Paul’s counter-cultural perspective moves from finding JOY in the face of suffering to finding the opportunity to serve instead of rule. Paul’s opening words of Philippians chapter 2 point out that he has a different perspective on life than most Americans. In America we’re taught to look out for #1, to take care of our own business first, and to let nothing get in the way of our own happiness. Paul says we should lower ourselves to serve others.
Where does he get such an idea? From the one who gave up all to serve all: Jesus. Jesus had it all in heaven, but laid it aside to be born of a poor humble virgin human being. He deserved to be honored as a king, but was born in a manger. He could’ve had legions of angels serve him, but instead went to the cross. He deserved praise and adulation, but received mocking and spitting. He lowered himself to die with common criminals. He wrapped himself in a towel to wash the disciples’ feet. He touched the leper and ate with sinners. He did not come to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for all.
Paul thinks differently than most Americans because Paul is not following the American Dream, but Jesus. You want to live like everybody else, keep chasing the American dream. You’ll be empty like everybody else. You want to live a different life? Follow Jesus.
It doesn’t take long to realize that Paul thinks differently than most people I know. He writes from prison, but is rejoicing. (1:12-13) He is looking at the end of his life, but is rejoicing. (1:21) He is remembering hard times, but is rejoicing. (1:19) What’s this guy on? I want some!
Joy is one of the central themes of this prison letter. It strikes me as a counter-cultural perspective on life. His ability to rejoice in the face of prison and even his own death show me that he’s got something that I want to have. He does not let the circumstances in which he finds himself dictate his attitude. He doesn’t let the problems of life get in the way of his celebration. Instead of complaining and grumbling he rejoices in Jesus. There is no sugar coating going on here. Paul is not looking for the bright side of things. Instead, he rejoices in the grace and peace that he has in knowing Jesus.
Read through Philippians 1, and ask God to help you find that same kind of Grace and peace in Jesus so that in the face of life’s greatest challenges you can also see JOY.
Paul writes Philippians from a prison cell, yet he uses the root word JOY over a dozen times. He truly lives a counter-cultural life. He shows us that at the center of such a life is Jesus. It’s a life filled with JOY, with Contentment, and with Truth. Would you like to live a life filled with those things? Great! Read Philippians (it’s only 4 chapters long!), and ask God to show you a life that is full of JOY, Contentment, and Truth. You’ll find all those things in Jesus.
Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, and focuses their attention on the vital relationship between God and His people: “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” That relationship is central to prayer and could make one believe that the life of a Christian is one that is lived out “just between me and God.”
However, the prayer goes on to highlight another relationship, and directly links the vertical aspect of faith in God with the horizontal aspect of faith in relation to others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The link is made between faith and real human relationships. Faith is lived our not just with those who are kind and loving toward us, but also to those who have sinned against us. How we treat others, especially our enemies, is a large part of living as a follower of Jesus.
On the cross Jesus poured out forgiveness. The whole world receives his love. He carried the sin of individuals like the thief, the soldiers, and even those who gave the command to have him killed. For God so loved the world that he sent Jesus. With that mindset the followers of Jesus live out their faith by looking for opportunities to forgive. In the midst of real, human, and broken relationships God works to bring about restoration through forgiveness.
Don’t fall into the misunderstanding that Faith is just between you and God. Keep your eyes open for those in your life who are also in need of God’s love. Then speak it, show it, and live it.
We confess that our belief in God is not limited to a vertical relationship, but also includes a horizontal dimension relating to human relationships. The Creed is a document designed to describe God, yet it points out the fact that God is not the only one that matters in living out our faith.
Read Luther’s explanation to the First Article on creation. A spouse and children are listed as created gifts by God for support in this life. For human relationships it is our duty to thank and praise God. It’s not just about me and God, but about me and my family too!
Even more clearly is the Third article which names the Holy Christian Church and the Communion of Saints. The message is that we’re not in this alone! God has created the Church and put us into human relationships in which we live out our faith in this world. It’s not just me and God, but me and God and the entire Body of Christ!
There is great comfort and joy to be found when we lift our eyes off our own faith walk to see others walking alongside us. There is support, encouragement, and strength to be found in the human relationships that God has gifted us with in this world. Family and the Church are blessings by God that enhance our life and faith.
What does God expect of His people? Jesus summed it up simply: Love God. Love others. Take a look at the Ten Commandments, and Luther’s wonderful explanations of each. You’ll see the commandments pointing to how a person can live out their faith in two directions. First, in love for God, a Christian directs their respect, honor, love, and trust upward toward our Heavenly Father. Second, in love for others, a Christian directs their love, trust, and honor for God horizontally toward their neighbors.
Notice how Luther phrases it: “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor… We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor…We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents…” Love for God is directed and lived out in earthly relationships. In other words, my daily life is the field on which my faith plays out.
My relationship with my parents and all in authority reflects how I look at God. My relationship to a person in need is shaped by how I perceive God at work in my life. My relationship to a person who looks different than me is shaped by my understanding of God’s universal love for all people given in Jesus.
The cross is the place where Jesus ultimately fulfilled this law to love God and love others perfectly. Jesus trusted His Father AND cared for others on the cross. He placed his life in His Father’s hands. He forgave his enemies. He respected his mother. He gave for his friends. He cared for the thief next to him. Jesus fulfilled this law perfectly, not just vertically by honoring His Father, but also horizontally by loving His neighbor as himself.
Looking at the Ten Commandments reminds us that Faith makes its way into all human relationships. Tomorrow we’ll look at the Apostle’s Creed to see how a doctrinal statement about God shapes our interaction with others.
Just between me and God? Not so fast…
One of the biggest fallacies in the Christian Church in the United States is the idea that faith is an individual thing that takes place just between me and God. It’s a prevalent idea, but it’s not biblical and it’s not healthy.
American individualism has its place and its strengths. There’s nothing wrong with pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. There’s nothing wrong with looking out for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with living a unique life because there’s only one you. The problem arises when we begin to look at FAITH as an individual pursuit.
Faith is not only about what takes place in the quiet moments of life, in prayer and devotion, and in the depths of my soul. Faith isn’t only about the conversations that I have with God, but faith is also about the conversations I have with others. Faith is also about how I use my body, my role in the family and workplace, and the busyness of life. My personal faith in God plays itself out in the context of daily life.
Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.” James said, “Faith without works is dead.” Paul gave many instructions to the Church in the vein of, “keep on meeting together.” The consensus of the writings of the New Testament Church is clear that Faith is not an individual, but a team sport.
Over the next few days we’ll look at the communal nature of the Christian Faith from different angles. Each day we’ll look at one of the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism and see how it informs our view of the Faith as Life in Community. Tomorrow we’ll start with the Ten Commandments. Grab your catechism, dust it off, and look through the Ten Commandments to see how they point to living out the Faith in community.