by Michael E. Brooks
“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life” (Philippians 4:2,3, NKJV).
I have been sick the past two days, with some nausea and fever. I went to bed the first night with extra covers because of chills, waking in the early hours to take them off. My fever had broken and I was no longer chilled. In the morning I felt pretty good, until I had been up about 5 minutes, at which time I realized that I was still weak, nauseous, and not nearly well. The fever had been brought down by medicine, but its cause was not yet removed.
When my wife and I were younger, with small children, we would become alarmed at the high fevers they occasionally had. We would take them to the doctor and expect him to immediately give them something to bring the fever down. Often the doctor would not do that. One explained to us, “The fever is not the problem. We need to find what is causing it and then we can cure the child.” The doctors understood that treatment needs to be directed towards the illness, not the symptoms.
Spiritual illnesses must be treated in the same way. I suspect if many of us had written the above words to Euodia and Syntyche we would have said something like, “You two ladies need to get along with each other better, quit your arguing and make up.” But Paul, writing by inspiration, understood that it was not their personal dispute that was their primary problem. Rather it was their mindset. If they would each strive for the mind of Christ, their personal feud would inevitably be solved.
We typically try to produce spirituality through performance. Faithfulness is measured by how often one attends worship assemblies, or prays, or reads the Bible. If someone feels the need for spiritual growth we recommend that they increase the frequency or amount of those or similar activities. Though there is some truth to the premise that doing spiritual things will develop spiritual character, that does not necessarily always hold true, and it is not enough. The Pharisees are ample evidence of that. No one did more supposedly spiritual activities than they, yet they were routinely condemned by Jesus as unspiritual in the extreme (Matthew 23).
A better way to grow in the likeness of Jesus is to seek his mind. Earlier in this letter Paul had exhorted all the church to “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). He is speaking specifically of the love of Christ, demonstrated by the incarnation and crucifixion. If we think like Christ, we will act like Christ, and we will please him.
It is this proper order of development that Jesus stressed in his teaching about defilement in Mark 7:18-23. He stated that only what proceeds from the heart is capable of defiling a man, that is, making him unclean before God. Eating food that is unclean, or without proper ceremony, cannot put blemishes on our spirits. Only sin, beginning in our heart, can do that. “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Our sinful actions are serious and must be corrected. But we cannot truly be healed until we address the real root of the problem, which is our rebellious heart. It starts from within.
by Michael E. Brooks