Vain Conceit

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

He was one of the sadder men that I have met in my lifetime. There seemed to be something very wrong with him and it took me a while to determine what was really going on in his life.

The first thing I noticed about him was the way he walked. He seemed to strut or swagger when he walked anywhere. The manner in which he moved suggested that he had a sense of self importance.

Then, I noticed that he had an opinion on every topic of conversation. He tried to show that he knew a lot about any subject at all.

Yet, when you listened carefully to what he would say, you soon realized that he was mistaken about a lot of things.

What was wrong with him? Well he had a form of conceit—to use the term Paul does in our verses today. He sought to portray the notion that he was very clever and superior to other people.

However, what I learned was that deep down he sensed he was very inferior and that was the reason he tried to act superior to others. He tried to compensate for his inferiority by pretending to be better than others. Paul calls such action ‘vain conceit’.

Paul gives us the cure for “vain conceit”. He tells us to value the gifts of the other brother or sister more than any gifts the Lord has given you. So the one who is able to lead a church service, preach a sermon or teach a large Sunday School class should see that the person handing out bulletins and greeting visitors is also very important.

The finest sermon or the most impressive Bible lesson can fall on deaf ears if the visitor has not been warmly greeted when entering the church building. When someone enters church and has a friendly handshake and a sincere question about how they are today, that person senses that this church truly cares for them and they want to know more.

Examine your own heart to see if you are among the humble whom Paul refers in our verses. Call to mind the words of Peter when he said in 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NIV)

“In the same way, you who are younger,
submit yourselves to your elders.
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility
toward one another, because,
‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that he may lift you up in due time.”

Speak to someone today an encouraging word that will lift them up. Speak the truth, and do it in love so that the one to whom you speak will recognize the sincerity of your speech and be blessed.

Beware Of Vesuvius

Therefore if you have any encouragement
from being united with Christ,
if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being like-minded,
having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

Mount Vesuvius in Italy is best known for its eruption in A.D. 79 and the consequent destruction of two Roman cities. It is regarded as the most dangerous active volcano in the world. Several million people now live within reach of its lethal capabilities.

When we think of the destructive forces of such a mountain we shudder. Why would people repopulate the area around such a dreadful mountain which had killed many thousands of people over the centuries. Signs ought to be posted all around the area reading, Beware of Vesuvius.

During the years of pastoral ministry I have come in contact with Christian people whose emotional lives resemble Vesuvius. They are calm and reasonable for months or even a few years and then suddenly, with only small warning signs, they erupt in a dreadful display of destructive passion.

The pastoral side of Paul shines through clearly as he calls on his readers to remember how they have been united together in Christ and of their mutual responsibility to work for peace among themselves. Later in his letter he will mention two people at odds with each other but here he cautions everyone against pent up anger that threatens the unity of the church for which Christ died.

Paul reminds the believers that they are united to Christ, they all share in His love and the Spirit, they all have experienced the tenderness and compassion of the Gospel message and so he calls on them to be united. I believe that many confessing Christian people need to consider that the “grudge” they bear toward another member of the body of Christ ought to be dismissed.

Pastors in most, if not every congregation, need to ensure that their flock is of the same mind in Christ. Petty differences need to be quickly dealt with lest they suddenly explode into a church split. Members of the body of Christ making war against other members over such things as an alleged slight, the color of the new sanctuary drapes or another matter that will be forgotten 5 seconds into eternity.

If you have been the object of rejection by other believers take to heart the instruction in Matthew 18 on reconciliation. Seek to institute the teaching in that passage. Read Romans 12:18 where we are called on to use all our efforts to live peacefully with everyone. Go back to the person who is at war with you and use your best efforts to reconcile.

Also, Beware of Vesuvius within your own heart. Seek to cultivate the same tenderness and compassion toward the one who has offended you as Jesus has shown you. Anger unresolved can suddenly erupt in your own speech and cause a serious breach in the harmony of the family of God.

What Did I Sign Up For?

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ
not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,
since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had,
and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 1:29-30 (NIV)

When a person signs up in the armed forces they only have a vague idea of the alternatives that might confront them. For example, I well remember a dear friend of mine describing his son’s experiences in the Canadian armed service.

The young man signed up expecting some rough and difficult things if he was ever posted overseas. However, when he was shipped to one of the hottest countries in the east, he was not psychologically ready for what he had to endure while there.

The first negative thing that shocked him was the need to wear a uniform better suited for cooler climates than the frequent 110 degree daytime temperatures in that country. Then he was required to carry a 40 pound kit on his back when marching and on duty.

As might be expected he lost considerable weight and found the experience very challenging. I suspect he sometimes wondered to himself, “What did I sign up for?’

In various places in the New Testament people are warned that “signing up” to be a follower of Jesus can require enormous self denial. In fact, there can be so much self denial if a person follows Jesus that the act of walking with Jesus is like dying.

This is why Jesus said,

“If any person will follow me,
let him/her take up their cross and follow Me.”

A cross was an instrument designed to put people to death. Jesus used the word picture of crucifixion as the way to describe what happens when a person becomes His disciple.

Some well meaning people say that following Jesus will mean that you have an easy life of it. But what Jesus demands of His followers is that they be prepared to deny anything this life might offer by way of pleasures in order to honor and obey Him.

This is what Paul is getting at when he wrote our verses for today. The church at Philippi must recognize that God has appointed His people to suffering for the sake of Jesus. The suffering that was on the horizon in Paul’s time was persecution for confessing faith in Jesus and encouraging others to believe in Him as well.

As we read the history of the church we read account after account of those who were tortured, imprisoned for years, and many finally murdered because of their strong faith in the risen Lord.

Ask yourself today, “What did I sign up for?” Did you recognize the fact that when you became a follower of Jesus you were possibly in for a difficult time? Do you truly believe that Jesus is worth the loss of anything or everything this life offers? Do you really understand that when you received Christ it was given to you not only to believe on Him but to suffer for His sake? May you find grace to die to yourself in order to live for Christ.

A Conflict Of Interest

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
If I am to go on living in the body,
this will mean fruitful labor for me.
Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! ”
Philippians 1:21-22 (NIV)

“I am torn between the two:
I desire to depart and be with Christ,
which is better by far;
but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Philippians 1:23-24 (NIV)

In western society today there is a lot of talk about people having a conflict of interest. Politicians who own property and wish to sell it at a profit will sometimes try to have the government pass legislation that will greatly increase the value of their property.

Such a person uses their power in public office to further their private financial situation. This situation is seen as a conflict of interest. The person votes for action that enriches them possibly at the expense of the public good.

So when we speak of a conflict of interest it is usually in an evil context. But not all conflicts of interest are evil, and we recognize it in the conflict in Paul’s heart as he pens the words of out text today.

Years earlier Paul had met Jesus while traveling toward Damascus, where he hoped to gain more opportunity to persecute Christians (Acts 9:1-8). His life had been changed and he immediately went into three years of study concerning Jesus in a quiet place by himself (Galatians 1:15-18).

He emerged as a champion of the faith he had formerly opposed. Over the years he grew to love Jesus more and more so that his desire to leave this world and be with his Lord increased to a remarkably strong passion.

So strong was his desire for an exit of this life in order to be in heaven that God had to show him how important his mission in this life was for others. As Paul grew to understand just how significant his work here was, he was able to subdue his wish to die and be with Christ.

For those people who wish with all their hearts to see the Lord—and the sooner the better—they should look around at their situation and see why the Lord has left them here. You may not see the blessing you are to others unless you look carefully. That was Paul’s reason for being willing to stay here and it can be yours.

It is a fact that Jesus wants His people with Him. We have it on record that He prays for His people to soon be reunited with Him (John 17:24). In Revelation 22:20 we read that Jesus’ followers call on Him to come and to come quickly.

In the midst of your sorrow, seek to be a blessing to those around you as did Paul. Then pray for the Lord to come, and to come quickly. God’s people have a joyful conflict of interest. Let us go on being conflicted in this manner until we finally see the One we love.

All That Matters

“But what does it matter?
The important thing is that in every way,
whether from false motives or true,
Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Philippians 1:18 (NIV)

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know
that through your prayers and God’s provision
of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me
will turn out for my deliverance.

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage so that now as always
Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Philippians 1:19-20 (NIV)

Many beautiful and thought provoking love poems have been written by leading poets on the theme of love. Their words are among the most marvelous flights of a soul into the heavens of human emotion.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was a powerfully influential poet in her day in Britain. Her sorrowful poem written about her love for her recently drowned brother is entitled, De Profundis. It is a compelling statement of grief at her separation from “Bro” as she affectionately called her brother.

In one of Browning’s poems written secretly before she married her much loved husband and fellow poet, Robert Browning she begins,

“How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.”

Then there are many stories and poems written of remarkably sacrificial love expressed in heroic deeds on behalf of the loved one. The romantic side of us all comes to the surface as we read the lines about how a lover died to rescue the one they love.

Such is the story of love in Scripture. The Bible is full of images and descriptions of God’s eternal love for His people and of the great acts He accomplished to win His people to Himself for eternity.

The apostle Paul came to the place where God’s love was poured out in his heart and he learned of the remarkable sacrifice the Lord Jesus endured for him when He died and rose again at Jerusalem.

By God’s grace Paul learned to love Jesus in return, and his vision was filled with the glories and beauty of the carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus, Who was God in human form.

Paul was enraptured with Jesus and the privilege he had to make the fame of Jesus known to the people of his day. Paul was willing to suffer anything in order to have people learn the message of love in the Gospel.

This most powerful love for Jesus meant that Paul could withstand any personal suffering if it meant Jesus was shown to be glorious. All that matters to Paul is that the fame of Jesus spreads throughout the world.

This is why Paul could rejoice in the context of his suffering. His suffering helped spread the good news of God’s forgiveness, found in Jesus. Paul’s suffering brought others into a relationship with his wonderful Saviour. He was able to endure the pain because through his sorrow others came to Jesus. Will you offer your suffering to the Lord and ask Him to use it to bring others to the Cross? After all, if people come to Jesus that is all that matters.