The Sweet Aroma of Unity

Recently my husband and I spent a week in South Carolina, visiting our daughter and her family. While there, we attended a Presbyterian church and heard a very good sermon about the importance of believers being “of one mind.” Philippians 2:2 (Looks like I am back to the unity in Christ theme from April!).

This doesn’t mean we’ll always agree about everything. It does mean that we will meditate on the things that unite us.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

As a member of the body of Christ we receive so many good things –forgiveness, love, acceptance and encouragement for a start. We are able to receive the sacraments, to worship and to work with others who share the common goal of spreading the Gospel. When our minds are filled with gratitude for all that we’ve received, most disagreements with one another will pale.

Early in Philippians we are exhorted to:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

In other words, we are to put on the mind of Christ, who sacrificed Himself for the good of others, humbly, as a servant. When we imitate Him, we will “shine as lights in the world”(Philippians 2:15b) and the sweet aroma of unity will fill our lives.

For more about unity in Christ see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer — What it Means to be in Christ as a Community

United with Christ through His Church

Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution by Tony Merida–Book Review

Walking With Jesus — Another Quote

I’m evidently not done with last month’s theme, because I came across this quote in my daily devotions. Edward Pusey (1800-1882) was one of the major figures of the Oxford Movement, a reform movement in the Church of England.

“If we be faithful and humble, God will increase our faith by enabling us to obey more faithfully, and will strengthen our sight by enabling us to do what we now see. As in our daily walk we become nearer towards heaven, He will open to us more of heaven. And so the veil which sin laid upon our sight being taken away ‘we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord,’ studying His countenance, watching His looks, seeking to have His gracious and compassionate look cast upon us in the midst of our frailties and infirmities, may catch some faint reflections of its brightness and be changed into the image wheron we gaze, which we love, which in our weakness, we would long to copy and transfuse into ourselves; we too may be ‘changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Edward Pusey

For more quotes by Edward Pusey see:

Surrendering Every Day

Clothed With Christ

Victorious Faith

Walking Like Christ

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

The longer we walk with Christ, the more like Him we become. This quote by George Hodges (1856-1919), and American Episcopal theologian expresses it well:

Evidently, in order to be a manifestation of Christ, we must in some way be like Him. He is a Christian who follows Christ, who measures all things by the standard of His approbation, who would not willingly say a word which he would not like to have Christ hear, nor do an act which he would not like to have Christ see. He is a Christian who tries to be the kind of neighbor Christ would be, and who asks himself in all the alternatives of his business life, and his social life, and his personal life, what would the Master do in this case? The best Christian is he who most reminds the people with whom he lives of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who never reminds anybody of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a Christian at all.

Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked.” 1 John 2:6

For more about imitating Christ see these posts:

Leaders Who Imitate Christ

Practicing Brotherly Love

Keep in Step with the Spirit

Philippians Chapter 3 –What Stands Out

This is the third in my series of lectio divina meditations on Philippians.  What stood out for me in this chapter is:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”  Philippians 3:12

The “this” the apostle Paul is speaking of, is his attempt to imitate Christ, his master.  He wants to:

“… know him and the power of his resurrection …. share his sufferings …. (and become) like him in his death ….” Philippians 3:10

In other words, Paul is describing the process that Lutherans call sanctification.

Like Paul, I am far from completing this process.  I’m still pressing on, and will be until the day of my death.  Some days, I’m all too aware of my failures and shortfalls.  Strangely, this doesn’t make me feel hopeless, but hopeful.  After all, in the end, I do not have:

“…. a righteousness of my own that comes from the law; but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”Philippians 3:9

The race is already won, but running gives my life meaning.  I want to imitate Jesus who saved me.  I want to meet Him and hear these words:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Matthew 25:21

I want to persevere.  It’s my “one thing” — for more about this see: Bulls Eye!

For more on the book of Philippians visit these posts:

The Theme of Joy in Philippians

Philippians Chapter 1 — What Stands Out

Philippians Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

 

I’m Too Good for This

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘LORD,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your LORD and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:13-17

Face it,  ladies, aren’t there times when we all feel that we’re too good to waste our time serving others?  Changing diapers, packing lunches, scrubbing the toilet — these are not generally seen as tasks that fulfill us or enrich our lives. Taking time to listen to a whiney teenager, visiting an elderly relative who rambles on and on or cheerfully assisting our annoying boss can become tiresome and irritating. Sometimes we feel unappreciated.  Does anyone even SEE what we’re doing? The effort we put into making somebody else’s life a little smoother? The things we put up with in order to help somebody else?  In the verses above, Jesus reminds us of two things:

  1. He himself was willing to serve.  He was God, yet He not only washed feet, He gave his life for ungrateful, sinful wretches like you and me.  We should never be unwilling to serve others when we reflect upon His example.
  2. When we serve we will be blessed.  Maybe we won’t be blessed with worldly recognition or wealth, but we will be blessed by loving relationships.  Plus we will receive the recognition that really matters when we hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from Jesus, our Lord.

Remember, nobody wishes on their death bed that they had spent more time accumulating stuff.  Nobody remembers their parents or friends fondly because they were rich or famous.  In the end what matters most are the many, small, caring deeds we do for others.  The things we think are go unnoticed.

So serve cheerfully.  Develop a servant’s heart. You’re not too good for this.

Live and Learn

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

Sometimes we use the fact that we are not “gifted” in a particular way as an excuse.  We tell ourselves that we shouldn’t bother to witness, offer acts of service, or show mercy because it isn’t our “gift.”  This is wrong and not Biblical.  Our individual gifts will be our serving “sweet spot” — they will show us where to concentrate our efforts.  That doesn’t mean we can never do things that are outside of our natural comfort zone. Living the Christian life means learning and growing.

One way to do this is observe those with a particular spiritual gift and imitate them.  I have several friends with the gift of hospitality.  I may never be able to match their effectiveness and joy in opening my home to others;  but I can watch and learn.  I can take note of how they try to make their guests comfortable and welcome and I can try to incorporate some of those things into my own life.  I can take some steps in the direction of becoming a more hospitable person.

I have another friend who once talked to be about how she had taken care of her mother when she became elderly and ill.  She said she came to realize that God gave her that opportunity so she could learn to be a better servant.  She has the gift of mercy.  I don’t, but when I faced the same situation with my mother, her words encouraged me and helped me to see unpleasant tasks as an opportunity instead of a chore.

My husband has the gift of teaching.  I don’t.  But I have learned some of his techniques by many years of sitting in his classes.  When I need to step up and lead a Sunday School class, I do not have his poise and natural style of delivery, but I do have the gift of knowledge, and I can work to impart that to others.  In the same way, my husband does not have a natural gift of encouragement, but he has seen me send cards and notes and give hugs, and he reminds himself that sometimes these things are good to do even if it’s not his natural inclination.

In the verse above, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to imitate his life, just as he is trying to imitate Christ.  We too should find godly people within our church and strive to imitate them.  Remember the story of the little boy with the small number of loaves and fishes?  Jesus used his small gift to feed 5000!  Give your willing gift, however small, to Christ and he will multiply it and use it to bless others.

Leaders Who Imitate Christ

In the apostle Paul’s letters to various churches, he often tells the believers to imitate him.  Our leaders should be examples to us, but why is that?  For Christians it is because leaders are to imitate Christ, who is the ultimate leader of our lives.  Here’s some more of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

In imitating Christ, Paul teaches other leaders to be unselfish, desiring always what is best for others, particularly when it comes to their faith and salvation. In honesty, I have to admit that I don’t always do this, but I should.  Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader who had their best interests at heart?  If we lead in this way, people will follow us to the one who can save them and give meaning to their lives.

Jesus Himself told his followers:

“And he sat down and called the twelve.  And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

And remember the last supper?  The scene when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  He tells them:

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”

Jesus gave us an example.  He wants us to imitate Him as a servant-leader.  If you are a leader in any way (and you probably are), be unselfish and loving.  Think the best of those you lead, and desire God’s best for them.  It’s the least you can do as an imitator of Christ.  He loves you and so do I!