Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 1)

This is the first part of a four part series. It's been on Come Fill Your Cup already... but not all of you read Come Fill Your Cup so I don't feel bad posting this here. I'll go for a post every Wednesday. :)

I love the Bible. And I really love the book of Philippians.

Philippians is a really simple book that is somehow still lost on most of the religious world. A lot of the denominational world will tell you that Philippians is a book full of joy and praise from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. Really, though, it’s all about a problem the congregation there was having—two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, just couldn’t get along (4:2). And it was sucking all the joy out of the church. So how does Paul suggest the church fix the problem? It’s very simple. The entire theme of the book is “others before self.”

This series is going to be an overview of the book of Philippians. I would beg you to please read the book and study it for yourself, because there’s NO WAY I can fit everything there is to know about it in writing (mostly because… I don’t know everything there is to know about it). I also want to mention that most of this thinking is not original with me. Denny Petrillo taught it to our teen class. This study is mostly derived from my notes from that class. So, thanks Mr. Denny!

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Before we start really digging, I want to point out that even though Paul is pointing out a problem in the church, he starts out by encouraging them (1:1-11). He mentions his thankfulness for them (3-4), his appreciation for their partaking in the Lord’s work (5), his confidence in God to perfect their congregation (6), his deep love for them (7-8), and his prayers of supplication for them (9-11). When we rebuke a brother or sister in Christ, how often do we do it discouragingly? How often do we aim to tear someone down emotionally rather than build her up spiritually? Let’s take a leaf out of Paul’s book and vocalize to the people we rebuke how much we love them, that we’re praying for them, and that we have confidence in their ability and willingness to change. We should never, ever water down the Word of God, but the more lovingly we present it, the more likely people are to accept it.

Example #1—Paul (1:12-26)
Alright, moving on. The bulk of Philippians follows a basic format: an example of the theme followed by an appeal to apply the theme. The theme, like we said before, is “others before self,” and Paul’s first example is himself. First, Paul puts Christ and the gospel before himself. Paul is currently imprisoned in Rome, but he doesn’t complain about it; rather, he points out, “my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (12). Why? Well, word has gotten around even amongst non-believers that Paul is being imprisoned for the sake of Christ (13) and it’s boosting the confidence of other Christians to preach the gospel (14). After all, Paul seems to be doing okay in prison (I mean, he’s only on house arrest), so God will take care of others who preach as well, right? Paul continues with his own thoughts on the matter: “I will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (20-21).

Next, Paul puts the church before himself. He says, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (23-24). Paul is homesick for Heaven, like we are so very often even today. He’d rather be there than on earth. However, he has a proper perspective: he knows that God can still use him to do fruitful work, and so he “will remain and continue with you all [the Philippian church] for your progress and joy in the faith” (25).

We’ve all heard the acronym for J.O.Y. – “Jesus, Others, You.” Paul is outlining this perfectly here! For him, it’s really all about the furthering of the gospel and the strengthening of the church. Now, he’s going to ask the Philippians to think the same way.

Appeal #1—(1:27 – 2:4)
Paul now shifts his focus to the Philippians themselves, urging them, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that… I will hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (27). Look at all those “unity” phrases—“one spirit”, “one mind”, “together”. He continues this thought in 2:2—“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Alright, God wants a unified church. But how do we be unified? Paul’s going to tell us. Look at 2:3-4: “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.”

Aha! The theme that I promised was coming! The solution to any quarrel is to put others before oneself. If both sides of the quarrel do this, they WILL come to a compromise. Every time. As Paul points out, this isn’t merely an action, it’s a way of thinking: “with humility OF MIND REGARD one another as more important than yourselves.” It’s not just acting like someone’s more important than you… it’s believing it and putting that belief into practice.

Paul’s not going to ask us to take his example alone, though. Tune in next week to see what else he has to say… he’s lined up a better Example than any other.

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