Relationships in the light of love
by Jack Wald | April 8th, 2018

Philippians 2:1-4

We began preaching from Paul’s letter to the Philippians last year after Easter. We worked our way through chapter one and today come to chapter two. Let me refresh your memory about this letter.

Philippi was a leading city in the district of Macedonia, in modern day Greece. In 42 BC there were two major battles between Cassius and Brutus (who had assassinated Caesar) on one side and Octavian (who later became the emperor Augustus) and Mark Anthony on the other. After Octavian and Mark Anthony won the battles, they honored Philippi by making it a Roman military colony which gave its population Roman citizenship. Veterans of the battles moved to Philippi making it a city loyal to Rome.

One hundred years later, when Paul came to Philippi, its population was both Greek and Roman. Of the four people we know from the early Christian community established in Philippi, three had Greek names (Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche) and one a Roman name (Clement).

Paul, with his companions (Silas, Timothy, and Luke who wrote the gospel and Acts), came to Philippi because of a vision Paul had.
9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

It is Acts 16 that we learn about what happened when they arrived in Philippi. They met Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman, who believed, was baptized, and then invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home.

Some time after this Paul and his companions were heading to a place of prayer when they encountered a female slave who made a lot of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She kept following Paul and shouting out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” After many days Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

This was good news for the female slave but bad news for her owners. They made money from her and now their source of income was lost. So they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the marketplace to face the authorities. As in Ephesus where the silversmiths rose up against Paul, the problem was not theological but financial.

The magistrates heard the complaint of the owners of this female slave, and because they did not want to cause a riot, ordered them to be flogged and put into prison. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God when there was an earthquake and the prison doors opened and the chains holding the prisoners in their cells came loose. The jailer and his family believed and were baptized.

Lydia and the jailer and his family, and perhaps the woman who had been a fortune teller, were among the members of the church that was started in Philippi. There is no indication of how long Paul and his companions stayed in Philippi, but they stayed long enough to establish a deep and affectionate friendship that made Philippi stand out among all the churches Paul established.

Paul wrote this letter from his prison in Rome sometime between 60 and 62 CE. He was “in chains for Christ” and he was aware that the Philippians were also facing opposition. He writes in Philippians 1:29-30
29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

One of the major themes of this letter is God’s concern and Paul’s concern for unity in the church. It was distressing for Paul to receive news of conflict between leaders in the church. At the end of his letter he writes: (Philippians 4:2–3)
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Paul’s heart is broken to see these two women, who are leaders in the church, at odds with each other. He does not take sides. He urges them “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” He writes at the beginning to all God’s holy people.

This brings us to chapter two. Paul begins with “Therefore,” I heard long ago that when you read the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask the question, “What is the therefore there for?” In this case it refers back to Philippians 1:27–30
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Stand firm in the one Spirit.
Strive together as one for the faith of the gospel.
It has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.

(You can read the sermon from these verses by going to our church website where my sermons are posted.)

In light of this, therefore, Paul begins a series of clauses.
if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,
if any comfort from his love,
if any common sharing in the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,

The meaning here is not, “if you happen to have any encouragement” and so on. It is not a question of making an evaluation and searching for any evidence of encouragement from being united with Christ. Paul knows the Philippian church. He knows their experience. Paul has spent a lot of time with the people of this church.

What Paul is saying is “since you have encouragement from being united with Christ,” “since you have comfort from his love,” “since you have common sharing in the Spirit,” “since you have experienced tenderness and compassion.”

Their experience is not supposed, it is presupposed. The jailer and his household did not forget what God did when Paul and Silas were in prison. Lydia did not forget the deliverance of the fortune teller. The church experienced great miracles. The church was filled with people who became followers of Jesus because of Paul’s teaching and preaching and the work of the Holy Spirit. In these clauses, Paul is reminding them of all they have experienced.

Gordon Fee points out in his commentary that the first three clauses are Trinitarian, speaking of the experience of the Philippians with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.

In the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, Paul uses this order for the Triune God:
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Here in Philippians 2:1, Paul follows this same order. The first clause reflects on the work of Christ, the second, the work of God the Father, and the third, the work of the Spirit.

if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ

This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:5)
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Paul knew that the Philippians had suffered with Christ and that they had experienced the comfort that comes in difficult times through Christ.

if any comfort from his love,

Since the first clause refers to Christ and the third clause to the Spirit, this clause is reflecting the love of God the Father. Paul wrote in Romans 5:5
hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

God loved the Philippians and God loves us as his children. We are God’s beloved daughters and God’s beloved sons.

if any common sharing in the Spirit

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel

The community of followers of Jesus in Philippi were not from the same class. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman and the jailer had a much lower status in Philippi, but they had been drawn together in the unity of the Spirit and shared together in the life that comes from being loved by God.

When talking about the Trinity, we make a mistake when we try to separate the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit too distinctly. We are loved by God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Paul is not trying to make distinctions here; he is telling the Philippians – and us – that we have a rich experience of God: Father, Son, and Spirit.

And then Paul adds a fourth clause:
if any tenderness and compassion

This fourth clause refers to the fellowship of the church in Philippi and to the affectionate relationship they have shared with Paul.

Since this is your experience with God and since we have shared great tenderness and compassion, Paul tells the Philippians,

2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

be like-minded
have the same love
be one in spirit and of one mind

Unity, unity, unity. The fact that Euodia and Syntyche were fighting with each other broke Paul’s heart. Christians fighting with each other breaks God’s heart. When Christians I know fight with each other it breaks my heart.

Paul tells us not to act out of selfish ambition or vain conceit – and yet that is what we do. He tells us to value others above ourselves in humility – and yet we put ourselves at the center of our world. He tells us not to look to our own interests but to the interests of others – and yet our conflicts with others come because we are focused first and foremost on our rights, our grievances, our wants. We scream out, “What about me?”

In Luke 12:13–15 Jesus was teaching when someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jewish laws of succession were well set out but sometimes there was room for discussion and those who felt they were being treated unfairly could put their case in front of a rabbi who would make a decision about what was to be done.

But Jesus did not want any part of this.
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

A younger brother was upset with his older brother who had received the inheritance of their father. The younger brother wanted to own property and the status and privileges that came from owning property. Was the older brother at fault? The younger brother? Jesus does not seem to be concerned with this. Jesus looks at the heart and sees the breaking of unity in this man’s family and that is his higher concern.

The younger brother looked at the money and land but Jesus looked at Psalm 133, one of the psalms of ascent:
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

Unity is more important than inheritance.

The year before I came to Morocco, my mother’s sister died and in her will she gave money to all her nieces and nephews except for my two daughters. My mother took turns blaming her children for her unhappiness and at this time I was the one being blamed. My mother did not talk to me for a year and a half before I came to Morocco. So my mother and my aunt cut my daughters out of the will.

I was furious. This was not fair. This was not just and I expressed my sense of injustice with my five sisters. I wrote two or three emails and then slowly let it drop. The money was not the issue, it was the injustice that got to me.

This is the kind of thing that can break relationships. This is the kind of thing that can divide brothers and sisters.

I still think this was not just and I know if it had been the children of one of my sisters who had been cut off, I would have shared with them the money that came to my daughters. But the relationships are more important than the money. I had to let it go.

Twenty years later I have matured and I think I would have reacted better than I did at the time. I would have let it go quicker.

Unity is more important than the grievances and disputes that divide us.

I believe and hope that in the next few years we will see great things happening in Morocco. There is evidence of change that is coming and part of that evidence is the spiritual battle that is taking place. There are people with the gifting to do this who are fighting this battle with their prayers. The devil will not give up ground easily and so there is spiritual opposition. One of the ways I am seeing this opposition is conflicts arising between brothers and sisters in Christ. If brothers and sisters in Christ are divided, they are less powerful in what they do.

A brother thinks he has been treated unjustly, not paid what he should have been paid, and sends out an email to plead his case. The people who receive the email respond and it becomes a large disruption. One family is upset because the mother of one family made repeated calls to the mother of another family and those calls were not answered. The family felt disrespected and retaliated by saying mean things about the other family.

A relatively small thing becomes inflated and becomes a major disruption.

What was the source of the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in the church in Philippi?
No one knows, but if they were like us, it was probably some small incident that got built up into a major conflict.

Paul and Barnabas argued about bringing John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. John Mark had started out with them on their first journey but then turned back. So Paul did not want to bring him on the second journey. Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. (Acts 15:37–39)
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.

It took a long time for Paul and Barnabas to be reconciled.

God works all things together for good and so Paul and Silas set out in one direction, Barnabas and John Mark in another. But I think we make the work of Jesus more difficult because of the way we act.

Paul tells us how we should act in our relationships.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

This is reflected in the RIC covenant we read when new members join the church. Part of the covenant speaks about how we should relate to each other.
With the Holy Spirit as our Guide, we propose to walk together in Christian love, to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offense but always ready to be reconciled.

I love what Paul tells us in Philippians 2 and I love what we read in the RIC covenant, but it is so hard to do when it becomes personal. We read it in the abstract and say, “Yes, that is what we should do,” but when we face a situation where we feel offended or cheated, it is much more difficult to let it go.

Let me share with you how I view relationships.

Have you ever been in a hotel room that has an interconnecting door with the room next to you? There are two doors, both of which can be locked. When you have family or friends in the room next to you, you can leave both doors unlocked and open and walk into the other room without having to go out into the hallway of the hotel. But when you use only one room, you keep the door locked.

An open relationship has both doors unlocked and open but when someone gets offended, they shut their door and lock it. If you react and shut your door and lock it, then, sometime in the future, when that person wants to reopen the relationship, they unlock their door and open it only to discover your door is closed and locked.

So, it is important when someone is offended at you for some reason and shuts and locks their door, forgive and keep your door open. Then when they come back, they will find the door open to their relationship with you.

There was a man and his wife in RIC some years ago who was offended by a sermon I preached. I preached a sermon attempting to bridge the gap between Pentecostals and Baptists in our church. That afternoon I received an email from this man, who was on the Pentecostal end of the spectrum, telling me he was highly offended by what I said, that I had blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and that I should take the name of this man and his wife off our church membership list. He wanted nothing more to do with me.

I preach from a manuscript and sent him what I had said in the sermon to show that I had not spoken against the Holy Spirit but had tried to bring unity in the church, but he cut me out of his life.

I kept the door open.

A couple years later he sent me an email thanking me for my work with the Moroccan church. A year or so after that he asked me to speak about his ministry in Morocco for a video his church was making to show what he had done in his years in this country.

Because I did not close the door, because I did not take offense, the relationship was restored.

When there was conflict between the church association to which RIC belongs and the French Protestant church in Morocco, I was accused of trying to take churches away from the French Protestant church and bring them into our association of churches. In fact, I encouraged some of these churches to stay with the French Protestant church, but I was not believed. What was most painful is that a good friend sided with the French Protestant church and believed I was trying to steal churches from them.

I kept the door open and after several years that relationship was also restored.

In both these cases I never went back and revisited what caused the relationship to break. I never tried to help the other person see that they had been wrong. I let the issue go. I did not hold on to the offense.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul talks about love. He writes: (1 Corinthians 13:4–5)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

This is what we need to do and here is why it is so important that we let these things go.

Jesus is building his kingdom. Everything else, in light of that, is insignificant.

Paul received a letter from the church in Corinth and heard that people in the church were taking each other to court to settle disputes. He responded to this in 1 Corinthians 6:7–8
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

As followers of Jesus, heading towards his eternal kingdom, there is something far more important than our rights, our grievances, our hurt feelings.

Has someone treated you unfairly? Let it go. Does someone owe you money and is not repaying you? Let it go. Did someone accuse you of something you did not do? Let it go. Did someone insult you, say mean things about you? Let it go.

Does someone owe you 10,000 dhs and claim that they do not owe you that money? If I were to speak to both sides of the relationship, this is what I would say. I would say to the one who is demanding the 10,000 dhs to let it go and forget about it. I would say to the one who is being asked for the 10,000 dhs to find the money somewhere and pay it just to settle the dispute. The disruption in the relationship is more important than the money involved.

It will become so clear when we get to heaven that we spent far too much time and energy fighting for our rights, our point of view, seeking justice for ourselves. From heaven’s perspective we will regret making those things so important.

We are called by God to love each other as Christ loves us. (1 John 4:11)
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 15:12–13
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

How do we love each other as God loves us? What does God do when we reject him? What does God do when we say something insulting about Jesus? Does God pull back from us? No. He leans toward us, reaching out to us, urging us to come to him and surrender.

In the parable of the Prodigal, the Father suffered humiliation in the eyes of his household and community because of how his son insulted him by asking for his inheritance. The Father did not turn his back and get on with life; he waited and looked to see when his son would return. When he did, he ran and greeted him and restored honor to him.

That is how we are to love each other. We need to learn from how we are loved by God. We need to forget the wrongs done to us. We need to let go of the offense we have felt. We need to sacrifice our pride and honor for the sake of relationships.

What broken relationships do you have in your life? What offenses are you holding on to? What is breaking the bond of unity between you and other brothers and sisters in Christ?

John 13:34–35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”