Connections 04.10.2022: Course Correcting and Re-Commissioning

Philippians 2:1-13

I grew up in churches where the Roman Road and the Great Commission were foundational. Stepping stones lifted from Paul’s teachings were laid end-to-end in a clear path for understanding the way to salvation, and Jesus’ last command to his followers established our next calling: to “Go, therefore, and teach all nations…”

Since those days, faith leaders have become political power-players. Denominations and non-denominations alike want pieces of the pie. Meanwhile, investigative reporters, podcasters, and documentary filmmakers have disclosed numerous occasions of horrific abuses and coverups in churches. The irony is disorienting. For every heartwarming praise chorus we may sing, countless hearts—and people—have been broken by those who claim God’s sovereignty to justify lobbying, complicity, and exploitation.

Philippians 2 offers a course correction and a re-commissioning. In it, the Apostle Paul sets out expectations for the lives of the faithful and for their relationships to one another. Instead of a Yellow Brick Road of beliefs, Paul offers Christ himself as the way: Christ, who could have clenched God’s sovereignty and eternity for himself, but instead came to us as a servant and a mortal. Christ, who still shows us that the way to exaltation is through obedience and humility. It is hard to imagine what the landscape of Christianity might look like today if all our leaders—and if we, ourselves—took this route of service instead of power-seeking, uplifting others instead of climbing our own ladders, and (maybe the biggest challenge of all) valuing others’ needs, goals, and ideas instead of our own.

I don’t recollect hearing much of Philippians 2 in church growing up; we didn’t memorize it or delve into it as a map toward Christlikeness. By contrast, many scholars believe Philippians 2:6-11 were the words of an early Christian hymn. Perhaps Paul’s first readers heard this liturgy as regularly as we sing our favorite refrains. Maybe they even raised their voices together when the familiar words were read aloud from the Apostle’s letter.

It’s not too late for us to join our voices with theirs.

It is not too late for us to join our hearts with theirs, to join our theologies and actions with theirs. Even on the way down the Roman Road, and as we go to all the nations, we can join in “letting this same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.” We can—we must—join in not exploiting God’s power for ourselves. We must join in emptying ourselves for the world. We must join in regarding others as better than ourselves and looking out for their interests and not our own, before it is too late.

Discussion

  • Why do you think people prefer step-by-step instructions and clear marching orders over the messy work of unity and humility? Which are you more comfortable with?
  • What are the key beliefs in your church community? What scriptures get the most “air time” in worship and teaching? What do these selections suggest about your church’s priorities, mission, and sense of calling? Is anything being omitted as you focus on those foundations?
  • Do you think Philippians 2 makes unity seem too easy? Paul says why and how we should practice unity, but he doesn’t make suggestions for working through difficulty and dissent in the process. When has your church gone through a time of struggle that challenged your ability to practice this kind of unity? What did your community learn from that experience?
  • How might the world’s perception and experience of Christianity be different if we actively followed Christ’s model as Paul describes it in Philippians 2?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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