anything is because God is already at work.
That’s the reason it’s called “salvation.”
Because God really does rescue us—on every possible level.
Because we’re unravelling because of our rebellion,
we’re perishing in our prisons of selfishness,
we’re drowning in tears of heartache,
and God single-handedly rescues us.
Before we do anything,
before we think anything,
before we believe anything,
God rescues, God saves, God works.
He’s always rescuing, always saving, always working.
And all we can do is trust that.
Trust that he’s already signed us up—to be like him.
God has done it all.
In the words of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.”
That’s the reason it’s good news.
And all of us are just invited to live in something that is already true.
To live in the real world.
To start playing baseball on the baseball field.
To breathe in air.
To rest in his gravity.
We’re supposed to work out our salvation because God is always working—he’s already saving. We’re supposed to participate in the life of God because God has already given himself to us.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (2:14-18)
For Paul, the thing to boast in—the thing to take pride in, the thing to celebrate and get most excited about—is other people becoming like Jesus.
Other people who are beginning to shine like stars in the sky.
That’s why he’s pouring himself out—that’s why he’s full of gladness and joy.
Because other people are getting turned right-side-up by Jesus.
They’re beginning to live like the king.
They’re beginning to look like God.
Paul goes on verses 19-30 to talk about two specific people—Timothy and Epaphroditus. These are two guys who are doing exactly what he’s talking about—they’re working out their salvation.
They’re emptying themselves of themselves and giving themselves to others.
Evidently Epaphroditus (in verse 25) is someone the Philippians sent to bring food—or other kinds of provisions—to Paul, and he almost died doing it. And Paul tells them (v29):
Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give. (2:29-30)
Epraphoditus goes from serving, dying and almost dead to welcomed, celebrated and honored. He’s willing to die—he almost does—to serve, love, watch out for Paul, and now he’s being hailed as hero.
My goodness, Epraphoditus looks a lot like Jesus.
It’s almost like the last will be first.
It’s almost like those who lose their lives will find them.
It’s almost like salvation means us becoming like Jesus.
So all day today, let’s think two questions:
Are you aware that God is already working to make you like him?
And what would it look for you to participate?
My prayer for us today is that we can remember that God is like Jesus and is already rescuing us—we just need eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts ready to work that out.
CHAPTER THREE: MY SEWER-SOAKED LIFE
Last night we decided that we’re not interested in just going into the mountains this weekend and getting high on Jesus. We decided that we want to root ourselves deeply in the God who is present in ever moment of our lives. We said we do that by us plunging ourselves in Scripture—specifically the letter to the Philippians.
And so we started reading this ancient letter from a real guy in a prison Roman world of the first century—and we realized that he seems quite insane.
He’s full of joy, energy, enthusiasm and hope in the absolute worst of circumstances.
He’s not really worried about himself—he’s thinking about and concerned with and praying for others.
And we saw that this is because Paul is absolutely obsessed with “the gospel.” The euangelion—the good news that there is a king ruling and reigning. Not caesar in Rome. The god-man Jesus.
Paul has been caught up in the gravity of this king.
It’s turned him upside-down
Better, it’s turned him right-side-up.
It’s changed the way he sees every square inch of existence—his prison sentence, his suffering, his motivation to continue living, everything.
He realizes that his entire existence—the deepest meaning of life itself—is wrapped up in magnifying King Jesus and in serving others. And the reason this is central to the meaning of life is Jesus was, is and forever will be God.
If God is a servant,
if God is willing to empty himself, serve others and die,
if he’s higher than the everyone else because he gets lower than everyone else
then self-giving, sacrificial love must something like the heart of the universe.
We thought about how we’re so different than that.
We’re so self-serving. And we want to others to serve us too.
We’re like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3—we try to seize godhood and power.
And we end up becoming monsters.
But God himself doesn’t seize godhood or power even though they rightfully belong to him. Instead, he empties himself. He becomes a slave.
A slave who emptyies himself to a cross and somehow rescues us.
And we saw this morning that Paul is inviting us to join with the God who is already at work saving us. To let our dead hearts begin beating the rhythm of love that animates the whole universe. To watch as our dead hands begin to serve others. To feel our dead feet begin to dance. To taste salvation. To taste the life of God.
And now—Paul is about to write something that he calls a “safeguard.”
He wants to protect us from something. So he says:
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
So what is it? What is Paul going to warn us about? What’s he trying to protect us from?
Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
Now that seems strange. We would think he would think he would say something like watch out for all the enticing evil things that the world can offer you…
Watch out for rated R movies,
watch out for cigarettes and getting drunk,
for swear words and sleeping around,
for pornography and vampire novels (frequently the same thing),
But no. He doesn’t warm them about those things. There’s a time and place for us to start thinking about those things, but it’s not Paul’s biggest warning.
He warns them against certain people.
People whom he calls dogs, evildoers and mutilators of the flesh.
But evidently these people aren’t tempting the Philippians with what most of us would call “evil.” Evidently these people are tempting the Philippians with what most of us would call “religion.”
The people Paul is referring to are almost certainly Jewish followers of Jesus who frequently floated around and said,
“Trusting Jesus and participating in the divine life of self-sacrificial love, that’s not quite enough… There are a few more things you need to do:
“You really need to obey Jewish law—haven’t you read the Old Testament?
“If you eat food, you need to obey certain food laws—eat kosher.
“If you keep a schedule, you need to strictly observe Sabbath and feasts.
“And if you’re guy, you need to have a little bit of surgery.”
All of these things do have roots in the Old Testament.
But Paul doesn’t want there to be any confusion:
These things are not make you part of God’s family.
These things do not give us “righteousness.”
These things are not what make us right with God.
That’s why he goes on like he does:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (3:4-10)
Paul was raised a good Jewish boy.
And that’s a huge deal.
We can’t overestimate what a big deal that was.
The Jewish people were the descendants of Abraham way back there in Genesis.
Abraham—the guy that God chose and promised he would make into a great nation that would bring blessing to the entire world.
The Jewish people prided themselves on this:
They were the circumcision. The people of God had chosen.
They were righteous. The people in relationship with God.
They would bless the world. The people of promise.
Paul was raised a good Jewish boy—but he just threw every bit of his upbringing in the garbage. Well, he actually called it garbage. Well actually he called it a little more than just garbage. In Greek, he calls it a pretty nasty word… the word skubalon (Can I say that? You may have to bleep that out for the video, Jeremy).
Start comparing english translations, and you’ll see that everyone sort of dances around this word. King James says dung. English Standard says rubbish. Holman Christian says filth. The Message says dog dung. The Common English Bible says sewer trash.
That’s getting closer.
Use your imaginations… but not your mouths.
Skubalon is not a nice word. That’s because skubalon is not a nice reality.
It’s like that water running down into his prison cell from the streets above.
It’s filthy. It’s dirty. It’s unclean. It’s disgusting.
And that’s what Paul is calling everything in his life compared to Jesus.
Paul has begun trusting that his righteousness, his “right-standing before God”—the gravity that pulls him toward God and keeps him close to God—doesn’t come from anything he does.
It all comes from faith in Christ. (verse 9)
Or probably a better translation is actually “the faithfulness of Christ.”
God has become a human being and been faithful in every way that we are faithless.
We pride ourselves. He humbles himself.
We believe in competition. He believes in serving.
We betray. He blesses.
We speak lies. He sings truth.
We take sides. He takes a cross.
We fight for the best position. He washes feet.
We lust. He loves.
We take. He gives.
We despair. He hopes.
We are faithless. He is faithful.
Many of us come to a week like this—or we have some other moment in our lives—where we finally get honest about ourselves. We have a moment or prayer or an experience where we find ourselves confessing:
”I am not… and you are. Rescue me.”
And that’s a beautiful moment.
That’s a moment of truth.
But now Paul is warning us—Paul is giving us a safeguard—because he knows that of all the things we are tempted by, religion is almost certainly the most dangerous. Even that popular and prevalent religion in North America called “Christianity.”
The danger is that we’ll somehow start thinking that we made ourselves into something great, something clean, something acceptable to God. That we have justified ourselves.
In the gospels, do you know who Jesus has the hardest words for over and over again?
It’s not you doubting God’s existence.
It’s not you doubting God’s goodness.
It’s not you angry with others.
It’s not you wanting everyone else’s life.
It’s not you making that decision that you can’t stop regretting.
It’s not you crying in your pillow.
It’s not you struggling with sexual orientation or you addicted to porn.
It’s not you cheating, not you cursing, not you cutting.
Jesus’ hardest words are for you dressed up in your Sunday best.
For you and whatever you use to prop yourself up and pretend you’re OK.
For you trying to justify yourself.
For all of us religious people who think we’ve arrived.
We never get right-with-God by trying harder. Somehow—this is good news—we’re already right with God because of Jesus.
That’s what I invite you to believe.
That’s the gospel.
That’s why Paul calls it all skubalon—all of my life I count as sewage.
Not me on my worst day.
Me on my absolute best day.
Paul is warning us against anyone or anything that begins to move us away from being on our knees. Anything that makes us stop confessing how broken, busted and bankrupt we are. Anything that tempts us to somehow stop confessing “I am not” and start the delusional and suicidal thinking that “I am.”
The point of saying “I am not” is not to get you to focus on your shortcomings.
The point of saying “I am not” is for us to forget ourselves for one bleeding moment.
Paul wants us to look at Jesus.
To stare at Jesus. To lock eyes with Jesus.
To embrace Jesus. To trust Jesus.
To trust that Jesus—who is everything that we are not—makes us OK.
Jesus justifies our existence.
Jesus makes us right-with-God.
Jesus gives us purpose.
Jesus shows us how to live.
For Paul, the world is now a Jesus-world.
He now walks Planet Jesus—To live is Christ.
His entire life is about Jesus.
All he wants is to know Jesus—crucified and risen.
Not just Jesus as an idea.
Not just Jesus as something we use to escape prison or hell or something.
Jesus who teaches us how to live.
Jesus who reshapes our entire lives.
That’s why Paul says in the middle of verse 8 that he’s “lost all things” for the sake of Christ. The cross and the resurrection isn’t something a preacher invites you to at the end of a sermon (or on the last night of camp). The cross and the resurrection is something Jesus himself is inviting you into every moment of your life.
Jesus wants the reality of his life to define your life.
Jesus wants you to die. Because Jesus wants to you live.
He wants his sacrificial, self-giving heart of love to beat in your chest.
The beautiful thing about being on your knees and confessing “I am not” is that’s the place where God raises you up. Being dead is where resurrection takes place.
He keeps going:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 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. (3:11-17)
So Paul is aiming to know Jesus,
to be with Jesus,
to be defined by Jesus
and to do all of this forever.
To not only experience resurrection as some kind of symbol for personal transformation but to literally experience REAL resurrection from the actual dead—like Jesus.
He hasn’t already obtained all of this (verse 11)
but he says we have attained something—and we should all try to live up to it (verse 16).
For Paul, we’ve been given some of the resurrection now—we’ve been given some of Jesus now—and we should live like it.
Like we said this morning, we should politeuesthe—we should live lives worthy of the king.
We should live as we were meant to live.
We should become what God designed us to be—like him.
And notice here again: we “press to take hold” because Christ Jesus—King Jesus—has already taken hold of us. Because God in Jesus has emptied himself and already taken hold of you through his death and resurrection.
That’s insanely good news—believe it.
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. (3:18-19)
This is the place where we can start hearing Paul warn against really dark things. He’s got tears in his eyes as he writes and says that many people live their entire lives just driven by their appetite. They just want to consume—power, people, sex, stuff.
We’ve all been there.
Most of us live there way more than we want to admit.
And he warns that its a dead end—It just ends in ruin and shame. (That’s why religion is so dangerous. It’s not nearly as obvious that it’s just as much a dead end.)
Anyone in this room struggling with places of darkness (all of us) already knows this.
You know that you’re struggling with stuff that doesn’t satisfy.
You know that it’s shameful.
You know you’d never want to tell anyone.
You know if might just kill you if anyone in this room found out.
You know that you’re just being ruled by the god of your stomach.
And you know not finding freedom or satisfaction or joy.
News flash—you never will.
I promise you, life doesn’t have to be the way it has been.
Because Paul pictures something that isn’t a dead end.
Something that is lasting.
He pictures Jesus coming and transforming the entire world:
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. (3:20-21)
Paul says our citizenship is heaven.
Our politeuma is in the heaven.
What does that mean?
That our home is somewhere else and we’re just biding our time, passing through, waiting for the real thing to start sometime later? No.
Sure, we’re waiting for the day when when Jesus appears as king and transforms and recreates the whole world—including us. But (like we just heard) we’re pressing forward right here and right now—in the world as it is now—because we’ve actually been given some real resurrection life already.
When Paul talked about their citizenship, the Philippians would have known exactly what he meant. They lived in Philippi—not just any old city, but a Roman colony. A colony of Rome.
Even though the lived in Greece and not in Italy, they were still Roman citizens.
The culture of Rome, the law and customs of Rome, the protection of Rome was just as much a reality in Philippi as it was in Rome itself. So that means they weren’t all just planning to let go Philippi fall to pieces and head off to Rome one day. It meant that the life of Rome came to them—now.
Because they were a colony.
Because their politeuma was in Rome.
Paul says your politeuma is in heaven.
We are a colony of heaven.
So that doesn’t mean we’re just biding time waiting to go there—it means that the life of heaven is coming here. Camp Elim, Belleview, Westminster, Denver—is a colony of heaven inhabited by citizens of heaven. And our king invites us to live real life—resurrection life—now. That why Paul immediately says:
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!
So a few questions tonight:
What are the ways in which you are pretending you’re OK?
What are the disguises, what are the coping mechanisms, what is the religion that you use to try to convince everyone around you (and maybe even yourself) that you’re absolutely totally OK—that you don’t need saving or rescue?
And aren’t you tired? Will you trust your life to the cross and the resurrection?
I’ve heard some of you asking, “What can I do? I want to be like Jesus, how can I do that?”
The answer to that is we’ve got embrace him. All of his life—crucifixion and resurrection.
If you’re looking for something to do, a habit to start getting into, here’s one—confession.
I think confession is one of God’s primary way of transforming us.
Because I think it’s one of God’s primary ways of killing us.
Confession is crucifixion.
And God can’t resurrect until you’re dead.
It’s really, really hard to trust that God will resurrect—that death will lead to freedom and joy and new life. But trust me, from personal experience, it will.
It always does.
But it’s always terrifying.
Maybe later tonight or in the coming weeks, this looks like finding someone safe in your life and beginning to confess your areas of brokenness and deadness. All we can ever do is confess—to God and (it’s really important) to other people who are following Jesus—that we are struggling, that we broken, that we are sinners.
But if you’re not experiencing resurrection, maybe you’re refusing to die.
So may you go this evening and have faith to believe the gospel—to believe that God embraces you and your sewer-soaked life. May you never leave your knees and may you find freedom from your stomach. And may you begin taste real true resurrection life by confessing that you’re already dead.
CHAPTER FOUR: JESUS-SHAPED SPIRITUALITY
We’re in the home stretch now. This letter is relatively short—but it’s absolutely packed, right?
On Monday night, you’ll remember we kept reminding ourselves that this is is an actual letter sent from an actual guy to actual people. And when we read it that way it’s absolutely baffling—Paul isn’t sounding or looking anything like he should.
He’s in prison, but he seems more free and more joyful than almost anyone I know.
We talked about how Paul has gotten caught up in the gravity of something bigger, more beautiful, more expansive and more important than himself.
Yesterday morning we kept reading and saw Paul imploring his readers—both the Philippians and us too—to live lives that line up with the good news that Jesus is King. The reason they should live their lives a certain way has everything to do with the nature of universe.
God is the kind of god who empties himself and serves and dies to rescue us.
We’re called to be like Jesus because God is like Jesus.
When we begin to work out the life of Jesus in our own lives—when we begin to work out what God is already doing—our world starts turning right-side-up.
Then last night we saw that Paul has thrown himself completely into Jesus. He trusts that this God has laid hold of him and counts everything else as sewage compared to knowing him. He just wants to embody the life of this Jesus in every way—both death and resurrection—right now.
Because our citizenship is in heaven. We’re a colony of heaven in Colorado.
And so I suggested that one of the primary ways that we get ourselves into position to experience the amazing freedom of resurrection is through confession. If you’re want something to get in the habit of, that’s a good place to start. Because confession is crucifixion—it’s a good way for you to die. And it’s absolutely terrifying because we have ZERO control over resurrection. All we can do is die to ourselves and trust God for new life. Only God raises the dead. And God raises only the dead. We said that maybe we often don’t not taste resurrection because we’re unwilling to die.
And we saw at the end of chapter three last night (v20-21) we saw that Paul’s hope is that Jesus will one day decisively appear and make his kingship known. That one day he’ll transform and restore all of reality. There’s a day coming when every knee everywhere will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord.
And so he wants all of this to encourage them. Wants them to stand firm (4:1). And then he moves ahead this way:
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. (4:2-3)
Boom. Euodia and Syntyche just got drilled.
How would you like to be called out by name in the Bible?
It’s worth remembering that the documents that make up the Bible weren’t in a vacuum. This isn’t an ivory-tower-sort of book. It’s dealing with real, flesh-and-blood situations and real, flesh-and-blood people.
So here we find Paul calling out two specific ladies—Euodia and Syntyche—and telling them to put away whatever kind of strife or contention or competition or jealousy or bickering or gossip might be between them.
I don’t know who your Euodia is. But I think you do.
I don’t know who your Syntyche is. But I think you do.
This is where it gets real.
We’re called to love one another—even that specific person that you’re at odds with.
Especially that specific person you’re at odds with.
If Jesus rules the universe—and if having the self-giving heart of Jesus is the only way to have Real Life pumping through our veins—they’ve got to kiss and make up.
Better yet, they need to die to themselves.
They need to die themselves and begin living for each other.
This doesn’t mean that we’re always going to be best friends with everyone.
that we’re always going to be smiling,
that we’re never going to have disagreements or tension between each other,
that we’re not going to sometimes speak hard truth to each other.
What it does mean is that we’re becoming the kind of people who genuinely want the good for each other. That we’re learning to pray that God would make us the kind of people who want the good for each other more than we want the good for ourselves. And that we’re becoming people who will fight for each other’s good—especially when it costs us.
And he may still be speaking into this situation as he continues:
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. (4:4-7)
Rejoice in the Lord always.
A few translators have translated this word as “celebrate.”
Maybe that’s part of Euodia and Syntyche having the same mind in the Lord.
They’re learning to celebrate Jesus and his world together.
Celebrate always. Don’t worry about anything.
Don’t fret. Don’t panic. Don’t despair.
Just celebrate. Rejoice. All the time.
Well this seems crazy.
I mentioned yesterday that joy is something we seem to just stumble into sometimes. Sometimes we’re giving ourselves giving over to someone else—serving someone with no agenda other than their well-being, their good—and we suddenly realize that we’re experiencing a deep sort of happiness.
That’s absolutely true.
When we begin participating in the life of Jesus—when we begin loving sacrificially,
dying to ourselves and giving to others—it’s often so counter-intuitive, so surprising, so different than the way we normally live that a lot of times joy takes us off guard.
But sometimes you give yourself away and serve people and you don’t feel any kind of happiness—any kind of joy. What’s going on there?
When that’s the case, I think Paul would warn us that joy isn’t just something that we stumble into. It’s not just something that happens to us. It’s not something we’re passive in.
After all, he’s telling us to celebrate in all things, in every circumstance, in every moment.
First let’s just say that I don’t think anyone is doing this all of the time. Evidently Paul in Roman prison cell is pretty good at it, but even Paul despairs at times. He admits that at the beginning of another one of his letters—he despaired of life itself.
But second, let’s just say that I think a lot of people are better at it than me. I’ve known people in my life who are full of joy, faith and optimism—sometimes in the midst of awful and tragic circumstances.
And it’s not because they’re in denial.
It’s because they’re in prayer.
Some people are learning to do this some of the time.
I think this is where we’ve got to recognize that celebrating life is serious business.
Joy is something we’ve got to learn.
Joy is something we’ve got to practice.
And I think learning to celebrate the goodness and beauty and wonder and hilariousness and the gift of life is connected to learning to think in a certain way:
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. (4:8-9)
If you want to learn how to start practicing joy, you need to recognize that it matters what you give your attention to. Because Paul knows that you’re defined by what you dwell on.
If you’re going to become the kind of person who takes joy seriously, who is learning to recognize the beauty of life—I mean, really celebrate life no matter what’s going on—you’re going to need to be dwelling on things that remind you of Jesus.
Because ultimately Jesus is what’s true, right? We look to him to learn what nobility is. To learn what is right and pure and lovely and admirable.
The question is what grounds you in Jesus? What grounds you further in the reality of who God is and that he’s rescuing you to be like him? What shapes your thinking?
There are some basics that have stood over the centuries and been passed down to us. Things like learning to pray. Things like learning to be shaped by Scripture.
But there a lot of other things that—not on the same level, at all—can train us to think about Jesus. I don’t care what label the music or the movie has on it. If it’s labeled “Christian” but doesn’t teach you about Jesus—don’t listen to it. Don’t watch it. Especially if it’s bad art. If it’s not labeled “Christian” but it’s helping ground you in Jesus—think on such things.
Notice how Paul reminds us again (v9) that we ought to be putting into practice what we’re learning from him, from Epaphroditus (who almost died) and from everyone else who’s living a Jesus-kind of life. When we start doing, we’ll start tasting wholeness and joy.
He keeps going:
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. (4:10-13)
When I was in youth group and in college, I often saw that last verse plastered on Christian sports T-shirts. It seemed like “I can do all things” often meant something like:
“I can run a marathon,” or
“I can tackle that guy twenty-times my size,” or
“I can set a record in the long-jump and then be an astronaut when I grow up.”
And I didn’t really hear what Paul was saying in this letter.
We all know where Paul is.
We all know where following Jesus has landed him.
We all know he’s hurting and starving and wishing that he could just go ahead and die.
But I think that he dwells so much on the true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely and the admirable—he dwells so much on Jesus—that it’s changed the way he understands everything he experiences—especially hard things.
The story of Jesus crucified and resurrected is so shaping his worldview and his imagination that everything in his life is teaching him. He’s learning the secret of being content:
Crucifixion teaches him that suffering has purpose—and it doesn’t get the last word. Resurrection teaches him that God creates and recreates and relentlessly gives life.
Paul says he “can do all this” (”he can do all things”), and what he’s really saying is that he can endure anything. He trusts his king—he trusts Jesus—with all of his life, even with his troubles. And he’s learning to practice celebration by dwelling on Jesus.
Want to begin learning the secret of being content?
Dwell on Jesus.
But pay attention to where he always moves. We tend to focus in North American Christianity on our personal relationship with God, but Paul seems to always be pushing us in a different direction—or maybe better, a further direction:
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. (4:14-19)
Paul gives the briefest recap of his history with the Philippians—how they were the only Jesus-community he established to give him help early on in his traveling and work. And they’re still doing it (by sending Epaphroditus to him).
And the point he’s making here is that it’s good that they’re partnering with.
It’s good that they’re sharing his troubles.
It’s good that they’re giving to him.
No, “good” is selling it short.
This is the sort of thing that pleases God.
It’s a fragrant offering.
Just at the point where we think we might be getting some practical application for our personal life—that we need to dwell on Jesus in order to learn how to constantly celebrate and how to be content—we get one more reminder that our lives are not about us.
And this includes our spiritual lives.
Your spiritual life is not about you.
Every bit of your life—including your spiritual life—is about others.
If you’re wondering why your spiritual life seems dry, maybe look at whether your habits and patterns and thinking are focused on you and Jesus—to the exclusion of others.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s really important that you know Jesus personally.
He loves you. He gave himself for you.
He wants you to learn to celebrate and learn to be content.
He wants you to taste real Life.
But we have to be careful that our “personal relationship with Jesus” doesn’t become a clever way of dressing up spiritual selfishness. We need to be careful that we’re not just being ruled by our stomachs and appetites again—just in a different form. That we’re not just becoming consumers of Jesus to make ourselves feel better.
To be certain, Jesus probably does make us feel better quite often.
But he does it by helping us forget ourselves.
By sucking us into his gravity.
And whenever and wherever we find Jesus, we find Jesus reaching out to others.
The point of dwelling on Jesus,
the reason we want to learn to celebrate and learn to be content,
is so we can reach out to others in their pain and bring aid.
So that everyone hurting can say, “I am amply supplied.”
If your “Christian life” isn’t pushing you to share in the troubles of other people,
like the Philippians sharing the troubles of Paul,
like Epaphroditus almost dying to serve Paul,
like Jesus actually dying to rescue you and the rest of the world,
like Paul himself suffering in prison for Jesus,
if your “Christian life” isn’t pushing you to share in the troubles of other people,
I don’t know if I would call it Christian.
Because I’m not sure it looks like Christ.
Not sure it looks like our king.
You might read Bible verses,
you might talk about God,
you might study the Bible,
but I’m not sure you’re being defined by Jesus.
So this morning as we get ready for the day, here is my question for you:
Who is benefitting most from your “personal relationship” with Jesus?
You or others?
My prayer this morning is that we would learn what it looks like to celebrate every moment of our lives by dwelling on Jesus—and that our celebrating would fill up others.