May 29, 2022
Philippians 2: 1-13
In case you might have missed the news, there is a provincial election in a few days.
An election seems like an ideal time when we can put the gospel into action.
It’s when our call to serve the community … to better the lives of people who are at risk of being left behind or forgotten … can live out at the ballot box.
One thing that I will not miss come June 3 are those election ads.
There are some that speak in terms of bettering the greater community and there are others that play to fears and to self-interests … that you have to do what’s best for you and whatever is best for you must be best for the community.
Let’s call it electoral piety.
Some campaign ads play to the uncertainty that some people feel about the future and about the changes that come when we welcome the stranger or the other into the community.
They play to a sense of provincialism that sees things as threats rather than as opportunities to help the vulnerable and ease suffering. Such ads serve to create divisions within the community.
It is against such divisions that Paul writes today.
If you recall, last week Paul was telling the Philippians how grateful he was for his time with them and for their efforts to share the promise of the gospel with others in Philippi and regions beyond.
It had been years since his previous visit and the congregation had flourished and continually brought new people into the fold. But all is not well in Philippi.
Today’s portion of the letter shows that even though the Philippian congregation is doing great work serving others and sharing the Word, there are still cracks within the congregation … cracks that Paul can recognize from his distant prison cell.
The praise and thankfulness that was present a few paragraphs earlier are replaced with a sense of concern … and a call to remember what should be at the heart of a faith-filled life.
Since Easter, we have been hearing how lives change when the Spirit comes into play … how we respond when it comes upon us … how we bring the promise of the gospel to others … and what happens when we do. Paul continues to offer instruction centuries after he wrote to the Philippians.
This portion of the letter reminds them that Christ should lie at the centre of their lives. This reminder gives shape to faith.
The translation of the letter that we heard a few moments ago is slightly different than the original Greek of the letter … the difference is in the use of a single word.
The difference creates a subtle, but dramatic change in the message.
IF then there is any encouragement in Christ…
Any consolation from love
Any sharing in the Spirit,
And compassion and sympathy,
Make my joy complete; be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
The word “IF” makes it seem like all this is conditional … that there might be circumstances when there is no encouragement in Christ … no consolation from love. But all this rings a bit hollow since we have faith that God’s love is unconditional and ever-flowing.
The original Greek word is closer to the word “since.”
Which makes Paul statement more direct and anchored in the promise of the gospel … that since Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought all this into our lives, we should be of one mind … of a singular purpose to serve others and to bring others into community … a community based on love and one that offers comfort and security to its members.
During Paul’s time, being within a group or a community provided a measure of safety … especially when compared to being left to fend for yourself.
The individualism that is so favoured in today’s world would leave a person vulnerable and offer deadly consequences in the Roman world where Paul ministered. Has much changed since then?
Paul reminds the Philippians of the traits that mark a faith community … love, sharing, compassion, humility in pursuing a singular purpose … to live in the fullness of the gospel.
Paul isn’t calling for conformity … the absence of difference or of critical thought or dialogue. To Paul, the community should be of one heart and of purposeful mind when it comes to serving others. There is no room for ministry driven by ego or self-interest.
This can be difficult in a world that tells us to first look out for number one, and then to look out for and help others.
For Paul, humility is love in action… love is humility’s motive … humble service to others was just that … humble.
When he was writing on today’s portion of Paul’s letter Scholar Fred Craddock wrote:
“What we do know for sure is that Paul regarded as inappropriate to the body of Christ, the selfish eye, the pompous mind, the ear hungry for compliments and the mouth that spoke none, the heart that had little room for others and the hand that had served only self.”
As we consider Paul’s words this morning, perhaps we can reflect on our own service to others and the motivations behind such a ministry.
Are we fully and deeply sharing the gospel as Paul instructs … are we doing so with humility? Do we place others and their needs above ourselves and our own needs?
Paul presents Jesus as an example of humble service … taking on human form and enduring all the trials and indignities that come with it … suffering and dying on the cross for the sake of us. That is what Christ was willing to do to show the fullness of divine love
The power and love that is grace is humbling.
Jesus’ life underscores Paul’s point that humility is what distinguishes Christians in a me-first generation. And Paul teaches us that God is the One who works through us as we minister to the vulnerable and those on the margins.
Let’s see how God will do that in us later this week.