THE UNITED WAY
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 2, specifically, Philippians 2:1-2.
Reflection | As we turn to chapter 2 of Paul’s letter, we find a continuation of his prior call for unity in the Philippian church. He begins with a long string of “if statements” but Paul isn’t really posing a question about whether there is any encouragement in Christ and so forth.
Paul’s tacit assumption is the Philippians are indeed the beneficiaries of many blessings thanks to the grace of God. The word, “if” used throughout verse 1, would better be translated here as “since.”
This is because, for Paul, experiencing “encouragement,” “comfort,” “common sharing,” “tenderness and compassion” are not so much conditional or uncertain as they are the natural outcomes of being in relationship with Jesus. Such results, the fruits of unity, are not accomplished by us. No, the connecting, the unifying thread is Jesus, the Spirit of Christ. Hence Paul repeatedly uses the small but significant phrase, “with or in Christ” (or “in the Lord”, “in the Spirit” or “in him”, etc.) not just in this correspondence but in all of his letters. In fact, this particular phrase is used over 170 times in the New Testament!
For Paul, there is an inseparable connection between unity and union in Christ. As we learned last time, there can be no true unity in the Church unless believers are genuinely united with Jesus. To be saved by Christ is not merely assenting to some transactional knowledge about Jesus. To be saved by Christ is to move and have one’s own being with and in Christ. It is to live out of an experiential, relational knowledge of Jesus borne of the Word and the Spirit. From this relationship inherently flows all the benefits of our salvation. And these gains from God’s grace should naturally spill over into our relationships with others.
“Since” or in view of the tremendous blessings we have received in Christ, as Paul writes in verse 2, he expects the Philippians (and by extension, us) to exhibit certain attitudes and behaviors towards each other. First, they are to be “like-minded” – meaning, having similar outlooks, concerns and intentions. Second, they are to express “the same love” – referring to practicing the same selflessness compassion that God displays towards us. Thirdly, the Philippians are to be “one in spirit and of one mind,” – being of one accord or acting as soulmates, knit together and mutually constrained by the same desire and focus.
The harmony Paul anticipates does NOT mean we will all agree on every single issue. That’s uniformity and not unity! It is both good and necessary for us to have differences of opinion as this will stretch our understanding of God, His word, the movement of the Spirit, and how the Lord is working in this world. Even Paul disagreed with other apostles at times.
It is not the difference of viewpoint that makes for disunity among us, but rather a wrong attitude toward others whose viewpoint differs from our own. Paul’s point is we must be mindful not to let differences of opinion destroy our faith and/or to contradict our witness and mission as representatives of Christ to the world. What divides us must never be greater than the One who unites us. There is nothing about which we may disagree that justifies withholding forgiveness & grace, mercy & justice, & above all, peace & love, from others.
In listing some of the gifts we have received in Christ, Paul is reminding us both of what’s possible and therefore, what’s expected of us as followers of Jesus. Overwhelmed right now by our struggles – loneliness, loss of a job, the risk of possible infection, and/or fear about the future, it is becoming easier to pay more attention to our limitations rather than to our possibilities. There can be no denying the challenges before us are real, complex, and hard to bear. But we forget what is possible, what is available, the One who is right in front of us.
We do not have to fixate and fester on our limitations. We can, if we yield to the Spirit, abide in all that is ours in Christ – what can only be taken away from us if we choose to forget what we have been given: encouragement, consolation, sharing, empathy, and compassion? Out of these blessings, we can be unified in Christ, first in envisioning possibilities beyond these challenges we face. But also then, through the power of the Spirit, actualizing experiences and encounters of resurrection – of the life we can always find beyond death, thanks to Jesus.
Consider & Discuss | What frustrations do you have over the limitations you are facing right now? Are you wrestling with those limitations by yourself? If you mutually confided in a brother or sister in Christ and each of you reflected on the blessings you do have what possibilities for moving forward might the Holy Spirit seek to reveal to both of you?
Prayer Focus | Dear God, we frequently focus on what we lack rather than what we have – what You provide for us. When we are hurting, we tend to divide ourselves from each other – choosing to suffer alone rather than to recognize our unity and therefore all the possibilities we have together in Christ. Renew our faith, hope, and love by prompting us to reach out, to confess our struggles and to discover our strength within Your Body. Amen.