Tag Archives: selfishness

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”

All Win

Half the world is lonely. We can go to the other side of it for a holiday, but a good many people have moved away, and so old communities are full of newcomers and families are not now so close. You can take your qualifications and get a job anywhere, and people do – so the chances of knowing people well diminish, and of growing old with the same people become less likely.

If half the world is lonely, the other half is cynically looking after number one, because nobody else is going to bother. Perhaps that’s too bleak a picture, – its not one I’m going to leave you with – but for many today it’s probably a fair representation of their outlook.

How could it be any different? Some will look for a fairy story romanticism, others hark back to the good old days, others pretend not to notice. None of those works very well. There’s a better way. It’s a way which is realistic about the present and the future. Everybody wants “Somebody on my side” – that’s part of the offer. Not somebody against everyone else, but somebody with a real concern, and understanding, and the ability to change things.

Everybody wants to be understood, – and that is part of the offer.

Everybody wants to be respected, and – well that does rather depend on what you do; let’s stick with being understood.

You may have recognised that the answer comes from Romans 8 (and specifically Romans 8:26-39, which we read for Sunday 26 July in the Revised Common Lectionary). Paul knows all about the problems! He has written about the reality of evil, and of the failure of a set of rules, however good, to solve the problem. Now he is talking about God’s solution – a way of life that involves faith, and grace.

It is not an instant cure. Paul speaks of how we don’t even know how to pray about the problems – perhaps that is a reference to praying in tongues, when the person praying doesn’t know what he is asking. But he is confident that with God’s help, nothing can stand against us. And he is confident in having God’s help.

That’s the crunch. How can we know the God’s help isn’t kept for someone else? For someone more deserving, someone nicer, someone more able . . ?

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:31b, 32

That’s the answer! Jesus, and Jesus’ life, is given for us all – for each one, without exception. That is how we know we’re not alone. That is how we know there is someone on our side. That is the truth of love conquers all.

And so we have confidence in winning – a complete victory assured. And so we can – should – must – live in a way that is impossible for other people. We really do live in a different world to most of the people around us. We need to understand that, to make sure that we are confident and secure in God’s love for us.

Then, as that changes us, we need to tell other people. That’s why we Churches with activities aimed at those outside. Your Church is not there to provide you with your preferred spirituality. It exists to tell people how God is with us, and it expects everyone who hears that message to be active in passing it on.

Who’s in Charge?

Who’s in Charge? – we usually ask when things aren’t working. No service, no progress, no satisfaction. Who’s in Charge? Last week, we looked at Romans 7, talking about the struggle within, knowing what we ought to do and want to do, but not always doing it. This week, on to Romans 8:1-11

“there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Romans 8:1

That has to be good news. Nobody likes being put down, and being judgmental is a sure way to unpopularity. But what does that mean? not everybody escapes, so who? The rest of our reading explains.

“Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants.” Good News Bible, may be clearer than
NIV “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires”

Romans 8:5

This is what we might call selfishness – but might not always recognise. It can be like the child “I want this, I won’t do that, tantrum..” But it can also be the clever executive who plans their way to the top, by fair means or foul, stopping for no one, or even the charming and subtle person, who will never put themselves in a position they don’t want to be in, for anybody.

What does it mean to “live according to human nature” (other translations have “sinful nature” or “the flesh”)? It means:

  • “Who’s in Charge?” – I am!
  • “What are you going to do?” What I want to
  • “What’s life all about?” ME.

[Some years ago, Jane Williams surprised a Conference in Oxford. She was talking about Spirituality, and reminded us how popular it is, how every personality has their diet, their routine and personal space carefully designed. But it is all about their fulfillment, their career, their choices & ambitions. Christians shouldn’t have that, but a different thing, called discipleship, about following God, not our own choices.]

“To be controlled by human nature results in death;” or
NIV “The mind governed by the flesh is death”

but

“to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace.” or
NIV “the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace”

Romans 8:6

God doesn’t leave us to do our own thing, and suffer other people doing theirs. His love finds a better way –

“For the law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death. What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin.   God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature.”

Romans 8:2-4 GNB

This is where we find what it means to “live in union with Christ Jesus”. We accept, not only that Jesus lived and died for us, but that our lives need now to be directed by his Spirit. This is what we ought to know as Christian life, or discipleship – but we don’t always recognise it. It is not being a doormat, trampled by everyone else. It is not failing to enjoy good and beautiful things. It is not letting our talents and abilities go to waste. Nor is it being very religious. But it is a new set of answers to those questions:

  • Who’s in Charge? God is, both of the big plan, and the details in my life
  • “What are you going to do?” What God wants
  • “What’s life all about?” God’s plan, which includes me, and the people I love, and much, much more.

Too often we try to fudge the issue with comments like “I’m not doing any harm”. This passage is much blunter:

“And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God’s law, and in fact they cannot obey it.  Those who obey their human nature cannot please God.”
while for Christians it works differently
“But you do not live as your human nature tells you to; instead, you live as the Spirit tells you to—if, in fact, God’s Spirit lives in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God.”

Romans 8:7-8 and 9-10a GNB

The challenge for us is not to understand, it’s very simple: Who’s in charge? God, or your human nature. The challenge is to trust God, and let him control, and go on with that, so that he has more and more control, and we get more confidence to let him drive faster.

Christian Behaviour

It is easy to get confused about what Christian Behaviour should be. There are lots of “things we ought / ought not to do”, but they don’t always agree, and anyway, who says? Of course the Old Testament had commandments which gave a picture of what God was like, and liked. But they could mislead – some thought that just having the commandments made them better than other people, and in any case, they all made mistakes and failed to live perfectly.

Paul taught Christians (Jews or Gentiles) that they would get to heaven because their sin was forgiven by the grace of God, depending on the death of Jesus, and through the faith of the believer. But he then had to face the question (we are reading Romans 6:1-11), “So, why behave? If sins are forgiven, why worry?” Paul’s answer might be paraphrased “No way: Live for yourself, or live for Christ – but you can’t do both!”

I don’t have to tell you about living for yourself – we’ve all done it! It’s selfish, which means that we don’t enjoy the pleasures as much as we might, both because we may have hurt others to get them, and because we are looking over one shoulder to see who may be trying to take them away. It makes a world where you’re on your own, everyone against everyone else and pity help the weak. And if you live for yourself there’s always a problem with guilt and failure. You’re never going to reach God’s standards, and you probably won’t keep up your own, either.

So, what’s the alternative – to live for Christ. That doesn’t make us perfect; you may have noticed that Christians are still sinners. But it is a totally different motivation. As forgiven sinners, we work together with others who share this loyalty. They’re an odd lot, and sometimes it is rubbing along with them that rubs off some of our rough edges. But if we share a Master, we also have a real unity. This is a family which, though it can argue, has a very strong reason for living together.

There’s another benefit. The more we get into this service of Christ, the more like him we become. It’s one of the things the Holy Spirit does to us and with us; you may not notice, but other people will. What are we saying? A lot of people still make the mistake of thinking that Christian Behaviour is “being good” – getting a good score on keeping the commandments. That is a mistake.

Christian behaviour is all about serving Jesus, living for him. (Rather like the line in today’s gospel, Matthew 10:32,33 “If anyone declares publicly that he belongs to me, I will do the same for him before my Father in heaven. But if anyone rejects me publicly, I will reject him before my Father in heaven.” The question is “Who do you belong to?” and there is the same sharp division). Those commandments are still useful – they tell us things what God thinks is important, and warn us of dangers.

If you want to know how you are doing, don’t say “I wonder if 7/10 is a pass mark for keeping the commandments” but ask “How much of today did I live for Jesus, and how much did I really live to get my own way?”

Preserving Freedom

Paul has argued through Galatians against a group who wanted to impose full Jewish Law and practice on those who became believers in Jesus from outside the Jewish community. He insists that faith, and not obeying the detailed instructions of the Old Testament Law, is what makes a person free and right with God.

It might sound very remote in the twenty first century, if it were not for the difficulty we have today as Christians understanding how Christian life is supposed to work. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Clearly it would be terrible, having escaped from the life of a slave, to be returned to it again. But what is Christian freedom, and how is it to be used, and indeed preserved?

Today’s reading (Galatians 5:1 and 13-25) jumps from that verse to explain the difference between a selfish life, dominated by the indulgence of human appetites, and a free life powered and directed by the Holy Spirit. We have become expert at justifying what we want, having our own way, and imposing on others – yet know that this seldom ends well. What we have to learn is how thankfulness for a life set free can lead us to love and serve, and to cultivate the “fruit of the Spirit”. These are gifts we cannot obtain by self-discipline, but that God will develop in us as we allow them to grow.

Freedom can be lost! When Paul sounds as if he speaks from experience, we can echo his concerns. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. ” This leads back to the selfish life, enslaved by human desires. The alternative? “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Attitude

There is a comment on the gospel for Lent 6c titledFailure and Success” here.

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:” – says Paul. (In today’s reading from Philippians 2:5-14). Having heard an account of the Passion, it strikes home even harder. 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? Again, the answer is not essential to our understanding. Churches are not perfect – each is 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:”

This Holy Week we have more opportunities than any other week in the year. Of course it is easy to see how things can go wrong. Of course we can see many other patterns of leadership and service. But we are committed to this difficult example. Think again:

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

Stand firm

(Philippians 3:17-4:1) “Hold fast!” – “Stand firm!” it sounds a bit like a battle, and so it is. You can see that in the gospel reading today (Luke 13:31-35), as Jesus refuses distraction in the work he has to do before he goes to Jerusalem to die. Paul’s words to the Philippians sound less military, but. .

“Keep on imitating me” Paul says. We might prefer “Keep on imitating Jesus”. But, then as now, many don’t know Jesus to follow, and look to us to see something of him. It’s a big responsibility – we know we fail, but that is part of it. How to fail, repent, and go on – that is very important.

“For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” What a strange way of putting it! (We’re back to the battle) Doesn’t he mean enemies of Christ? Perhaps, but as he explains in verse 19, we see he means not only a selfish life, in opposition to Jesus teaching; but also the complete opposite of his example. Jesus gave, they take.

The enemies of Christ’s death on the cross live for themselves: food, drink, money, sex, comfort, ambition, power, ME and mine.

“Their end is destruction” – “They are going to end up in hell” – Paul’s words, but pretty blunt. We might say its a “dead end”; but we need to take seriously the consequences of going that way. There has to be an alternative, and there is.

“But our citizenship is in heaven” Simple, yet important. This – this world, this job, this text – isn’t where we have to succeed, or fail. Jesus death on the cross opens up for us a new horizon. He found reason to live for us and give for us, even to the extent of that death. As we learn to follow, we find more important things than ME and mine. God’s love is worth more than a promotion; serving with his people is worth more than comfort or power.

We don’t find it easy to teach children to share – toys, or parents, or anything else. We don’t find it easy to teach Christians, even when they say they are committed to being disciples of Jesus, that their lives must follow a different Way to the rest of the world. A better Way, but one which involves discipline and sacrifice to achieve more wonderful things on earth, and in heaven, our place as Citizens of Jesus Kingdom. It’s not just that there are one or two things we don’t do, and some little habits (like prayer and services) we add on. The Christian Way is a whole attitude to life, sometimes difficult and demanding, but worth everything.

Paul was close to the Christians in Philippi – but even there he had to remind them about Christian behaviour, and the need to “stand firm in the Lord”

Standing firm, but in the Lord, not in unchanging tradition. Philippi was a Roman colony – they would understand about being citizens of somewhere else, and the benefits of that. But being citizens of heaven was something they needed to go on learning – as we do.

Who’s in Charge?

“Who’s in Charge?”  We ask it of politicians, of community leaders – of all sorts of people.  In today’s gospel, (Matthew 21:23-32)  Jesus authority is questioned. We might guess that the authorities are offended by his lack of authorisation — he was not a rabbi, in the sense of having been recognised and ordained. So, finding him teaching in the Temple, they ask “How dare you!” – or rather “What right have you?”

Jesus answers with a question – a common thing at the time. “What authority did John the Baptist have?” It seems a simple question, but verses 25 & 26 show their problem, and they answer “We do not know”. (Perhaps meaning “We think he was a fraud, but haven’t the courage to say so”).

It is not just a debating trick. If the questioners cannot tell the difference between a man of God and a trickster, then they have shown that they are incompetent. If they are not prepared to tell the people what they think is the truth, they cannot lead. So they are not capable of judging Jesus.  Jesus has the authority of God himself, shown by his words and actions. The chief priests and elders, by their inability to recognise John the Baptist, have shown they have no spiritual discernment, no real authority.

It’s tempting to stop there, to say that Jesus has shown the opposition to be rubbish, and won his way out of a difficult situation.  That might miss the point. How many of us are still asking “Who’s in Charge?”.  The answer is not the legitimacy of some official, but our obedience to God, our discipleship.  The inner child is always ready to protest “You can’t make me, it’s my life, I’ll do, or not do, what I want”. What has authority over us – over me? Ambition, desire, selfishness, laziness, pride,.. or is my life a Christian life, where Jesus not only has the right to tell me what to do (and how, and when), but that right is accepted, signed up to, and even celebrated?

We went on the the parable of the two sons. One says yes, and does nothing. The other thinks better of his refusal, and goes and does the work his father has directed him to.  Who’s in charge? Who tells me what to do? Who has the right? There is a theoretical answer – Jesus who created me and gave his life to gain my freedom – but it is not a matter of getting the words right. It means doing the work, using the energy, sorting out the pride, giving the money, sharing the possessions, and not stopping.

Jesus is a hard act to follow.

He asks a great deal.

He has the right.