Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2)
This is like saying, “If the sun rises in the east, please be united in why and how you are living. Pursue the common objective of love. It will do my heart good.” It is a though Paul anticipates the question: “What exactly would this look like?”
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others… Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)
In Paul’s age when there was a stock of deities, and the reference points for great kings were Alexander and Augustus, Jesus, a Jew who died on a cross, was an unlikely model for a divine ruler, yet:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 1:9-11)
N.T. Wright points out that Jesus did not cease being like God, the divine ruler, as he subjected himself to the humiliation of the cross. Rather, he demonstrated what He was actually like in the core of his being as he willingly laid his life down for others. God’s nature is love and love is sacrificial.
In an episode of Friends, the character Phoebe was asked if she would like to help her closest friends on a project. She responds, “Gee, I wish I could, but I don’t want to.” Upon hearing this unapologetic, un-sacrificial response, her friends go silent while the audience laughs. Did the writer’s of this show just generate a laugh by exposing us in what we frequently think but don’t say? Now that they are on the table, what are we to do with our selfish tendencies?
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (from Philippians 1:12-15)
My point? Phoebe’s light had gone out and so has ours, when, free of any fear and trembling, we fail to have in us that sacrificial attitude that was in Christ. While we may wish for the motivation to love our neighbor we need to understand that, as his apprentices, we must often obey before being gripped by inspiration. There is a good reason for this.
If we are not walking with him as his apprentices, we are still be walking in the flesh, in which we do not yet know how to love and we only know truth in propositional forms (as opposed to experiential forms). If we have not walked through this intimidating barrier of not wanting to when we are commanded to, we have yet to experience that Christ in us is our sufficiency even in a motivational lull. So, whether we’re struck by the mood or not, the command remains:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
So when we come to that place like Phoebe where we are presented with an opportunity to serve, we may be tempted to think, “Gee, I don’t really want to” but then add, “And I am happy to lend a hand.”
Perhaps as we lay aside our own agendas for the sake of others, we will discover we have found unity even when our beliefs are far from reconciled. Perhaps love shines most brightly when it is not dependent on theological unity. Could it be that the needs of others will become the thing that catalyzes our unity? After all…
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Father, Help us to rethink the role of these people you have placed all around us, whose needs sovereignly touch us. Help us to see that it is in their needs that we fulfill our calling as lights in this darkened world. Deliver us from our excuses of not being called or not being inspired. Animate the life of your Son within us to respond afresh to the needs you direct us to meet. Amen.