Jesus’ followers are called and commanded to minister to the brotherhood and the world. Everyone in Christ is called to serve their Lord and Saviour in love and in truth. I myself am involved in some formal and informal minstries; leading a youth group, and bible study at uni. I meet up with non-Christian friends (not as regularly as I would like) to read the bible. This past weekend I spent with four mates in the mountains, to grow and encourage one another in our faith. It’s also important to remember our ministries through everyday relationships; we all have a ministry to our family and friends; in the home and the workplace.
Oftentimes this seems a big call. The right way – the best way – is not the easy way. How often is our attitude really one that reflects the grace and love of Christ?
Cue Philippians 1.
I’ll start with a disclaimer. A few people said they were looking forward to this “series” on Philippians. It’s most likely going to be 4 posts – one for each chapter. That could change. It isn’t a commentary, exposition or in any sense a near-exhaustive treatment. I’ll just share things I’ve been reflecting on. In chapter 1, that means I will only deal with the latter section. I would love you guys to delve into the mystical realm of Philippians for yourselves, to plumb the depths a little more.
A brief note on context. Philippians is a letter written by Paul to the church at Philippi. He’s in prison as he writes, most likely in Rome. Paul covers a lot of gound; he slams home some gospel, includes a hymn to Christ, and exhorts the Philippians to live worthy of the gospel, worthy of God. It’s not a smackdown letter in the spirit of Galatians, though. The Philippians are doing pretty well. While there are some issues with the church, they are generally pretty loving and obedient to God. As Carson puts it, this is “basics for believers” – going back over the simple truth of what it means to be a Christian. Particularly in the first chapter, Paul gets personal and shares his own experiences. He has a special relationship with this church, as it is the first he planted in Europe, and they have continued to partner with him.
Nonetheless – enough violent shrubbery encircling.
It is the classic dilemma.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.(Philippians 1:21-26 ESV)
To live is Christ. To die is gain. Paul here is experiencing an acute tension; he longs to dwell fully in the presence of God, for the eternal pleasures found at his right side. To be with God! Yet to live is to live for Christ; to serve him, to serve as he served, to honour him. Paul sees himself in an impossible situation. I have heard this passage preached numerous times, powerfully.
Paul orients himself toward God, longs for God in such a way that puts my own longings and desires pitifully to shame. To die is gain – that which I have in this world is worth far less than all I have in Christ. To be sure, we all feel something like this at times. Upon other occasions we find ourselves caught up in the world, losing track of the worth of Christ, the value of our hope. This is undoubtedly a big challenge, to not only know that death is gain, but to long for God’s presence.
The strength and purity of this devotion, however, reveals another challenge. Paul’s desire to live to serve Christ is just as strong. Let there be no mistake – Paul is not saying that his own interests are divided or conflicting. Far from it; his interests are with God. Yet for him, this desire is equally balanced by his compulsion to serve. It is not that he wants to experience life, and yet he wants to be with God. Paul’s purpose on earth is to live not for himself, but for Christ.
Are you living for Christ? Really? I’m forced to conclude that not only is my longing for God far weaker than it ought to be, but also my desire to live for him is consistently feeble.
What is it that Paul gives as the reason he knows he will stay? That people will benefit from his minstry. Life here is life for Christ, life of fruitful labour. This is not merely an abstract concept however. It is manifest in service of others. Paul decides to go on living for the sake of others. It is not a case of doing some service as you get on with you life. It is getting on with your life for the sake of serving those who are in need.
The NIV puts it; “it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Paul’s purpose and life reflect the ministry God has entrusted to him.
This passage was the one I used for the devotion on day one of camp. As we went into 4 days of ministry, I wanted the leaders to be equipped with this frame of mind. To orient themselves to God, longing for his presence. Yet to live in the now, for the sake of others. Self here is simply not a factor, no matter how much I desire to serve myself.
Once we have this attitude, our witness is powerful. Imagine if all of us, even just I and the few of you reading this post, were to have this attitude. We would stand out as people with priorities ordered differently – our hope somewhere different to that of the world. We would live for the benefit of others, as we model Christ.
This is such great transformation, and must come from God himself. I pray that I would treasure Christ as I ought.
I’m going to lead out with a quote from Don Carson’s “Basics for Believers”. He speaks of the powerful witness that we can have if we treasure Christ.
“What can you possibly do with Christians like that? Kill them? You simply cannot hush them up; Christ means too much to them, the gospel is too central for them.” (The bibliographic reference is coming. My father has the book overseas for a couple of weeks).
We have many ministries, formal and informal. We must strive to approach them as ways to serve others. We are to long powerfully for God, while working for him. The self is not a factor.
This is not the easy way, but it is the right way.