Monthly Archives: September 2020

Attitude, what attitude?

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had”

Philippians 2:5 GNB

– says Paul (in our reading of Philippians 2:1-13). This is our pattern, our example. This is the route that has been pioneered for us, and left for us to follow. Scholars suggest that Paul was adopting a hymn here. It makes no difference, for whatever follows “The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had” is going to be a hard act to follow.

There is also a question whether Paul was tactfully skating round failures in the leadership at Philippi. Were relationships there not so good? was there disunity, boasting, ambition and selfishness? The answer is not essential to our understanding. Churches are not perfect – we are a congregation of sinners. But we need to know where we are heading, and what we are supposed to imitate, how we are to work towards our goals. Again

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had”

Not immune – but protected!

“I’ve been good, why is this happening to me?” Sadly this is a common wail of Churchgoers in trouble. Paul gives some answers in Philippians 1. (We are set to read Philippians 1:21-30, but it may be helpful to start a bit earlier – perhaps Philippians 1:12-30).

Paul is in prison (v13), yet his whole attitude is far beyond duty and courage! Even though some people are trying to make trouble for him (v17), he is happy. How does he manage this?

He has no illusions about the Christian life being a guarantee of no trouble, no hard times, no suffering. Quite the opposite, if his being in prison (not a pleasant experience) will help the gospel, then he is happy for that to happen. The experience is clearing up what is at stake, helping others to confront the challenge of the gospel – as persecution has often been a tool for strengthening the church – “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (as is said in East Africa). Paul draws strength from realism: he knows the failings and weaknesses of other people, but also he knows the God who is in control of all. His trust is in God, and with that he can cope with people.

Life and death! Paul knows the possibilities of his situation, and has come to be able to say

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21

It is a vital line for many others who face death, whether through disease (as we all do, at some time), or through physical danger. Sadly, we don’t now seem happy to speak positively about preparing for death, preferring to let it creep up on us unawares. Is a sudden heart attack the ideal end? No, for it allows no time to prepare, no repentance, no sorting of finances and relationships. Yes, to prepare for death needs the courage to face dying; and yes, it is a good thing to do – for our own sake as we face God, and for the sake of friends and family, as they adjust to a new situation.

Paul, guarded by armed soldiers, is in no position to avoid the realities, and he has worked through his thoughts and feelings to this wonderful and helpful statement v21. What do we rely on? If Christ, then he will see us through death. If something else, then we need to change – and that brings us to the third paragraph Philippians 1:27-30.

“the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires”

Philippians 1:27a

This is your safeguard, in all sorts of ways:

  • if you have enemies, who oppose and ridicule your faith, live it consistently, and they will have no ammunition. More, they will be given fair warning of their own danger.
  • if you are frightened of what may happen in the future, of the uncertainty that is always part of life (health, work, family …) then live as a Christian and you will develop the resources to cope with all these things, as well as to recognise that many will never come.
  • even should you ever be afraid of the “nasties” of the spiritual world, of black magic or vodoo or anything else you should not be involved with – this is your basic protection. Live as a Christian, for Christ does not allow his people to be seriously hurt by the enemy.

So I hope you see that Christians are not “immune”. All sorts of things can and do happen to them, but they are still safe with a God whose work is not stopped. They can face death with reasoned courage; they know that living as Christians is a preparation and protection which will get them through good times and bad.

Telling others what to do.

It is one of the most objectionable features of religion – people who want to tell you what to do! Too often it is not a helpful sharing of good ways, but a desire to control, manipulate, or play power games.

As Paul moves on in his letter to the Romans (now to Romans 14:1-12) he clearly has this problem in mind. There are many ways of living the Christian life. In Rome, there were clearly believers from Jewish backgrounds, some of whom wanted to be wary of “unclean” food, and to keep the feasts they had grown up with. Paul is happy, as long as they do not confuse their customs with what is necessary for salvation. But believers of all traditions are to accept one another without hostile comment, as long as they share in the basic facts of faith. Of course, there is always a debate about what is basic, about what you “have to do”, but Paul argues against extending the basics to “our way”, whatever that may be.

I doubt there are many congregations today where the issue is between those of Jewish and Gentile background, but the issues remain. Food has become an ethical issue more prominently as ecological concerns have suggested the earth cannot support a Western style, meat focused, diet for all. Health experts have also ruled against much red meat. So some of us, if not becoming vegetarian, have added more meat-free meals to our diet. It is an interesting point to debate, but it is not a fundamental point of faith.

Anglicans (like me) tend to find the cycle of the “Church year”, looking at different parts of the faith at different seasons, a helpful teaching aid. Autumn brings Harvest, a thanksgiving reminding us of creation (and our need to care for it!). Kingdom reminds us of God’s rule, and Advent of our readiness for God’s Coming. Christmas (disentangling ourselves from the commercial version) speaks of God among us, and Epiphany of how that became known. There is time in Lent to consider the cost, of our salvation and of following a crucified Saviour. Easter takes us to the resurrection, and then on to ascension, Trinity, and the consequences all this has for our life routines and habits. Useful? Arguably. Necessary? Not at all. Many Christians will never keep that pattern, or those feasts. If they are “not like us” that does not affect their faith. In fact, it is just as well there are many Christians “not like us”, for it makes it easier to see what really is important!

We remind ourselves that the person to tell what to do – is ourselves. I am the only person I am meant to control, and as yet I have not worked that out fully. I am happy to try and encourage others, even to try and explain what I know of faith and Christian life, but I need to restrain the urge to tell others what to do. That is God’s job, and God is better at it than I am.

Debt

Debt cancellation is a popular theme among those concerned with world development. How can struggling nations repay money which has long since been mis-spent or disappeared into corrupt hands, when they need to help their people to a better life? It is not a simple issue, but one example of how debt can throw a long shadow over life.

Paul tells Christians (we are reading Romans 13:8-14)

 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another

Romans 13:8a

and we might wonder how that works out in practice.

Jesus (Mark 12:31) summarised the law as loving the one God, and your neighbour as yourself. It brought together two vital strands. The love of God is a response to the love God first shows us, accepting his gift and putting it into use, our motivation for new life. But our love of those around us is a reality check. If we really love God, then it will show in our behaviour, even to the difficult or demanding. After all, God loved us when we were just like that!

But how are we to set about cancelling debts? Doesn’t society depend on favours owed and favours returned? Isn’t our social life founded on remembering who you owe? Perhaps some people do give the impression of a frantic counting and reckoning of who is owed what. But there is an alternative. The Lord’s Prayer taught us “Forgive us . . as we forgive”; – not a careful accounting, but a generosity which reflects the generosity of God’s treatment of us. I think what Paul is recommending is that generosity in our relations with our neighbours.

It may be in terms of money, including making sure that we repay anything borrowed promptly and willingly, but it is really about a wider generosity of spirit. Sometimes money is not the issue. Generosity may offer time and a listening ear (rather than advice!). It may find sympathy rather than blame. It will control irritation, contempt, and cynicism.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone is wise or does the right thing. But if there are words of guidance or correction, they will be spoken gently, and by the right person. And those words will only be heard after any personal anger or hurt have been dealt with, so that they are spoken with a positive slant, and with love.

Easy? Like so many Christian things, it is not complicated, just hard to do. But this is a response to a God who deals lovingly with me, so there is a reminder of what is possible!