Have you ever met someone who “lights up” the room just by being in it?
Welcome to week four of our look at the letter of Paul to the Christians in Philippi. You will remember that when Paul first visited the city and made converts, starting a church, there was a riot and he was thrown in prison. Now he is in prison again, on trial for his life. People in the church seem to be stirring up trouble and rivalries, and he is constantly pleading for unity. He starts his explanation in chapter one, that God is working his purposes out even through his imprisonment. In chapter two he says that as a result of our unity in Christ we should look to be like minded. We should have the same mind set as Jesus, who accepted all that life had to throw at him, not clinging to the privileges that he was due as son of God. Jesus became obedient, even to the point of death, and humbled himself.
Since we are seeking to have the same mind set as Jesus, we also are called to be obedient – it is a serious business. If we also have humility and self-knowledge, we will also doubt our ability to live the obedient life, but Paul reminds us that “it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good pleasure”.
What does this obedient life look like? In negative terms, it is to “do everything without complaining or arguing”. This does not mean that we must always agree with each other or go along with everything we are told. It is permissible to send an undrinkable cup of tea back! It important to contribute positively to discussions and plans; it is good to seek to avoid problems and make projects better.
The two words used are gongysmos and dialogismos.
Gongysmos carries the suggestion of murmuring, backbiting, almost whining. Nothing is ever quite right or good enough. There is always a problem. There is a whiff of the Victor Meldrew: “I don’t believe it!” You can imagine if Laurel and Hardy had been thrown into jail in Philippi: "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)
Dialogismos speaks of one who just needs to be right. My father is famous for liking a good discussion, and always to win. He is quite capable of arguing forcefully for a point of view, but then to take the opposite line on another occasion if it gets the discussion going. Sunday lunch could be quite wearing. The truth of the gospel is important. Too often in the church, however, we have contended for our own version of the truth, to the exclusion of all others, and no matter what hurt is caused. The greatest truth is love, and we are trying to be like-minded with Christ, which will mean that we bring forth the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. One of the wisest sayings I ever heard was “I might be wrong”.
Jesus also said that outsiders would know that we are Christians by our love for each other. We do not live this life of love by our own efforts. I am not suggesting that we live our lives rigidly being kind and polite and courteous, as a supreme act of will. This feels false. It is also very hard work, and we always, eventually, let the mask slip, usually during times of stress and difficulty.
So what can we do? First take comfort from the fact that it is “it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good pleasure”. It is his power at work in us. Later on during communion we will pray “send your Holy Spirit and change us more and more to be like Jesus our Saviour.” If grumbling and disputing reveals a basic attitude of lack of trust and acceptance of God’s will, then we can learn lessons every time that we find ourselves falling into to doing them. We ask forgiveness, and as the light of his Spirit shines on our lives, so we see him transform us over time into the humble, obedient, trusting children of God, who will light up a room by our presence. It will be like the moon reflecting the sun’s light onto earth, as we live bible-based lives that are rooted in sincerity and humility, and reflect the light of God’s love in a dark world.
But this seems rather passive. So second, rejoice in the Lord. Learn to sing praises, at all times and in all places, (even if we do it internally and under our breath). Exercise your “praise muscles”.
Take care to warm them up, so you don’t give yourself a strain. Again, during the communion prayer the president exhorts you to “lift up your hearts”; it is good to remind and encourage each other to do this. See yourself grow in this essential area of Christian life. When Paul and Silas sang hymns and praises at midnight in jail in Philippi, this was not bravado or a whim, but the fruit of years of consistent engagement with God, leading to love, joy, peace and the rest.
You will recall from week one that I debated whether the key word of Philippians is “fellowship” or “joy”. Paul says that it is possible that he will be “poured out” like a wine offering at a sacrifice: he might be about to die, he might suffer the death sentence for his faith. This completes the explanation of his imprisonment started in the first chapter. His comfort is his fellowship with the Philippian people who are living this life of obedience and faith. This causes him to be filled with joy and to rejoice with them; he urges them to be filled with joy and to rejoice with him as they share this fellowship.
1. Have you ever had that feeling of dread that you do not want to get up out of bed and face
what the day will bring? What is there in this passage to help us?
2. What do you make of “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? (Is it
significant that Paul has just been speaking of the “throne room”, of every knee bowing and
every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord?)
3. How would you say that we can “become blameless and pure”, shining in the world?
4. What does it mean to you to “hold firmly to the word of life”?