When we get to the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we discover the reason for the letter: Two Christian women, Euodia and Syntyche, are at one another’s throats.
They aren’t just any women. They have been partners with Paul in his ministry and their names are written in the “book of life.” But their tiff has divided them from one another and, in taking sides, it has divided the congregation and stolen the joy and peace that ought to be characteristic of the family of God. The work of the church is not to take sides, but to effect peace.
How can we be this kind of people?
In every chapter, Paul reveals that it can only come about by the work of God. God is the one working in us until His work is complete on the day of Jesus (1:6), working in us to will and act according to His good purpose (2:13), transforming our lowly bodies (3:21), and guarding our hearts and minds (4:7). When we yield our will to God, our lives can be changed. As long as we are determined to follow our own will, the lives remain the same.
As chapter 1 ended, Paul urged the Philippian Christians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of Christ. He does not, however, leave us to figure out what that means on our own.
In chapter 2, Paul spells it out explicitly: Jesus gave himself for us. Though Jesus was God, being God for him was not something to be selfishly held onto. Instead, he divested himself of his status and took on that of a human – and a slave at that.
The incarnation of God in Jesus is the most significant and unique teaching of Christianity. For the benefit of mankind, God became a man. If God would do that for us, what should we not be willing to sacrifice for the good of one another? Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus being “poured out like a drink offering.” Likewise, Timothy put the welfare of others above his own and Epaphroditus nearly lost his life in service to Paul in behalf of the Philippian church. This is the heart of Paul’s message. No difference should separate the people of God for whom God sacrificed everything and everyone who follows the example of God will willingly yield up the same sacrificial life.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
Perhaps no congregation was closer to the heart of Paul than the one in Philippi, but in the end, it was just a church, like our own, made up of fallible and temptable people. They were Christians to be sure, but like us all, subject to the desires that plague humanity.
In a tightly packed statement so important that Paul makes it twice in four verses in Philippians chapter three, Paul reminds his readers what they are supposed to be about.
They are to be about knowing Christ. This is more than just knowing about Christ. It is a discipleship that is so knowledgeable about Jesus that his life is seen in their lives wonderfully magnified (or, in Paul’s words, “exalted” – 2:20).
They are to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, a knowledge that reveals itself in a life as changed as Jesus’ own when he was resurrected; the kind of power that changed Saul the persecutor into Paul the proclaimer of Christ.
They are to fellowship in Christ’s sufferings. As Jesus put the needs of others above Himself, and suffered for it, we are to do the same.
They are to become like him in death. We see in Jesus’ death his faith – an unflagging trust in the plan, purpose and will of God. We see his hope. The writer of Hebrews calls it the “joy that was set before him” (12:2). His hope was beyond anything in this life, focused on the company of God in heaven.
And we see in Jesus’ death his love: love for the heavenly father, and love for mankind. To be a Christian is to exhibit this kind of love in our lives too.
Why do this? That we might “gain Christ” and “attain to the resurrection from the dead.”