Over Christmas break my lifegroup and I thought it would be good to read a book of the Bible and discuss it via a facebook thread. (I felt really cool starting a thread....)
So we chose Philippians. It's one of my favorite books in the Bible and also happens to be only four chapters long.
I began reading in The Message and really loved the translation, so I thought I'd share what came of it. So here's the inordinately long facebook message that the girls in my lifegroup received:
One of my favorite passages in the book of Philippians is right in the beginning. (vs. 1-11) I remember reading these in college, and realizing that how Paul talks about the church in Philippi is what I desire for the community I'm a part of - particularly verses 3-6, & 9-11.
The first thing I desire is the sincere love Paul has for the church at Phillipi. He even goes so far in verses 7 & 8 to explain that it's not "fanciful" for him to have such strong affection for this group of people. The Philippian church partnered with him in the Gospel. They were on the front lines with Paul.
"It's not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!" (vs. 7-8, The Message)
This always challenges me to not settle in regard to my community. I feel like it's very easy for me to slip into making it merely a fun place to be, or, better yet, a place where people come and open up a little bit and even do, in fact, experience God.
When they graduate and move on, however, their walk with God hasn't deepened, their faith hasn't been challenged, and they haven't grabbed hold of Christ with a fierce grip reinforced by an even fiercer heart knowledge of grace.
I want my church home to be a place of safety where I feel I can be myself, for sure; but I can't deny how much deeper my connections are with people who I have gone to battle with, the ones who I have served side by side with to advance the kingdom.
I think of the Trinity, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, they are Three-in-One. I wonder how much of that connection stems from the fact that their one pursuit is the redemption of mankind for Glory. The Father in His immense power & holiness, The Son in His heart-pounding, passionate love, & the Spirit in His deep comfort and piercing conviction all working together, simultaneously to bring man back to God. Such unity is something no human has ever known.
We do get a taste of it though, I think. That's why Paul's language is so strong. If you continue reading, later on in the chapter Paul wrestles with which would be better: to stay on earth and serve the believers, or to die and finally be united with Christ? To stay and continue to serve, struggle, sweat, & bleed with other members of the Body? Or to finally go home, and be with Him who the deep places in our hearts long for? "To live is Christ, and to die is gain."
How beautiful of a struggle to have, though. Sometimes I am overcome with the desire to show this to unbelievers. I lack the ability, but the Holy Spirit doesn't. This is what I desire for my church. For us to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit to show unbelievers the joy of such unity. The joy of being unified with Christ and unified with other members of His Body.
After feeling so strongly this desire for my community to be (by the grace of God) a powerful tool for the advancement of the Kingdom, Paul's prayer in verses 9-11 makes more sense to me. I think the only way we can be effective is by having the kind of love Paul describes here:
"So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God." (The Message)