Summary: God’s Spirit working in us enables us to enjoy other members of God’s family.
Lucian was a Greek satirist of the second century A.D. His ridicule of Greek mythology and of Christianity earned him the nickname, “the Blasphemer.” Even so, God caused him to leave something edifying for us. He said of the Christians in his day: “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their heads that they are brethren.”
When Jesus was here, he said that “All people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13.35). Not by our clothing, our liturgy, our knowledge of the Bible, or by our shining morality. What sets us off from the world and proves the reality of God’s life in us is heartfelt love for one another. May God renew this gift in us today!
[Read Philippians 1.3-8. Pray.]
A young fellow asked a rich old man how he made his money. The old guy fingered his worsted wool vest and said, “Well, son, it was 1932, the depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel. I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple, and at the end of the day, I sold it for ten cents. The next morning, I invested ten cents in two apples. I polished all day and sold them at 5:00 pm for 20 cents. I continued this work for a month, by the end of which I’d accumulated a small fortune of $1.37.” “And that’s how you built an empire?” the boy asked. “No, son,” the man replied. “Then my wife’s father died and left us two million dollars.”
We may feel like effort put into relationships with church folks only yields $1.37 in return when what we want is a two million dollar inheritance. Or to put it into the language of the Christian family, we hope God will bring different people to church, people we like and people like us. Then we can love without a supernatural work of God’s grace. But God brings whom he brings, that we might depend on him to enjoy one another in the midst of life.
The Bible prescribes twenty-six different ways to care for each other in the church. God gives twenty-six different “one-another” commands. Why so many?
First, because our relationships are central to the faith. Many Christians treat these as peripheral or even irrelevant (especially in comparison to knowledge), but how we relate to one another is of the essence of practicing the faith we profess. How else can we explain verses like 1John 3.17: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It is in relationship that we work out our faith and find if it is real. So this is key to the practice of the faith.
A second reason God speaks so often about how we care for one another is because relating well to sinners is difficult – it demands death to self and to selfish desires. God teaches more explicitly where we most doubt his blessing. And this is preeminently a work of faith, because we must believe that God’s commands are good, even when they cross our desires.
Today we learn five characteristics of those who enjoy other Christians: 1) Thankful Prayer; 2) Gospel Partnership; 3) Hopeful Confidence; 4) Grace Dependence; and 5) Heartfelt Love. First, please note that…
1. Enjoying Other Christians Requires Thankful Prayer (Philippians 1.3-4)
In a unified and healthy church, the people thank God for one another and tell each other that they do so. The enemy hates Christian unity, so he uses every means to divide us; we, on the other hand, resist his spite by filling our hearts, our minds, and our voices with thanksgiving. Of course, we often must ignore our own unpleasant situations in order to care deeply about the needs of others.
Pastor John MacArthur applies well this verse: “Like Paul, believers who possess Godgiven joy do not focus on themselves, even in the midst of pain or difficult circumstances. They are rather concerned about their fellow believers’ difficulties, hardships, failures, and sorrows, and they earnestly intercede for them. They joyfully pray for God to bless their fellow believers in every way, above all for their spiritual welfare. Later in this letter Paul expresses this personal trait in an admonition: ‘Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others’ (Philippians 2.4)…. It seems that throughout most of the history of the church only a minority of Christians have known the true, full joy that God gives to his obedient children. Lack of joy reveals itself in three ways: in negative thoughts and talk about others, in a lack of concern for their welfare, and in the failure to intercede on their behalf. Joyless believers are self-centered, selfish, proud, and often vengeful, and their self-centeredness inevitably manifests itself in prayerlessness” (MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians).