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Category Archives: Philippians

Learning to discover genuine joy in life with Jesus, through listening to Paul’s thoughts as he shares with some who are dear to him.

I’ve noticed the tendency in myself–sadly.

I reflect on my interaction with other friends and followers of Jesus and I realize that I have a tendency to think the worst of them. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement. But I do tend to think that others will often not make good choices, will often not follow through on commitments, will not give themselves fully to what Jesus wants for us, will settle for something a bit less . . . less than what I think I would do in the same situation. I have this tendency to think poorly of others. As if Murphy’s famous “law” (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”) has a corollary that plays out in the lives of Jesus’ followers (“If they can respond in a less-than-Christ-like way, they will!”).

I don’t think I typically come out and say that I think others will disappoint me, fall short of my expectations, and generally not live up to what I think they should in Jesus (as if I had been appointed the arbitrator of what should be done!), but I do find myself thinking that way. And I am sure that such an attitude impacts the way I relate to others . . . whether I want it to or not.

That is what struck me as so refreshing and healthy in reading Paul’s words to his friend, Philemon.

Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. (Philemon 21)

Paul seems to have the very opposite tendency. He has the expectation that Philemon will “go above and beyond” what Paul might expect. Paul’s view is that Philemon is even a better man than he, Paul, imagines him to be. Paul seems convinced that the reality of Jesus’ work in his friend, Philemon, will result in Philemon living in ways that exceed what Paul might want for him.

This thinking is reflected in Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he writes:

I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. (2 Corinthians 7:3-4)

Paul is so confident in the Corinthians willingness and ability to live well in Christ that he doesn’t write to condemn them but goes so far as to insist that he boasts about them to others.

I do not think that Paul is just “rosy-eyed” when he thinks of Philemon or the Corinthians. I do not think he is subtly manipulating them telling them of his confidence as a backwards way of applying subtle pressure to get them to live well. I think that Paul appropriately expects even more from them than he can think.

And I believe that this confidence is not anchored in Philemon, himself, or in the Corinthians and their ability. I get a hint of the grounds of such confidence in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13).

Paul is confident in how the Philippians will live–and how Philemon will live and how the Corinthians will live–because he is certain of God’s faithful work in the lives of others (to both enable the growth and provide the “willing” for the work) and he is certain that what God has begun in the lives of others He will bring to a full and complete end.

He is appropriately expecting even more because he is so sure of the work God is doing in the lives of others. And that kind of confident expectation is appropriate . . . and healthy in our relationships with others who know Jesus.

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Today I heard it. In conversation with another friend. We were talking about challenging relationships–some marital, some other. And we were discussing how to “speak up” and speak into the life of another when we notice something in their life that seems to be wrong, unhealthy, even sinful.

Because Scripture calls us to “admonish one another” (Romans 15:14), “speak truth . . . to one another” (Ephesians 4:25), “teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16), and “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), it is easy to begin to think that my role in the life of another is to help him or her see where he or she is falling short, not measuring up, living in sin. “In love,” I want to speak into another’s life to aid the other to see his or her shortcomings and sin.

Leveraging Jesus’ words, I embrace the role of the one who shows a brother his fault, pointing out his sin (Matthew 18:15). And because Jesus calls us to do this, there must be a time and place and way that we can do that very thing–speaking up and speaking into the life of another to awaken the other to sin or short-comings.

But then there comes that moment of honest self-reflection. (A little too infrequent, perhaps, but with the Spirit’s help it does happen!) Why do I feel the need to speak into the life of another? A pause. A moment of self-searching. An honest assessment. And it becomes clear.

Often I want to speak into the life of another because what he or she is doing tweaks me. I’m personally put out or inconvenienced or hurt by what the other said or did (or didn’t say or didn’t do). So my motive in speaking up is really to make my life a bit better, to help the other treat me the way I want to be treated, to help them see what they are not seeing so that I am less uncomfortable, less bothers, less offended.

And it is right there that another passage of Scripture comes rushing home to my heart.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;  do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . .  (Philippians 2:3-5)

What does this mean? What is the implication? Although there is so much in this passage, there is one thing that specifically speaks to this idea of speaking up and speaking into the life of another.

“Do nothing from selfishness.” That’s pretty clear. Never. Don’t do anything because, primarily, it is to your benefit. That prods me to honesty about that desire to set someone else straight.

Am I doing because the Spirit has given me a real love for the other and because my desire really is for the good of that other . . . or is my desire to speak into the life of another stirred by my desire to make my own life easier, better, neater?

Simple question . . . but a big issue.

The past few posts have explored the idea of non-reciprocal living. Doing life in such a way that we aren’t, fundamentally, living for what we can get from others. Where by leaning into the life that Jesus shares with us, we learn to love and give and serve “expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35; see the previous posts about “non-reciprocal living”).

Reading carefully, it became clear that Paul was calling the followers of Jesus in Philippi (and that includes us), to never do anything from selfishness–looking out for our own interests (Philippians 2:3-8). Although it sounded extreme, it’s clear Paul invites and anticipates that we would be able to live “Christ-like” by thinking about our living the way Jesus thought about living. (See “A Closer Look at Non-Reciprocal Living.”)

But does anyone really live that way? Sure, Jesus may have loved and served “expecting nothing in return.” Yes, Jesus might have given his life for us not looking out for his own interests. (After all, Jesus was God! But, I’m not!) Does anyone normal person really live this way? Can someone really live like that?

To help the Philippians understand the call to this kind of life (and to help us!) Paul offers a couple of examples to his readers. He mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus, men with whom the Philippians would have been acquainted. Look at what he says about them (drawing on Philippians 2:19-29):

Of Timothy, he says . . .

He is genuinely concerned for the welfare of others. He does not seek after his own interest as so many others do. His one priority is the benefit of others and the priorities of Christ Jesus. He serves for the furtherance of the Gospel. He has demonstrated this attitude over time–he has “proven worth.”

Of Epaphroditus, Paul writes . . .

He is a worker and “soldier” for the faith and good of others. His concerns were for the hearts and lives of others, even when suffering physically himself. He longed for the good of others. He risked his very life for the furtherance of the work of grace in the lives of others.

What does this mean? It means that Paul’s call to do nothing from selfishness is not unattainable, that Paul’s longing that we adopt a way of thinking about life that mirrors Jesus’ own attitude is not a “good idea” but not the way people really live. By grace, because of the Spirit, through their connection with Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus and Paul (and others!) have lived non-reciprocal lives. And by grace, because of the Spirit, and through our connection with Jesus we could live that way too.

It happens. I mentioned in a prior post (“And Then I Drift Off”) that in spite of my best intentions and desires, I can end up getting distracted, loosing focus, drifting from praying to . . . well, to just saying a few words and then off and on to something else.

Throughout the Scriptures, the friends of God are encouraged to talk with him. We are invited into intimate, vital communication with the living God. And although I have heard the invitation, I don’t always live into it well.

Paul writes to the Colossians: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). I’d like to live that way–devoted to prayer, keeping alert rather than ending up drifting away. And in this exhortation, Paul provides a hint to growing in faithfulness in prayer–“with an attitude of thanksgiving.”

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul also writes about prayer in general and couples it with thanksgiving: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). In that passage, Paul uses a few different words that refer to prayer. “Prayer” is the generic word for communication with God; “supplication” has to do with appealing to God for the needs of others; “requests” is a word that speaks of asking God for specific things. And then there is “thanksgiving.” That word refers to . . . giving thanks!

When I reflect on these two passages (Colossians 4:2 and Philippians 4:6), I notice the prominence that Paul places on thanksgiving–and I realize that it just may be that thanksgiving is not nearly as significant a part of my prayer life as it could be, as it should be.

Maybe my drifting–my lack of alertness–is tied to my diminished commitment to giving thanks. As I rehearse before God what I want, my list of things to talk with God about is limited by what I can think, recall, envision. But if I began to talk with God–with thanks–about his goodness, his mercies, his blessings, his grace, then my mind and heart will be captured by all that he is and all that he does.

Perhaps attentiveness to the goodness of our God and the riches of grace that come through Jesus and the kindness of the Spirit in transforming our lives would open up my soul to greater thanksgiving . . . and be the fertile ground for a richer and more “alert” life of prayer.

 

What is life with Jesus supposed to be like, for those of us who live on planet earth when Jesus is no longer physically present? I think Peter would say it is to be a life characterized by joy.

In his first epistle, Peter writes to those who have been scattered because of persecution, who are struggling to endure in the midst of hardship, and who are not living in the physical presence of Jesus. What he says about these followers of Jesus is provocative.

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, (1 Peter 1:8)

That they “have not seen [Jesus]” probably means that he is writing to followers of Jesus who never had the opportunity to meet him when he was walking the earth in the days of the incarnation–just like us. That they do not “see him now” underscores the reality that he is not physically present on the earth in a way that would allow them to see Jesus with their physical eyes–just like us. That they “believe in him” is more than their affirmation of the truths about Jesus, but really is an indication of their dependent and abiding relationship with Jesus (although he is not physically present in a manifest way)–just like us. And the outcome of this kind of living is “joy inexpressible and full of glory”–a joy that is so real and overwhelming and gripping that it is almost impossible to find words to express it. And, sadly, that is not just like us a lot of the time.

The pursuit of joy in Jesus is not, primarily, to make joy mine but to experience through believing in the glory and “treasurefulness” of Jesus and having Jesus as that great treasure of life, to taste real joy. Joy is the measure of our treasure; we delight most in what we value most. To cultivate a “joy inexpressible and fully of glory” in our own souls comes through the cultivation of Jesus’ “treasurefulness.”

In seeking to raise Jesus’ treasure value in our eyes, we are not making Jesus more glorious or amazing or wonderful. Like a telescope that brings the distant stars into view, helping us see the breathtaking glory of those celestial objects, contemplation of the glories of Jesus brings into view what is already and always true. The telescope does not take something that is small and insignificant and unimpressive and transforms it into something that is brilliant and impressive. We are captured by what we see when we can see it. So it is in contemplating the glories of Jesus.

In a previous post I reflected on some initial things that seem to help me raise Jesus’ treasure value in my eyes. Not suggesting that I have all this figured out, there do seem to be a few more things that help me see Jesus for all that he is. Let me offer one more suggestion.

I realize that I have to purposefully think “Gospel thoughts” rather than merely rehearse my own thinking. In the midst of the trials and turmoil of life, I can easily slip into “thinking things through” without turning much attention to the Gospel–that good news of what God has done for us in and through Jesus.

In Colossians 2:2-9, Paul encourages the Colossians in their life with Jesus by affirming that “in [Jesus] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He explains that he is pointing this out to them so that “no one will delude you with persuasive argument.” They are to remain in Christ Jesus, seeing as he is the root of their lives. And he cautions them about mere human thinking that will lead them astray. He encourages them to be anchored in thinking about life  “according to Jesus Christ” for in Jesus “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete.”

Paul wants his readers–and us–to recognize that all thinking about life, all living out life, that doesn’t have Jesus at the center, that doesn’t look at life through a Jesus lens, that fails to take in account all that Jesus is and all that he has done for us can and will lead us astray. Jesus is the root of life, Jesus is the fountain of all wisdom and understanding, Jesus is the very embodiment of deity, and in Jesus–in relationship to him–we are made complete.

It sounds simple, but I find I slip away from this. To continue to raise Jesus’ treasure value in my eyes and find my heart running after him as my great treasure, I simply have to keep before me the truth–the truth of who he is, the truth of what he has done, the truth of what he is like, the truth of what he is up to.

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