Crime dramas can shock us, but they can also inform us. I find it interesting that the legal system is so invested in determining motive. In some cases, even when it is known that one person took another's life, the issue of motive can make the difference between a few years imprisonment and the death penalty. Motives are huge.
As Paul continues to weave a rich and varied tapestry in Philippians 2, he cautions the readers regarding their motives:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
This verse at first might even seem out of place in the otherwise poetically beautiful and positive passage. Paul invested the majority of Chapter 1 expressing his deep affection and appreciation for the church in Philippi. He has started Chapter 2 emphasizing the spiritual benefits of connection with Christ. He has asked the readers to make his joy complete by being united in mind, spirit, and purpose. Now, in this little verse, he does what Scripture is known to do, he shines a light on the thoughts and intentions of the heart. He challenges them to check their motives.
In I Corinthians 13, Paul taught that even the most dramatically supernatural gifts exercised without love, count for nothing, amounting to just so much noise. Even the good things we do need to come from the Holy Spirit within us, not from our own fleshly desires to look good or to gain attention or approval.
Perhaps you know someone who embodies this virtue, especially the part about considering others better than ourselves. I once heard about a scholar who was invited to a program which he did not know was in his honor as it was a surprise for him. This man was accompanied onto the stage by a colleague. When the crowd burst into applause, the honored man immediately turned and began to applaud the colleague! It never even occurred to him that he was the object of such applause. He assumed the other man was more deserving of honor. I think this is what Paul is talking about. He wants us to focus so on the strength and beauty of the Spirit in each other that we are sincerely honored to share life with one another.
As we exercise our gifts, some people will express their approval. I like the analogy of the donkey at the triumphal entry...what if the colt thought the "hosannas" were for him? Remember the King we serve and, look for him in one another's eyes. This is our challenge and our blessing. Seek him in the hearts of your brothers and sisters, and you will find him there.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
When you think of joy, what comes to mind? Receiving that hard earned diploma? Scoring those winning points? Your wedding day? The birth of a child? Certainly happy feelings overflow for most people on such "joyous occasions." God must be a fan of joy, judging by the fact that "joy" and its derivatives are used almost 250 times in the New Testament (NIV). Differing from happiness, biblical joy is evident even when circumstances do not go the way we had hoped.
The angels announcement to the shepherds (perhaps among the most unlikely recipients of divine revelation at the time) was not a theological treatise on justification and the state of man. Rather it was a declaration of joy, peace, good will, and favor:
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord...Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Luke 2:10-11, 14
The joyous message the heavenly messengers brought from the throne room of God to smelly, asocial men who kept the flocks by night, was this. "I love you. Watch how much." The babe in a manger was more than a lovable infant. He grew to live a perfect life and showed us how to live and, more than that, he gave up his perfect life so that we can be reconciled with God. The angels announced the birth of the Reconciler. The vast chasm between God's holiness and our fallen state was about to be bridged. If that isn't reason for joy, I don't know what is.
The apostle Paul lived in the glow of such joy. His life circumstances were anything but pleasant. His plans, even those to further the gospel, were often frustrated and, he owned little to nothing in this world. His thanks for all of his efforts, as far as the world was concerned, was imprisonment and a martyr's death. Yet he spoke often of joy, and in the second chapter of Philippians, had this to say about it:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2:1-2
Paul's joy was firmly anchored in the promises of God. He lived in a state of freedom from sin, freedom from legalism, and freedom from despondency. He knew who he was in Christ, his inheritance, and his ultimate destination. His joy was enhanced by the faithfulness and unity of those to whom he ministered. This unity is made possible by the good news brought by the angels long ago. Not only did Jesus come to redeem us for eternity, but also to redeem us from selfish, petty differences as we walk along our path to intimacy with God and others.
Receive the good news of great joy with gladness this year. Rejoice for the eternity that awaits you if you have believed in Jesus. Let that joy reverberate in your life and relationships. Make Jesus' joy complete by fulfilling his command (love one another). Lay down your grievances and take the hand of the person next to you. Look one another in the eye and say: "I love you. Watch how much."
Think of how a team works. Diverse people with a variety of skills, backgrounds, and talents come together with a common goal. The members are not identical. In fact, the more varied the better. The thing that needs to be shared is the goal, whether delivering the ball to the basket or selling a predetermined number of widgets. As Paul continues his introduction to Philippians 2 he speaks of that kind of oneness in the church:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:1-2
I used to look at this and other passages on unity and think that this is an ideal the church has just not lived up to. In my stint as an elder, I was disillusioned by the level of concerns that people divided over: church furnishings, music style and volume, loyalty to this leader or that one. I would think, frankly, that Jesus prayer at the last supper was in vain, that the free-will of his unruly bride kept him from this one blessing he asked from her. While it is true that Jesus must not be pleased with such petty divisiveness, I now believe that, in general, the church does function in unity with diversity. The members, though diverse, seek to fulfill the ultimate mission: go, teach and baptize. The methods are as diverse as the vegetation that clothes the earth, but the mission of unity is to bring ourselves and others into fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In so doing, we bring ourselves into fellowship with one another. We are on in purpose.
Key passages on spiritual gifts support this view. Ephesians 4 and Romans 12 point to the diversity of the body and the different spiritual gifts. We understand the varied personalities given to different members drive the things we do and even the way we do them. That is God's design. The hand cannot say to the foot, "I have no need of you." We are interdependent if we want to accomplish the mission. Rather than judging one another for our differences, what if we embraced and even thanked God for them? The charge here in Philippians 2 is not so much about producing "Stepford" Christians, who look, act and talk alike. It is more about remembering the goal.
Which end of the court are you driving toward? Our thoughts, meditations and actions take us toward one or the other. One end of the court is the flesh, with its unending desires and insatiable lusts. This is the way of the world, the passion of our culture aided and abetted by the advertising industry. The other end is the direct opposite. It is fueled by the encouragement of being united with Christ, the compassion of his love, the fellowship of his Spirit, and by tenderness and compassion. The team mates are clothed in the fruit of the Spirit and motivated by him from within.
Keep your eye on the goal. Let go of the thousand petty distractions. We win because we function as a team. Press on!
In counseling people, I find that many literally do not understand the meaning of the word compassion these days. Just as aggressive and assertive are used interchangeably in spite of very different meanings, when I ask folks about compassion they respond by talking about their passion. I mention this only because compassion is such a central word in the Bible, and even my Christian clients are apparently unfamiliar with it. While passion speaks of high emotion on a given subject or person, compassion refers to hearts and hands that reach out to help a hurting person in need. It is no accident that Paul uses the word compassion as a foundational principle in the beginning of the second chapter of the book of Philippians:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any tenderness and compassion, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:2
Tenderness and compassion are linked here in a string of benefits that come from being united with Christ. We find encouragement in him, we are comforted in his love, and we have in him tenderness and compassion. Paul is setting the stage for one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, and as he does so, he is reminding the Philippians of the relational gifts of being in Christ. He uses the word if here in a positive assumption, as if to say:"if you have these things, and I know you do..." The if word, however, implies that the reality of their faith (with these benefits) is about to be put to the test.
Tenderness and compassion conjure images of a mother comforting a troubled child, of Jesus kneeling next to the spritiually and physically afflicted, of God who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to save its inhabitants. As we live out our faith, we have plenty of need for the ongoing tenderness and compassion of God. And there is plenty of it--we cannot exhaust his resources--that is not even possible!
The tenderness and compassion of Christ are not meant to find their final destination in us, of course. They are meant to be accepted, embraced, and shared with others. Drink deeply of his tender compassion, and pass it on.