Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Note: When passages are quoted at the beginning of new sections, I will be using The Message translation because of its conversational, friendly tone. You can compare this version with others, as well as have access to Gordon Fee’s commentary, at Bible Gateway.
There’s an old Jewish joke that says if you’ve got two rabbis you’ve probably got three opinions, and often the church seems like that as well. Not only are there big theological differences, smoldering resentments from historical events long ago, and radical variations in styles of worship. There are also personality cults, clashes over leadership style, arguments on issues of moral behavior, cultural politics, and so on. How can we even begin to think that it might be possible to live the way Paul indicates here — thinking the same, loving each other completely, regarding everyone else (and their opinions!) as superior to you and your own?
• Tom Wright
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If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Even the most beautiful and exotic flower has its roots in the dirt.
One of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
We will explore that wonderful, transcendent hymn next week, but today we look at the ordinary, mundane soil in which it is rooted. Paul’s magnificent description of Jesus’ humility, self-giving love, and subsequent exaltation as King grows out of an appeal to his Philippian friends to get along with each other. It doesn’t get much more basic or down-to-earth than that.
Paul reminds them:
- They have all received the encouragement of being welcomed into Christ’s family.
- In that family, they have found a love that comforts them.
- They share a family Spirit that binds them together.
- This family is characterized by mutual affection and bonds of sympathy.
Having experienced the reality of God’s work in their lives through Christ in the Spirit, he appeals to them:
- “Be of the same mind” — this doesn’t mean they must agree on everything, but that they must have respect for each other’s thoughts and feelings so that they can live harmoniously despite their differences.
- “Have the same love” — this is the love the gospel generates, the love that has been poured into their hearts by God in the Spirit, the love exemplified for them by Jesus (2:5-11): love for one another, love for their neighbors, even love toward their enemies.
- “Fix your minds on the same object” (Kingdom NT translation) — this is a description of being united by focusing together on a common goal. An orchestra is not united because all the instruments play the same notes, but because each musician follows the composer’s script and the lead of the conductor. Unity is not uniformity.
He ends with two sets of contrasts:
- DON’T live out of selfish pride that thinks “I’m at the center,” but DO live out of a humble perspective that honors and respects the value and importance of others.
- DON’T just think about advancing your own interests, but DO help others get ahead as well.
One of my favorite sports stories of all time comes from an incident that took place in a college softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon in April, 2008.
Sara Tucholsky, a senior for Western Oregon, stepped up to the plate with two runners on base and did something she had never done in her 21 years of life. She smacked one over the fence. A three-run home run! So excited was she about this unlikely, timely display of power that she missed first base. Turning back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she went down, crying and crawling back to first base.
What could she do? She was unable to walk and her teammates were not allowed, by rule, to assist her around the bases. The umpire let the coach know that if she could not proceed any further, the other two runners who scored would be counted, but she would only be credited with a single.
Then Mallory Holtman, Central Washington’s first baseman, spoke up and asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” The umpires huddled and ruled that her opponents could do that within the rules. So, Liz Wallace, the CWU shortstop ran over and she and Holtman picked up the injured Tucholsky and began carrying her around the bases. They lowered her at second, third, and finally home.
As both teams and fans brushed back tears to see such remarkable sportsmanship, Sara Tucholsky celebrated her first home run, carried in the arms of her opponents.
May God grant us the grace to carry one another like that.
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Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel