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Most Christians understand that God's activity in the world is primarily seeking the redemption of creation. What sometimes gets lost is that this means God's mission, or purpose, is to put things back to their rightful state. God intends to make "all things new," to remake things into what He originally intended for the world in the beginning. Scripture also tells us that our purpose as His followers is to join God in this recreation process. The Apostle Paul talks plainly about this calling in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." Paul goes on to say we, as followers of Christ, have been given the ministry of reconciliation. This is the same message God had for His people in Jeremiah 29 when He called them to "seek the welfare" of Babylon. God calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, which means we are called to bring peace, wholeness, and healing to all of the broken parts of the world.
As a new school year kicks off in our community, Harris Creek enters a new season of ministry. While there is usually a lot of excitement that comes with new seasons in life, they can also cause us to feel anxiety, turmoil, and fear. One reason we worry when we face new experiences is the fear of the unknown. Another factor that can cause anxiety is our desire to remain where we are because we are comfortable there. While these emotions are natural, they can become a problem if we allow them to cause us to stay where we are. Throughout the story of Scripture, there are numerous examples of God's people resisting the call to move forward into the future He had for them. What we see in these instances is that our struggle and fear of "the new" is mostly about us resisting the ways God wants to change, or transform, us on the inside.
There are a lot of claims about who Jesus really is. This is true in Scripture and in our world today. In Matthew 16:13–18, Jesus is with the disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi outside of Jewish territory. There He asks them who people were saying He was. After they answer, He turns this question on them asking, "Who do you say I am?" Everything in Jesus' ministry has built up to this point and this claim Peter makes saying, "Jesus is the Messiah." This claim and truth is foundational in the formation of the Christian Church. Our own personal claims are just as foundational in our own lives. We often fail to pause and reflect on who we believe Jesus is and why we follow Him. We may have ideas that we have heard or even claims we have made in the past, but they aren't always claims that guide our lives on a daily basis. We need to be prepared to answer those who might ask us who Jesus is and why we follow Him. We need to be able to give an answer for the hope we have. Jesus used Peter's claim to build the Christian Church. He can use our claims to continue building His Kingdom.
In the Book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul is addressing a group of his friends who are divided as a congregation. The struggle Paul has with this division is he knows the potential this particular church has because of what God did through them in the past. The Church in Philippi was known for being generous and had a history of living sacrificially. Once infighting and disunity divided the congregation, their effectiveness in sharing the Good News was hampered. In the conclusion of Philippians, Paul says they must return to living sacrificially with one another if they want to see the Gospel spread. Paul says this is because sacrificial and generous living is what causes the Gospel to bloom in our lives.
Studies have shown that one skill almost every human is inherently born with is the ability to recognize the pitch and timbre of voices. Newborn babies use this ability to recognize his or her parent's voice when they are born. While not everyone is born with musical ability, most people are born with the ability to recognize when something is in harmony and when there is discord or dissonance musically. While this is true musically, it is also true of human beings relationally. Scripture says one reason why this is the case is because God created the world with a sense of rhythm to it, and sin disrupted this harmony. Cornelius Plantinga says, "Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony." This is why our job as Christians is to restore harmony wherever discord exists. In Philippians 4, Paul is calling the church in Philippi to restore the unity (or harmony) that once existed, and he tells them exactly how they are to do this.
From early on in our development as children, we learn to navigate life by imitating examples of others around us. While imitation at an early age is more about mimicking others, we continue to imitate others around us throughout adulthood. While the ways adults imitate one another is less pronounced than a child, it does not remove the fact that our behavior and beliefs largely come from the influences around us. This is something God designed in us, and is one reason why the Incarnation—God coming in the flesh through His Son, Jesus—is so important. Jesus gives us an example to follow, or imitate, as believers. The Apostle Paul is calling the believers in Philippi to live their lives as worthy citizens of the Gospel. Paul outlines this for them through the example of Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11), the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:19–30), and finally, his own life as an example in Philippians 3:1–21. He says plainly in Philippians 3:17, "Imitate me, brothers and sisters, and look around to those already following the example we have set.
In the Book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul is primarily focused on communicating a message of unity to the believers in Philippi. This is because the Church at Philippi was experiencing some sort of conflict or disunity that was dividing the Body. Judging by the way Paul addresses the situation throughout this letter, it would appear the issues they were fighting over were non-essential matters. Their conflict was most likely about things that were important but not primary. In short, the Church at Philippi was distracted from the main goal, which is following Jesus. In our world today, many churches tend to struggle with the same issue. It is easy to get distracted from our primary purpose, and such distractions almost always lead to infighting and disunity. Dallas Willard says, “The reason most congregations fail to routinely produce children of light is distraction. While majoring in minors, they become distracted by things the New Testament says nothing about.” This is why Paul’s message in Philippians 3:12–16 is so important. He tells his friends at Philippi to stay focused on the one goal that really matters, which is to “hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus.”
In Philippians 2, Paul summons the Church at Philippi to be unified as a reflection of their faith in the Gospel. In verse 14, Paul says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Obviously, some of the believers in Philippi were grumbling and complaining, and they weren’t simply complaining about the weather; they were arguing with fellow believers and complaining about one another. As the letter moves into chapter 3, we begin to see why Paul thought this message was so important for his friends in Philippi. In Philippians 3, Paul begins to address this conflict in a more direct way. He uses the negative example of legalistic Judaizers as a way to get the Christians in Philippi to look in the mirror. The command Paul has for his friends is to stop boasting about why they are in the right and to remember, because of God’s grace, we should boast in Christ and in Christ alone.
The supreme purpose that God has in mind for our lives as believers is to love Him. We are able to love because He has first loved us. Our love for Him is fueled by His love for us and will motivate every part of our lives: our speech, our worship, our giving, our desires, our service, and even our evangelism. Keeping a constant focus on God’s love for us reminds us of the calling in our lives to love Him in return, and our love for God should continue to grow. If there has ever been a time in our lives when we have loved Him more than right now, we are in need of repentance and His forgiveness.
In the Book of Philippians, Paul is focusing on what it means to live as worthy citizens of the Gospel (see Philippians 1:27). In Philippians 2:6–11, Jesus is given as an example for us so that we might follow suit and take on the mindset of Christ. Paul meant, very practically, that we are called to be selfless and sacrificial with our lives like Jesus. While Jesus is the perfect example of this lifestyle, Paul fears that many would consider it impossible to live up to Christ’s example. Since Paul also knew that the believers in Philippi had never seen Jesus in the flesh, he goes on to provide the Church at Philippi two more examples of people who lived with this mindset that would have been familiar to the believers in Philippi. Paul highlights the selflessness of Timothy and the sacrificial nature of Epaphroditus as two examples of people living with the mindset of Christ. In doing so, he is calling all others to adopt their mindset and continue to grow in Christ.