Joy in Community
Joy increases and abounds in community. Where ‘happiness’ focuses on the self, the joy of the Lord moves us to live in community with others. In the passage that we discuss today, Paul gives some very important guidelines and instructions about how to live in healthy Christian community.
Paul starts off discussing the importance of healthy Christian community.
Philippians 1:27 (NLT)
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.
Paul reminds us that we represent the Lord Jesus Christ on this earth. And so, we need to live in a manner worthy of the Good News that we believe and share with others.
It is often said actions speak louder than words. There are two sides to this: 1) If your actions contradict your message, it loses credibility. 2) If your message is reflected in your actions, it becomes undeniable.
This principle certainly also applies to the church: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. In other words – let what you say also be reflected in what you do, or else you may harm the credibility of that message.
Isn’t this also what we discover in conversation with not-yet-Christians, that the way Christians behave prevented them from taking an interest in the person of Jesus Christ. I guess we have all played our part in harming the message of the Gospel. For many of us, our spiritual journey may have taken a big knock because of bad spiritual leadership or church politics or any other unhealthy dynamic in church life.
Paul decides to focus on the positive side of this principle. He encourages us to be a healthy church, where our beliefs are reflected in the way that we live – so that our testimony of Christ will be powerful!
Philippians 1:28 (NLT)
Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.
If we can stand strong in faith, not moving one millimeter because of any opposition, our enemies – and I believe that Paul is speaking mainly, although not exclusively about spiritual enemies here – will understand there is no way they’re going to win this. When our actions coincide with our words, there’s nothing that can stop us.
Paul deliberately choses strong language here, because we need to realise that when we represent Christ well in this world, this makes the devil very nervous. He is alright with people being Christians, but not if they suddenly become effective, loving, united, full of faith and firm in prayer.
When our actions coincide with our words, there’s nothing that can stop us
He will do anything within his power (his main strategies are to deceive and distract) to make Christians ineffective, judgmental, quarrelling and unmotivated.
It’s a struggle
Philippians 1:29-30 (NLT)
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
The Christian life is not going to be just fun and games. It is always going to have struggles, challenges and opposition. This is a sign that it’s going well! Sanctification is a struggle – because sin is real and it is not giving up easily. Faithfulness is a struggle – because doubt keeps creeping in. Effectiveness is a struggle – because there is an enemy out there. Unity is a struggle – because we are all flawed human beings
If you are not struggling in your life as a Christian, you are probably at a standstill.
If you are not struggling in your life as a Christian, my guess is that you are at a standstill. Following Jesus and impacting lives always involves struggle.
Becoming a healthy church community
So, realising that reflecting Christ well in this world is very important a deeply spiritual matter, and a struggle that needs to be backed up with prayer, let’s move on to Paul’s advice on being a healthy church community. This is the key sentence: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:5)
If we want to be a healthy Christian community, then we need to grow to become more and more like Jesus. Not just as individuals, but as a community. We need to think the way He thought, move the way He moved, prioritise what He prioritised and care about what He cared about. We need to adopt the attitude Jesus had.
1) Pursue unity
Philippians 2:1-4 (NLT) Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other,
If we want to rightfully represent Jesus Christ in this world then unity should be one of our main characteristics. This can be a challenge, certainly in an international church with people from different languages, cultures and church backgrounds – unity is something we have to choose, because it is not always felt.
At the same time, how powerful is the testimony of a church where people call each other brother and sister even though their home countries have a horrible history together. Or when two people from completely different church backgrounds pray for each other and do Bible study together.
Even if we are going to have different ideas about 'how to get there', if we can agree on the same direction, we can trust each other’s decisions
Here’s Paul’s instruction when it comes to unity:
loving one another, It starts with love – this is where any good community relations start, a genuine love for the other.
and working together with one mind and purpose. When we can agree on the direction, we can figure out the details along the way. Even if we are going to have different strategies and priorities, if we can agree on the same direction, we can trust each other’s decisions, even if they are different from ours.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Selfishness has never helped anyone, has it? The language of unity is never the language of “my way or the highway”, or “I need to be seen as” or “I need to be promoted to” – but “what can I do for you?” and “how can I help you succeed?”
2) Embrace humility
Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Christ is our example in humility. He went the road of humility – all the way. God came down from heaven to be born as a human baby, leaving behind the perfect heaven for a very imperfect earth. That’s an even bigger step then for a king to become a slave. And so, on earth, He was a servant of everyone. His closest followers would often have stupid arguments over who was the best disciple. So, one night, Jesus took a bucket of water and a towel and started washing their feet.
If Jesus walked the road of humility and even humiliation, how could we ever justify a judgmental attitude, pride or selfishness?
Jesus’ road of humility would even become a road of humiliation, when He let the people crucify Him, so He could reconcile us to the Father. So, how could we ever justify pride, a judgmental attitude or selfish ambition, when our great example walked a road of humility and even humiliation?
Philippians 2:9-11 (NLT)
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus’ glorification would only come after His humiliation. For our salvation, we don’t have to go the road of humiliation, because Jesus did what He did so that we didn’t have to. Please understand that God’s definition of greatness and success is very different than that of humans.
3) Never stop growing
Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear (this is a holy fear). For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
If we want to be a healthy church, representing Jesus well in the city of Groningen, we all need to adopt an eager attitude. Eager to learn, eager to grow, eager to pray, eager to serve – eager to go where Jesus is sending us.
Discipleship requires discipline
Other translations have used the phrase “work out your salvation”. This might confuse you a little. Is salvation achieved by living a good life? No. Salvation is received by grace alone. But you are not only saved from your old life, but also into a new life. And walking in this new life doesn’t come automatically, it requires an eager attitude. Discipleship requires discipline. It’s no coincidence the words are related!
However, you are not alone in this. God is giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. It is not a mission impossible. The Holy Spirit is helping you, guiding you and strengthening you to do it.
So, what are the results of having the attitude of Christ? What happens when we pursue unity, embrace humility and keep on growing?
Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.
The result of being church the way God meant it to be is that we live out what Jesus already called us to: to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Paul is not telling us to shine, but reminding us that we already do. It is our commitment to unity, humility and growth that will determine how bright that light is.
Remember, where there is light, there is no darkness. Even in a completely dark room where you cannot see your own hand in front of your eyes, lighting one candle makes all the difference. This is the effect we are called to have. Lighting up the city, driving away the spiritual darkness. There will be people that want nothing to do with us, but there will be many drawn to the light that we carry.
This is my prayer for this year. That our impact in the city will grow. That we may see the Kingdom of God expand and changing lives. That we may be a church community that is united in its wild diversity, that serves each other and is determined to grow to be more and more like Jesus.