What does a life transformed by the gospel look like? We have been looking through the series on the book of Philippians for the past few weeks.
- We looked at the amazing transformations that have happened in Paul’s life and in the lives of the believers in Phillipi (Phil 1:1-2).
- We saw that Paul was not satisfied with the status-quo of the believers and his desire for the Philippian believers to grow in love (Phil 1:9-11).
- We also saw Paul having a bigger mission than his challenges. How the gospel was advancing in the midst of his chains and other people’s reactions of envy and rivalry (Phil 1:12-18).
Now Paul gives them an exhortation in Phil 1:27 saying, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The Greek word politeuomai refers to “one’s conduct in relationship with others, based on a set of values or laws,” or “mutual responsibility towards one another as members of a society or a church as a covenant community,” or “norm for behavior in a society.”
As we look at the background, you will see Paul addressing a few things in the context of what has been happening in the Philippian church. Let’s look at them:
- When Paul was in Rome, the church in Philippi, which was established in AD 52-53, sent Epaphras with some money. During Epaphras’ stay with Paul, he most likely gave an update on what was happening at Philippi.
- As a growing church, there were some problems. These problems were not based on doctrine but on personalities. There was disunity and conflict between Euodia and Synteche (Phil 4:2-3). Euodia and Synteche were part of the founding members of the church, along with Clement and Epaphras. They probably claimed superiority and leadership.
- Around AD 63, when Paul was in prison in Rome, imperial cult was becoming popular. Many cities enforced it, which was a threat to their Christian faith.
Hence in the midst of these varied challenges, Paul’s desire for the Philippian believers is to live in a way that advances the Gospel (verses 28-30). He wanted their external lifestyle, i.e., their interactions with the outside world to have unity in purpose (Phil 1:27). He wanted them to be in one spirit (ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι), and to be with one mind (μιᾷ ψυχῇ). Paul wanted them to present a united, unwavering push against the rising threats just as a gladiator or a wrestler would do in an arena (συναθλέω vs ἀγών) (verse 28).
Now, we will look at the internal lifestyle, i.e., what attitudes should they have amongst themselves as believers in Jesus Christ? What are some important and absolute essentials to have as a Christian community? Paul suggests at least 4 such essentials, for which Christ Himself is the model (Phil 2:1-11).
# Be like-minded
“Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Phil 2:2). It means to be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. It is a sign of friendship. An organization or a church or a family must have unity of purpose.
When I do pre-marital counseling, I usually ask them, what their common goal is? In a marriage, it is absolutely essential that the husband and the wife have a common goal. People may come to church with various goals and agendas, probably looking for a good Sunday school or a Youth ministry or even good preaching, only seeking what they might receive. The church then becomes a utilitarian entity where one’s needs are to be met. Why are we coming together? What is our common goal? Are we like-minded?
Paul also wanted them to have the same love, which refers to a love that focuses on others (Phil 1:9). The perfect model for this kind of lifestyle is Jesus Christ Himself. Whenever believers turn their attention away from themselves to others, we see this kind of love at work.
I can share some amazing things taking place at Crossroad church these past few weeks during the lockdown. I hear that a family member who is elderly is sick, unable to do the things around the home, and other members come together to see how they can cook food or meet the needs of this family. Then I hear another person who has a financial need, and another church member comes alongside to secretly meet their needs! This is what I call as having the same kind of love.
# Regard the other person better than yourself
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves (Phil 2:3). It means, “absence of self-centered priorities.” In the body of Christ, Paul wants the believers to regard the other person as better than themselves. You might be going to church because you want to sit at the right place or hear the right sermon, basically saying “how can I satisfy my need?” But Paul is telling us to ask the question, “how can I be available to the other person?” and “How can I serve the other person?”
It means to not have relationships purely for personal reasons or to use the other person for one’s advantage. I had a friend with whom I had worked and studied together for almost 7 1/2 years, and I really considered him to be my very close friend. But slowly, I started seeing a pattern in this friendship. He would call to talk to me on phone only when he had a need. There was nothing like, “how are you? Or how can I be praying for you?” No. Such a friendship is what I call a utilitarian friendship.
It is important to remember that each person is created in the image of God. One person is not bigger than the other person. The other believer is going to heaven in as much as you are going to heaven. Let’s examine to see what are the areas in my life in which I am bringing in a utilitarian mindset? Is it in my marriage or my friendships or in my bible study groups and life groups? Paul wants us to regard the other person better than oneself.
# Look to the interests of the other person
“Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:4) This kind of an attitude builds team spirit. In a relationship, don’t look only for your interests. “Euodia, don’t look only for what interests you – look for what might be the other person’s interest as well.” Husband, you might have a preference to eat in one particular restaurant. How about the interests of your wife? If you are a believer, you will need to concede to the other person’s interests in the relationship. There is no competition then in such kind of friendships and relationships, but only complementing the other person.
Within a church context, you might have a good singer, or a good media person, or a good preacher, etc. When each of these persons with their unique talent and gifting come together, it creates a beautiful symphony. In marriages, each one should be asking the other person, “how can I complement you?” and not “look, how much money I am bringing in to the home, I am the bigger person here!” or “I stay home and work hard, cooking and keeping a clean home, I am the bigger person here!” In the Philippian church, it was because of such attitudes that Euodia and Synteche almost brought a division. It is important in all relationships to have the attitude of looking for others interests as well.
# Have humility in relationships
“Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) The attitude that I am not a superior person, instead I am here to serve the other person is the key here. Humility is by far one of the important Christian qualities. A Christian can be a good giver or a singer or a preacher, but humility is the key in all different roles and gifts. I struggle with that too many times. And when that happens, I tend to hurt my family and the church.
Humility does not mean that you take the lowest position or that you become a door-mat. Instead humility is adopting the model of Jesus (Phil 2:6-8). Jesus shares the same substance as God and is equal with God. He is God! But when the Father willed to save humanity, Jesus did not nominate another Person in the Trinity to do the work of redemption. He humbled Himself, and took the form of a bond-servant, and accomplished a great Salvation for us!
So, what can I take away from all that we have discussed? Imitate Jesus with regard to your relationships. The more you look at Jesus through the Word of God, the more you begin to reflect His character of humility. It takes time to grow into a mature church with these attitudes. As our attitudes change, it will become a lifestyle – a Gospel centered lifestyle.