Throughout the Philippian epistle, Paul is reminding the church that they are living in the reality that Jesus Christ is transforming all things in order to make them new. Paul encourages us to keep our eyes focused on the reality that we are citizens of Heaven, however, the one thing that will take our eyes off that reality is the conflict of how we live out the reality of Christ’s reign. Rather than being united under the saving grace of Christ we are often divided over how to live out Jesus’ reign. Paul says that Satan loves to use that diversion of our focus to steal our hope, and to completely zap us of all our passion for the gospel. We become filled with seething anger at one another causing anxiety for all involved rather than a church united under one hope.
In the midst of this dilemma, how do we guard against fighting over the how’s of following Jesus?
Why “the how” takes over “the what”
Throughout history the church has had problems with strong leaders who begin to quibble and fight over how they should lead their congregation in following Christ. When this happens it is often the congregation that suffers the consequences of such debates. It would be understandable if these issues occurred in churches that did not have a strong theology, but the problem is we can often find this kind of bickering in churches that are strong theologically and have high biblical convictions. These argumentative obstacles occur when convictions of seeking God’s way shifts into seeking our own way. We can become obsessed with our method of worship, our way of doing ministry, our way of preaching, our methods of following Christ become the only method to follow Christ. It is within this atmosphere that we can begin to look down on other groups with a sense of spiritual superiority. If other churches do not follow Christ our way then we can immediately separate ourselves from them. The method we use, or how, we worship becomes far more important than who we worship.
In a healthy church, strong convictions breed healthy disciples. In discipleship we begin to mimic the person that we are following which means we become more like Christ. But, if we become obsessed with our methodology rather than the one we worship, strong convictions act as a poison in the church which slowly spreads from the leadership to the congregation. Paul knows that Philippi has strong convictions for the gospel, but somewhere along the way two leaders are becoming obsessed with their own way which is threatening to tear the church apart. We must be sure that we are not becoming calloused to what Jesus has done, in favor of burning with a passion for the opinions of what we should be doing.
“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
It is important to recognize that it is not wrong to be passionate about how we follow Jesus. However, it becomes a problem when our love for Jesus becomes overshadowed by our way of following him. It is also crucial to realize that this is not something only leaders of the church should be watching out for. We are all called to be ambassadors for Christ which means it is a heart issue that we must all watch out for because we are all called to lead and serve the church forward with the gifts that God has given us. Methodology is vastly important because it should unite us as we live our lives as disciples of Christ, but it becomes an issue when it becomes the focus.
“If we leave Jesus behind, what is the point of being the church?”
Paul’s Habits to keep us focused on “the what”
If we want to be a people who know Christ, then we must be a people with habits that saturate our hearts in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
Habit 1: Thanksgiving before the Father
The first habit that Paul encourages us to practice is to rejoice in every aspect of our lives. This can be incredibly difficult for us to grasp because our lives are complex. There is a plethora of events which we could say do not evoke a spirit of rejoicing. Yet, Paul encourages us to rejoice in all things because of what Christ has done. Regardless of what happens in our lives, either positive or negative, we can rest assured that we are reconciled to our loving Heavenly Father thanks to what Jesus has done for us. We can draw near to God and He draws near to us. If we make it a habit of pushing away from God, then our lives will be full of anxiety, fear, and worry. Then we will expect other people to fill the void only God can fill which leads to fighting over the best method of overcoming our obstacles.
Habit 2: Hospitality towards others
Paul says that we must literally practice the “what” of Jesus’ kingdom because every day we are going through the motions of what the world says is true, just, pure, and noble. We must strengthen our muscles of discipleship towards Christ and what it looks like to be part of his kingdom by forming habits that mimic those truths. Paul is saying that in order to be a people who properly sees what Jesus has done, we need practices that captures the picture of the truth of Jesus. Hospitality is a habit that keeps our focus in check.
Hospitality is simply welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us. It creates a grace filled space where a friend or stranger can enter and experience the welcoming spirit of Christ. It is a way to express love for others in the way that Jesus loved us even when we were sinners. It challenges our assumptions of other people and pushes away our biases towards others by reminding us of the welcoming grace that we have received in Jesus. As we sacrificially welcome others into our lives our hearts begin to open to the understanding that we all are welcomed into the adopted family of God which keeps us focused on the what so that the how’s can take care of themselves.