I still remember the fellowship hall where we met Monday-Friday. This one large room was converted into 2-3 classrooms during the week so that our small Christian school could teach its students there. Every day I looked forward to that class. I had learned about the Bible my whole life, but Coach had a way of talking about it that was so dynamic, so alive. I loved to hear him share about his experiences and the truths God had made real to him in the process. “I’m going to give you an option to not take your final exam,” he said. Everyone’s ears perked up at the sound of his words. “You just have to memorize the entire chapter of Philippians 2.” As we began to memorize those first verses we also talked about what they meant. What was this whole ‘being of one accord’ thing? What was the Bible really saying about Jesus in this passage? It seemed like a really poetic way to say ‘Jesus came and died for us and was overall really humble. So we should be like him.’ This is true. But there was so much more I didn’t yet grasp or understand.
“Attitude.” He said. “I think it’s most importantly about Jesus’ attitude and how he was willing to put others interests before his own.” My friends words made me think as he began to talk about how Paul gives Jesus as the first and greatest example, and then goes on to describe the attitudes of two of his closest companions: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Sure I had read and even memorized this particular passage of scripture before, but this time around I hadn’t just started with chapter 2. I had studied more about Paul and his life, just finished reading his letters to the Corinthians, and done my research on the context of when and how Paul wrote these letters. I knew now that Paul had written this from prison possibly from his home where he was kept under house arrest, and during a time where many in the very same churches he had planted were speaking out against him. Paul had every reason in the world to be angry, depressed, or at least a little bit discouraged. He was after all human. And we see from Paul’s writings that he felt. He wasn’t a man without emotions or struggles. And yet from his prison he was able to say things like ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain (1:21)” and “I am glad and rejoice with you all”. Paul was a man who knew how to submit his attitude to the Lord. He knew that whatever his circumstances were, if he was looking out for others interests and not his own, he wouldn’t be appalled and affronted when every one of his earthly freedoms or joys were taken away. He knew that God would sustain him because he had seen the example of Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice.
He goes on to talk about how seeing that same attitude in others had been one of the greatest encouragements of his life. He says of Timothy: “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” And of Epaphroditus: “…for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” What does it say to us as believers today that Paul felt that there was no one like Timothy? Or that Epaphroditus was forced to risk his own life to support the work of Christ (when his home church couldn’t follow through with their commitment to care for its missionary)? How many of us are genuinely concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for the lost in the world? The reality is, we can’t be. Not unless we are working out our own salvation, choosing to die to ourselves daily and, like Christ, putting the interests of others before our own. If this kind of Christ-like attitude was rare in the times of Paul, we can assume that it is rare in our own times too. We live in a world that constantly says what matters most and should always come first is me. One that says if we don’t look out for our own interests, no one else will. And maybe it’s true. Isn’t that what Paul is saying? Few and far are those who look to the interests of others. But if we want to be like Christ, if we want to be used like Paul and Timothy and Epaphroditus that’s exactly what we have to do. Thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (v. 13).¨
So as we celebrate a resurrected Lord, as we struggle to understand or to submit to the situation the Lord has us in today, may we look to those who have come before us and knew that this life has oh so little to do with us and so very much to do with Him. In a time of social distancing, may we be like Paul. Present even in our absence. Seeking to serve the least of these even as we grieve the loss of what was once taken for granted. And may we look to the ultimate example, rejoicing that our Christ who was willing to suffer death, even death on a cross, is RISEN and exalted and seated at the right hand of God.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve of what is excellent, and and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.Philippians 1:9-10