by Barry Newton
Reading the first eighteen verses of Philippians 2 recalls Yogi Berra’s statement, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” For in these verses, themes begun in Paul’s prayer relive a second and third manifestation.
We first experienced the themes of love, blamelessness and purity within Philippians 1:9-11. Within this paragraph Paul had prayed that an abounding love might produce within the Philippian Christians discernment of what was most excellent, thereby leading God’s people to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.
Then as Paul’s pen pressed forward to relieve their anxiety regarding his incarceration, deja vu! Some people were being motivated by love, while others acted out of love’s antithesis, selfish ambition, as both groups proclaimed the gospel. The needle of the compass distinguishing the best in his situation was none other than the prime principle from his earlier petition, love.
Even more significantly, Paul’s own example exemplified how love can fill someone’s heart even when the adversarial conditions become personal. In conflicts people commonly consider their own hurts and interests. However, rather than being preoccupied with pity or a self-serving agenda, Paul’s heart was driven by love. He focused upon whether others were hearing how Jesus solves their greatest need. Paul’s knowledge of Christ and concern for others had produced discernment of what is best causing him to rejoice in what was transpiring.
How appropriate then, that when Paul finally turned to addressing his readers and their adversarial environment, deja vu all over again! With apostolic authority, Paul commanded them to “maintain the same love” they had seen in Christ and hence not engage in grumbling. A loving attitude had caused the Lord to relinquish his position and obediently serve without complaining. Now they too needed to imitate and obey.
Conquering complaining can be a challenge for a congregation facing opposition from without and discontent from within. However, by abounding in love they would work out the implications of their salvation and “be blameless and pure.”
No wonder this letter is filled with the language of rejoicing. When God’s people are filled with knowledge guiding a behavior saturated with love, God will truly be at work through the church in a dark world. This certainly presents a reason to rejoice.