This Week’s Reading: Philippians 2
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in 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 of one mind.” –Philippians 2:1-2
When we read Philippians 2 separate from the rest of Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi, we read a piece of encouragement to a church, a loving urge to unify itself in a worthy manner as they are called to hold fast to the joy of the Lord.
While this conclusion isn’t inaccurate, it is incomplete.
Here’s a little trick I learned this summer about reading God’s Word: when you see the word “therefore,” what is it there for? What is the purpose of the first word of this chapter?
“Therefore” points back to something Paul said in Philippians 1, so let’s take a little trip back to last week.
Last week’s post on chapter 1 discussed how God has begun, and is faithful to complete, a good work in each of us, even if we don’t always know exactly what that looks like. One thing is for sure, this life will always throw us curve balls, and sometimes they are really painful curve balls straight to the gut. Those are the kinds of things for which Paul is preparing the church of Philippi.
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” –Philippians 1:29-30
Paul writes this letter from the confines of prison, calling the church of Philippi to the same kind of suffering. He lets them know this isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes it’s going to be really difficult; it’s going to hurt. But keep pushing on, together.
The apostle Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the truth of the pain and persecution that Christ followers will undoubtedly face. Of all people, he lives out that pain the most, as told through the letters he writes during his imprisonment. Yet in the midst of those inevitable trials and tribulations, he calls the church to stick together, to be of one accord, one mind, one love. By writing letters like Philippians, Paul stays connected to his disciples, his community. These letters are as much for Paul as they are for the church.
“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” –Philippians 2:17-18
Christ-centered community is important for the life of each believer. Often, trials tempt us to pull away from that community, to distance ourselves in an attempt to protect ourselves or others. Paul knew that the enemy attacks most during our times of weakness and isolation, which is the very reason he encourages the church of Philippi in this way —stick together, lean on one another, care for each other selflessly.
Community, the kind Paul calls Philippi (and us) to, is messy. It isn’t pretty. Things we could never imagine or expect or prepare for will come flying at us faster than we can process. People will fall into sin, cause division, leave unexpectedly and without explanation. It hurts and it’s hard and sometimes it just plain stinks. But with all of this said, we need it, we crave it, even the most introverted, self-sufficient believer.
We’re all messed up, but God calls us to be broken together. When everything seems to crumble within our community, we can often be tempted to leave it, to tough it out on our own. Paul was fully aware of that tendency, which is why he writes to the church — to encourage them to remain unified in the love and power of Christ.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” –Philippians 2:3-4
He urges the church to put the needs and lives of others above your own. When we value others more than we value ourselves, our community reaches a new level. No one wants to abandon their friends, their teammates, their family. Division will be destroyed because personal desires have been cast aside, replaced with a striving for the common good. The enemy is defeated because the love of Christ reigns within God’s people; there is humility and kindness and patience and self-denial and protection for adversity.
During my freshman year of college, my youth pastor left my home church, which I was still very much involved with at the time. When he announced that he would be leaving soon, I internally panicked. I wasn’t sure what this would look like. I had never experienced anything like this before. Thoughts of people dividing and leaving and altering the nature of our church filled my mind.
And I was scared.
I remember his last Sunday clearly. There were tears and hugs and well wishes, and in my heart remained that small fear. But somehow everything kept going. Our church didn’t fall apart. Our youth group numbers didn’t drastically plummet. No one left or caused division. Our church continued in unity because everyone cared not for themselves and their own personal gain, but for the good of the community and what was best for the church as a whole. Through that situation I experienced community like never before. This type of community, the one Paul urged us towards in Philippians, isn’t conditional or breakable. Things might change and shift, but with Christ at our core, we can endure.
And that, friends, is what I see so beautifully from the words of Paul.
Paul had seen division. He had witnessed the enemy’s work in other churches and wanted different for the church of Philippi for the glory of God. Yes, he writes the letter to remind them of the hardships that are on their way, but also to encourage their hearts — remain in the selfless, humble love of Christ, casting your burdens on one another with one mind and one heart, and you will not fall.
You may be shaken, but you will not break.
My prayer is that you are encouraged by that, my friends. I pray that you see these hardships on the way — maybe they’re already here or just passed by — and lean on your community to help you through it. If you don’t have community, I pray this calls you to find it. Don’t allow the work of the enemy to separate you from fellow believers. We were built for relationships, both with the Father and with each other.