The Surprising Reality of Disunity: insights from Philippians

In Philippians we see Paul do something rarely seen in any other letter. Near the end Paul specifically names two individuals, exhorting them toward unity. He writes in Philippians 4:2-3:

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Here is the challenge: we are one in Christ, but we often don’t live like it. And that challenge grips the church in Philippi.

We do not know exactly who these two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were, but they were evidently pillars in the Philippian church. Because of how Paul earlier addresses the various pressures believers in Philippi faced, it is most likely these two Christian leaders were in disagreement about how to live out the gospel in the face of external pressures or even persecution.

This situation also highlights something else about conflict and unity in the church: disunity is not just a problem for those who are young or immature in the faith, but also for those who are mature in the faith.

These two women were leaders within the church—even deemed co-workers with Paul—as it says in verse 3: “they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel.” They were friends and co-workers called by name by Paul who knows them and cares for them, as well as the entire church in Philippi.

Friends, this is not that different from our own day. Because of the pressures on us during this incredibly divisive time, as Christians we are struggling to figure out what it looks like to live out the gospel in our day and time. We wrestle with what that means and sometimes we disagree with one another about that. This is not necessarily a maturity issue…but it is a real unity issue.

We are one in Christ, but we often do not live as one. The situation in Philippi, a church which Paul joyfully thanked God for daily, should not be surprising to us. Challenges to unity are normal… …but we must actively uphold unity with love.

[This post was drawn from my message, “Becoming One: the developing unity of the church as the community of Christ.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 6)

This is my final post in a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers some final ‘secrets’ to living well for God.

The first is to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This echoes Paul’s theme of thankfulness from chapter one, that there is a grateful joy we can have in life. The secret behind such rejoicing is to turn our anxiety in to prayer, presenting God with our requests and living in His peace (4:6-7).

The second ‘secret’ to living well is to fill our minds with the right sort of things. Paul knows the power that inner thoughts have to shape the life of a person. Because of this, he encourages the Philippian believers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (4:8).  What we think about impacts our lives through our attitude, words, and desires. Thoughts have power.

A third ‘secret’ Paul mentions from his own life is contentment. He writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (4:12). Obviously, we know from Paul’s life that he has been in a variety of situations. Even now, he is writing from prison. In it all, however, Paul is content. The secret to Paul’s contentment is knowing God’s strength living in him: “I can do all this through Him who gives me  strength” (4:13). Paul points these words toward the Philippians’ situation later: “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

As he begins, Paul concludes by rejoicing in God’s good gifts, thinking on excellent things that God does, and content because of all God provides.

How are you doing at living into these spiritual ‘secrets’ Paul outlines at the end of his letter to the Philippians?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 5)

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are written from devotional reflections on the Scripture.

Paul is driven by an all-consuming desire to know Christ. In one sense, Paul already knows Christ, as he writes: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (3:8).

Because of this saving knowledge of Christ, Paul has set aside all earthly accomplishments or religious means of proving himself. He even counts those things as rubbish – or dung – so that he can “gain Christ” and a righteousness of Christ by faith. Paul has a focused perspective on Christ’s impact on his standing before God.

But, in another sense, Paul has more to know of Christ. He says immediately after this: “I want to know Christ” (3:10). There is a sense that something needs to be filled in with Paul’s knowledge of Christ. Paul outlines i this way: “I want to know the power of the resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead” (3:10-11).

Paul wants to know Jesus’ death and resurrection, His suffering and His glory. This all seems to point toward an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ that is far beyond what Paul knows now. He has not yet fully experienced this sort of knowledge of Christ (3:12).

How are you growing in your experiential knowledge of Christ these days?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 4)

This post continues a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

Paul mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians when writing to them. From Paul’s laudatory words, we see that both of these men are examples to the believers then and us today.

Paul describes Timothy as:

  • “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (2:20)
  • “Timothy has proved himself” by serving with Paul “as a son with his father” in the work of the gospel; apparently being one who looks out for the interests of Christ Jesus, not just himself (2:21-22)
  • he will faithfully report back to Paul (2:19)

Paul describes Epaphroditus as:

  • “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (2:25)
  • “your messenger” sent to take care of Paul’s needs (2:25)
  • became sick while with Paul, almost died, but is now well (2:26-27) by God’s mercy
  • “risked his life” for the gospel work by caring for Paul (2:30)

These two believers were examples that Paul could hold up for the church in Phillipi. We all need examples of faithfulness to God toward whom we look in our daily lives. Those examples help us as we try to continue to pursue God and work for Him in this world.

How have examples of faith been an encouragement to you in your faith?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 3)

This is the third in a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the PhilippiansA Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1). These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

I have always been captured by Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good pleasure.

These two short verses provide what I see as the best description of the mysterious tension that exists in our lives between God’s power and our effort. Paul is challenging his readers to obey God – and his teaching about God – even though he is geographically apart from them and in prison. He offers a kind, yet challenging, word to the believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In essence, Paul is telling us that we need to put in hard work to work this all out. It will not just ‘happen’ without energy expended and effort given to the work. I cannot help but think of Paul’s encouragement to his young pastoral trainee, Timothy, to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). His comparison in that passage to physical training seems to echo through the current words to the Philippian believers. ‘Get to it! Don’t stop working at it!’ Paul says.

But the other half of the equation is the reality that “it is God who works in you.” This working out of our salvation is not something based in human effort alone. Our own efforts find strength and their source in the truth that God is at work within us. This should encourage us, but also give us that “fear and trembling” Paul references here. Right now and right here in our lives, the Living God is at work. He will do His work in our lives. That’s why Paul said that God will “fulfill His good purpose” in us or, as he wrote earlier in this same letter, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

So, we find ourselves resting in this mysterious tension that we are to work out our salvation, while knowing that anything that comes worth talking about is fully from God’s gracious work in us. We cannot wait for God to do something without putting some effort into it. Yet, we cannot believe our efforts will do a thing apart from the powerful working of God in our lives.

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]