OCTOBER 28th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
MAIL FROM JAIL Philippians 1:1-13; 2:1-16a
“LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!”
So..., you got some more mail from jail, I see... Could be worse... Could just be a letter you wrote to yourself – you know what I mean? Could happen...!
Calvin: Ah! I got the letter I wrote to myself!
Hobbes: You wrote a letter to yourself? What did you write?
Calvin: “Dear Calvin, Hi! I'm writing this on Monday. What day is it now? How are things
going? Your pal, Calvin.” My past self is corresponding with my future self.
Hobbes: Proof things are going from bad to worse. Too bad you can't write back....
Calvin: I got another letter from my past self.
Hobbes: What's it say?
Calvin: “Dear future Calvin, I wrote this several days before you will receive it. You've done
things I haven't done. You've seen things I haven't seen. You know things I don't know.
You lucky dog! Your pal, Calvin. * Sniff * I feel so sorry for myself two days ago.
Hobbes: Poor him. He wasn't you. (It's A Magical World, p. 18)
So the weakness of writing yourself a letter of encouragement is not only that you can't write back..., but also that you're inclined to fill your ears with what you think you want to hear as opposed to what you need to hear. That's what sets Paul's letters apart – he writes what we need to hear.
“I want you to understand what really matters. I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. May you always be filled with the fruit of our salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ...!”
So Paul writes to encourage and instruct. He wants them to understand what really matters – that they experience God's love so that they can reflect that love to others while they themselves keep growing in their intellectual as well as experiential knowledge of God, how God's understood in Christ
and in that understanding, which comes by relating to him, his character begins to glow within us...
As in his other letters, Paul thus writes so that they'll really get it, what really matters. But, as it were, he's also writing in response to a bit of a situation there in the Philippian church. Apparently, a couple of the sisters have been going at it: “I appeal to Eodia and Syntyche: Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. My dear partners, help these two women...” (Philippians 4:2-3)
So Paul writes in response to this discord in Philippi. Admittedly, the church there was a really diverse community. It's first members reflect this: a wealthy businesswomen, a slave girl and a Roman officer - three individuals that came from three different ethnic backgrounds, three different levels of social status and three different ways of coming to faith. Others that followed would only serve to widen that diversity as Philippi was a melting pot of Asian and European cultures and beliefs.
From the get go, this was a community highly challenged to be one in spirit and purpose! So, already in chapter one, Paul addresses this: “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.” (Philippians 1:27)
That's fighting together not against each other. That's a key distinction...!
He longs to hear news of how they are fighting together for the faith. And what is it that they are fighting against? Paul makes it clear that the greatest threat is not that which will arise from outside of the community of faith, but from within it. So he warns them of this imminent threat...
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Paul makes it clear, that what will do them in, as a family of faith, is the worldly mindset of thinking too often and too much of one's self.
Paul's clear, the Philippians' greatest battle wasn't the external circumstances of being Christian in a pagan, Roman colony, but with those internal attitudes of selfish motivation that destroy unity. Paul models an alternative. External circumstances didn't control his attitudes. In spite of having being falsely accused, beaten, shipwrecked and chained to his captor, Paul continues to invest in others...
The remedy to this human affliction, Paul asserts, is that of seeking to embody and exhibit the selfless, humble attitude of Christ Jesus himself...:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to you own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.., who emptied himself, taking on the very nature of a servant..., and humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on the cross.”
Paul is saying the world has got it all wrong. If you follow the lead of those around you, you will become so consumed with your self – with getting what YOU want when you want it - or angry when you don't, that you run the risk of gaining the world but losing your soul! It's that kind of self-absorption that has led the world to the state it's in – with its widespread political corruption, pre-occupation with self-gratification, widespread addiction and the exploitation of our natural resources!
Paul points to a better way, the remedy of having a totally different mindset, “let his mind be in you”, he declares. At verse 6, Paul's prose suddenly shifts to measured cadences and poetic phrases, citing as he does, an early Christian hymn that focuses on Jesus' humility: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges and took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. He humbled himself....” (Philippians 2:6-7)
Paul quotes the song to engage their hearts as well as their heads. By following Jesus lead, by thinking less of ourselves and more of those in need, by humbly serving..., we can change the world!
It's amazing how often this truth is reflected in the arts. Hall of fame Bears running back, Gale Sayers, wrote a book entitled, I Am Third. He explains, 'God is first, others second, I am third.'
I went to a concert during my internship in which the band sang: “Take this message to my brother – you will find him everywhere, wherever people live together tied in poverty and despair.”
While visiting my father we watched Evan Almighty, in which as a newly elected congressman, Evan, sets out to change the world. God suggests he start with spontaneous acts of kindness...
There's a YouTube video that shows people, in a variety of circumstances, doing just that...
[Play the “Liberty Mutual Paid Forward YouTube video...; 4:23]
It reflects Paul's inspired words: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. You should have Jesus' attitude!” (Philippians 2:3-5)
How do we get there? We seek perspective. We risk transparency. We open our minds to God and the reality of our need to change, and that change does not come by merely willing it. We need help. We need the kind of courage, comfort and compassion that comes from beyond. We need His Spirit...!
Paul's opening to chapter 2 points to this truth: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ..., if any comfort from his love..., if any fellowship with THE Spirit..., if any tenderness and compassion...be one in Spirit and purpose!” (Philippians 2:1-2)
Paul goes beyond doing spontaneous acts of kindness he's talking about a whole new mindset and lifestyle. As he later puts it, “Let your lives shine brightly before (this dark world of crooked and perverse people)! Hold tightly to the word of life...!” (2:15-16)
For our light to shine...we have to have a clear conscience and a shiny soul! The only way we can come by either one is by sticking close to Jesus – the Word of Life living among us by His Spirit!
One of God's endearing qualities is that he sends messengers and role models to help us get it, to help us partner together in the quest of becoming living lanterns of God's grace and love!
I remember when I first got acquainted with Tom and Delphine. What a unique couple they were – so full of life and the love of the Lord. He called her his “little Pollyanna”. I was surprised she didn't take issue with that. I'd always heard the name, 'Pollyanna', used in a derogatory manner...
But Delphine wasn't artificial. She was the real McCoy. Tom was constantly surprising her with spontaneous dinner guests and Delphine never failed to accommodate everyone with her usual graciousness and big, beaming smile. She was the first one to sign up to help at the soup line and the last to leave, helping until the last chore was finished. She did everything with unbridled enthusiasm and good humor. The woman was always smiling at or encouraging someone!
Years later I finally saw the movie, Pollyanna, the tale of an orphan girl who comes to live with her controlling, joyless aunt, who is contributing to the unhappiness of other cheerless souls in town. Among them is a man whose described as 'the meanest man in town'. His is a frozen heart, it is that is, until he encounters the kindness of Christ...from this young child...
[video clip from Pollyanna; 43:05 – 49:25]
The child discovers the light around and within those around her, including a joyless, mean old man. After the joy returns to his heart he spearheads an effort to help raise funds for a surgery that the injured child requires. It's a multifaceted story in which the light of love pierces the darkness...
Children of God reflect the goodness and kindness of God back into the hearts and lives of those around them, and they reflect that light by letting God shine thru them, by “holding tightly to the word of life” that God's voice may be ever in their ear, and His love eagerly shared.
Last Sunday, those of you who came to help with Crystal Reuther's memorial service did just that! As you worked to provide a safe, loving environment, complete with comfort food and spontaneous acts of kindness, Christ's love penetrated the darkness of their loss and pain, and you lit up the place!
We are called “to live innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them. Hold tightly to the word of life...!”
...How bright is your light? (Philippians 2:15-16)