Roger Fredricksen, a well-known pastor in my hometown of
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, wrote a book titled God Loves The
Dandelions. In it he tells of how he and his wife Ruth were at a
small cabin on the lake in Minnesota. They had just finished
reading the book of Philippians with all its powerful statements on
being able to do all things through Christ, and to have the peace of
God which passes understanding. Roger cracked opened his boiled
egg to enjoy his breakfast, and it came out watery and raw. He was
irritated, for he has a built in prejudice against half-boiled eggs. He
could not, for the life of him, understand why Ruth could not watch
the time when it comes to boiling eggs.
He had just thanked God for the food, and so he tried to be
consistent and not gripe. He scooped away the uncooked part, and
tried to make the best of it. But he was peeved, and then he was
angered at himself for being so peeved over a bit of egg. He left the
table in silence, and he went off to write about new life in the
church. It was so hypocritical, for here he was all bent out of shape
over an egg. It was so petty it was pathetic. He got up and went
back to the kitchen where he blurted out, "Ruth, the egg got to me.
I don't understand myself. It's a beautiful glorious day, and I'm
hung up on an egg. Will you forgive me?" Together they had a
good laugh, and they went on to have a good day.
A saint is not a person who never gets disturbed over trifles, but
one who, when disturbed, confesses, and seeks for a Christ honoring
solution to his or her weakness. The Christian does not differ from
the world so much in what life brings to them. They differ in what
they bring to life. The Christian faces the same trials and
temptations, and frustrations as anyone else, but they are to deal
with them with a transformed mind, that looks for a way of escape
from evil, and a way to overcome evil with good. The saint is not a
figure with a halo, as portrayed in stained glass windows, but just an
ordinary human being who recognizes he or she is chosen by God to
be different and how they respond to life's pressures. Not all saints
are equal, of course, and some do a much better job than others.
The Philippians, for example, were superior in many ways to
other Christians in the New Testament. Even the bad Christians are
called saints, for all who trust in Jesus as Savior are saints. That is,
they are separated unto God for His purpose. Anything, or anyone,
who is separated unto God's service is called holy. Pots and pans in
the temple were holy because they were separated unto the service of
God. People are holy, not just when they are morally pure, and
without sin, but when they are called to be servants of God. The
saints are servants, and all servants of God are saints. It is not a
state of perfection that makes a saint. It is a position. If a person is
in Christ, that is, they are a part of the body of Christ, they are, by
their very position, automatically saints. They are people separated
from the world to be servants in the kingdom of God.
If you are born in the U.S. you are an American. If you are born in
Mexico, you are a Mexican. If you are born again, you are a saint.
There are only saints in Christ, and all the world is divided into
those who are saints and those who are not. Christians will often say
they are not saints, and they mean by this that they are far from
perfect, but the fact is, if you are in Christ, you are a saint. You
might be a weak saint, or fallen saint, or a baby saint, but you are a
saint. If you are not a saint, you are not a Christian, for all
Christians are saints. A saint is not determined by what they are,
but by where they are. If they are in Christ, that is the bottom line.
The degree of holiness varies tremendously, but all who are in
Christ are equally saints. They may not be equally saintly, but they
are all saints. There is no term for half-saints, or quarter saints, or
any other percentage. A saint is a saint, just as an American is an
American. An American can be one who loves his country, or one
indifferent to his country, and even one who is hostile to his country,
but all are equally Americans. Likewise, all saints are equally saints,
but they may not be equally like Christ at all.
Paul thought of the Philippian saints as the cream of the crop,
and so we can learn much about being a saint by examining what
kind of Christians these Philippians were. The outstanding
characteristic of these people was their joyful spirit. The idea that a
saint is one who is sad and somber has no basis in the New
Testament. The best saints are those who are delighted with life and
the chance to enjoy all that God has made possible. Paul is so full of
joy over these Christians because they add joy to his life and joy to
the world. They are fun people to love and serve because they show
their appreciation with a joyful response.
Paul wanted to go to heaven, but he also wanted to stay and serve
these saints, and he was convinced God would let him stay and he
writes in 1:25-26, "I know that I will remain, and I will continue
with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through
my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on
account me." God left Paul on earth because there was a colony of
heaven already here in the saints of Philippi, and Paul could get a
good taste of the essence of heaven right here by serving and
growing with this joyful body of believers.
The essence of heaven is joy, and the best small group; the best
Sunday School class, and the best church is one where the saints
enjoy one another. This is what makes the Philippian church the
best in the New Testament. Paul urges them on to perfection,
however, so as not to loose what they have, which is a taste of heaven
on earth. He writes in 2:3-4, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or
vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to
the interests of others." The essence of the ideal church is the same
as the essence of the ideal marriage, or any other ideal relationship.
It is, love one another, and give each other the attention and support
they need to be joyful. Where joy reigns, Jesus is Lord, and you
have the very best atmosphere for the growing of saints.
If you pay no attention to the joy of people in your group, church,
or family, you cease to be the servant of Christ in that context.
Where Christ is served there will be joy, and the saints will be at
their best level of sainthood. There is an ancient story about St.
Anthony who lived in the desert alone, and he felt superior to the
rest of Christians. God told him to go to Jerusalem, and he would
find a better saint. When he got there he was told to look up
Cobbler Conrad, and when he did he found him pounding on a pair
of shoes. Anthony asked, "What do you do that so pleases the
Lord?" "I have done very little," he replied. "I just mend shoes,
but I mend each pair as though they belonged to Jesus Himself. I
mend them as I would for Him my Savior. That is all I do."
St. Anthony left Conrad the Cobbler, and he went back to his
desert tent, and there with a more humble spirit he prayed, "Now, I
see, Lord God. I have set up myself as a saint. But Conrad sees
something of Christ in every man, woman, and child. That is true
sainthood. That is true perfection in thy work. I shall leave this
desert place where I have isolated myself from human kind, and I
shall go down into the city slums and serve my fellow man. There
shall I be a saint, indeed, worthy of Thy fellowship." The best saints
are not those in isolation, but those, like the Philippians, who serve
one another, and add joy to the lives of those about them.
Are you a saint who brings joy wherever you go, or one who
brings joy whenever you go? Christians tend toward one or the
other category. Those that others enjoy having around do so
because they add to the joy of being a Christian. Paul could not wait
to get back with the saints of Philippi, for it was pleasant; it was fun,
and it was a joy to be with them. They were saints who knew how to
flavor this fallen world with a taste of heaven's joy. That is why
Paul could write, "I thank God every time I remember you." Paul
had nothing but pleasant memories of being with them. He showers
them with compliments, for he is doing for them what they did for
him. They were such a source of encouragement, and he wants to
be that to them as well. It makes you feel good to know that you
make others feel good, and so Paul tells them forcefully, you make
me feel good.
We all leave an impression in the minds of others. Will people
remember us as one who added joy and pleasure to their lives? Will
they be grateful to God when they remember us? Or will they
remember how hard we were to get along with, and how seldom we
added to their joy? Do we have Pauls in our in our lives who say
thanks to God when they remember us? That is what being a saint
is all about. It is about being a channel through which God can
pour into this world some of the joy of heaven.
This letter of Paul teaches us clearly that the essence of Christian
joy; the essence of optimism; the essence of tasting heaven on earth,
is one word-relationships. Listen to Paul again in 1:4-5, "I always
pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel." In
1:25-26 we read, "I will continue with you for your joy. Your joy
will overflow on account of me." In 2:29 they are urged to,
"welcome Ephaphroditus in joy." In 4:1 he calls them, "His joy and
crown," and he repeats it, "Rejoice in the Lord." All the joy of this
letter revolves around the relationships of himself and Timothy; he
and Ephaphroditus; he and the Philippians, and them and
Ephaphroditus. A saint is one who stands in a special relationship
to God. A joyful saint is one who stands in a special relationship to
the family of God. Relationships are the foundation for most, if not
all, of the values of life such as, family values; social values; national
values, and you name it. In both the secular and sacred realms of
life relationships are the foundation.
It was the worst weather in the entire world, and yet six men
spent 220 days in it in 1989. They made the first unmechanized trek
across Antartica. Will Steger lead this group which had to brave 2
months of storms with temperatures as low as 43 below zero, and
winds up to 90 miles per hour. With only dog sleds and skies they
traveled 3,741 miles. Just 2 days before they finished their journey
32 year old Keizo Funatsu from Japan, the youngest member of the
expedition, went out to feed the huskies. Even though it was just a
few yards away, a blinding snow storm caused him to loose his sense
of direction. He knew he was in trouble, and he took immediate
measures for survival. Here is what he wrote in his journal.
"Once I was in my snow ditch, blowing snow covered me in
5, 10 seconds....I could breathe through a cavity close to my
body but the snow was blowing inside my clothes, and I was
wet. I knew my teammates would be looking for me. I
believed I would be found; it was just a matter of time. I had to believe that....
Very few people have that kind of experience, lost in the blizzard.
I said to myself, 'Settle down, try and enjoy this.' In my snow
ditch I truly felt Antarctica. With the snow and quiet covering
me, I felt like I was in mother's womb. I could hear my heart
beat-bomb, bomb, bomb-like a small baby's. My life seemed
very small compared to nature, to Antarctica."
Two hours later the others realized the others realized he was
missing, and they began a search. After 4 hours they had to stop
because of darkness and the fierceness of the storm. At 4 in the
morning they were up searching again, and at 6 in the morning
Keizo heard them calling his name. He emerged from his snowy
burial, and cried, "I am alive! I am alive!" The most macho men on
the planet stood there crying. Will Steger reported, "Finding Keizo
alive was the greatest relief I have ever known."
When men faced all the obstacles that these men faced together,
they developed a relationship that is deep, and which unites them as
a unbreakable team. This is what we see with Paul and Timothy.
They are such two different people. Paul is old and Timothy is
young, and yet, they become one of the great pairs of the Bible, like
David and Jonathan. Timothy was like a son to Paul, and he calls
him his son in the faith, for he led him to Christ. He was so precious
to Paul that out of the 13 letters he wrote in the New Testament, ten
of them include Timothy as his partner. We see it here in the first
verse of Philippians. In this letter Paul exalts Timothy as one of a
kind. In 2:19 he says that he hopes to send Timothy to them, and
then in 2:20 he writes, "I have no one else like him who takes a
genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own
interests, not those of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say that Timothy
has proved himself in his service.
The point is, everybody needs somebody who is truly a friend,
and a loyal companion. Paul could not have done what he did
without Timothy. That is true for the Will Steger team, and of every
team in history, including Christian teams. Why does Paul almost
always include Timothy, or in a few cases, other companions in his
letters? A man does not need help writing a letter. A lot of books
have two authors who work together, but a letter can be the work of
just one easily. Yet Paul includes Timothy frequently as if he could
not write a letter alone.
This common characteristic of Paul's letters is itself a valuable
lesson. Paul is saying that he is dependent upon others to
accomplish the will of God. He is no loner, but needs the help of
other members of the body to succeed. Paul is always asking for
prayer. Why? It is because he needs help, and is dependent upon
the aid of other Christians as they back him up with prayer and
support. The reason Paul has a special place in his heart for these
Philippians is because they were the most helpful in supporting him.
He says that he thanks God every time he thinks of them, and he
prays for them with joy because, as he says in verse 5, "...You are
partnership in the Gospel from the first day till now." They hit it
off from day one, and were partners who gave encouragement and
support to one another. That is why this is such a positive letter.
Paul has Timothy, and he has the Philippians, and with this kind
of support he is on top of the world singing songs of joy. Paul is
revealing this basic truth of life, that the essence of happiness is
found in relationships. Paul is in a good mood, and he is an optimist,
and a positive thinker in this letter. God made man in his image,
and he can never feel at his best until he has a positive relationship
with another person. God is a trinity of three Persons, and they are
in perfect unity. There relationship is ideal, with a oneness that has
no weakness. They are wholly one, and man is so made that he can
never be content until he has this oneness in some relationship.
Jesus provides the foundation for Christians to develop this oneness.
Paul and Timothy had it, and Paul had it with the Philippians.
Every Christian needs to develop this kind of relationship with
someone else in the body of Christ in order to be as joyful as they
are capable of being.
I suspect a lot of people do not like Paul because they think of
him as a cold theologian who is more interested in ideas than people.
This is a false image, for he was a people person, and he clearly
admitted his need for people. It was a basic part of his theology. He
scolded the Corinthians for hurting their relationships in the body
by failing to recognize every member is a vital part of the whole. He
said, "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; or
again the head to the feet I have no need of you." Every part of the
body needs every other part to be complete, and Paul related to all
Christians as vital members of the body of Christ. He needed people
with all of the gifts.
Carlisle said, "A great man show his greatness by the way he
treats the little man." Paul wrote one of his New Testament letters,
that of Philemon, to a Christian slave owner. He urged him to take
back his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Paul went
out of his way for the sake of one in the lowest class of his day. Paul
valued all people, and he had a deep and warm relationship to
people of every class, race, and sex. He was a relationship person,
and he put the value of people above all other things, for that was
the way of Jesus, and Paul's goal in life was to be pleasing to his
Paul had more problems than the average man, and he suffered a
great deal, but he was an optimist, and a happy man because of his
good relationships to others. He had plenty of people who hated the
ground he walked on, and they sought to undermine his work, and
get him executed, but Paul was still happy because of the people in
his life. He devoted much time to maintaining relationships.
In Rom. 16 we see the entire chapter is one of greetings to his dear
friends, and praise for those whom he loved in the Lord. Why
would God preserve such a personal list of Paul's relationships
unless there was a valuable lesson for the whole church. The
message of his many close relationships is that every Christian needs
to work at relationships to have the best Christian life.
You don't serve God alone. You don't bless the church alone.
You don't enjoy life alone. Life at its best is plural. It has friends,
partners, and companions. That is the key to being joyful saints.
Ellen Kreidman in her book Light His Fire writes this about
relationships: "A relationship, like a corporation, consists of a
combination of personalities but has a life of its own. Just as a
corporation requires dedication and concentration if it is to grow, so
too does a relationship between two people. Perhaps I didn't feel
like a walk on the beach, but the marriage required a walk on the
beach. I certainly didn't feel like a weekend alone with my husband,
but the marriage required a weekend alone together."
She gives other examples, but you get the picture. It is the very
thing we see with Paul and Timothy, and with Paul and the
churches. The issue is not just Paul, Timothy, or the Philippians.
The issue is the relationship. The relationship is a value to be
preserved, enhanced, and treasured, for the relationship is a reality
of great worth. Seeing this, and practicing it, will make you a better
mate, a better person, a better friend, and a better saint.
Paul was a joyful saint because of his positive relationship to
other saints, and that is his goal for all saints, for that is God's goal.
Jesus died to save us from all sin, and that includes all the sins that
rob us of the joy of tasting heaven on earth through positive relationships
in the body of Christ.
Let us thank Jesus anew for what He made possible on the cross, and pray for
forgiveness for our role in blocking his joy, and for the wisdom to ever press on to be joyful saints.