Sunday, 10 January 2016

Shallow discipleship - or the genuine article? (2)

My dear friends, as you have always obeyed… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you… Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe… Philippians 2:12-15

Last time I suggested that there were six “be’s” which arise more or less directly from these verses, six qualities which the true Christian will exemplify. But I only had space for the first three: be obedient; be practical in working out your faith; and be serious about following Jesus.

So what about the other three…?

4 Christian, be confident – verse 13.

Some of what Paul has said so far could seem a bit daunting – we have to work at putting our salvation into action; and in some sense we have to live “in fear and trembling”. We might be tempted to respond “Mmm, sounds a bit heavy – perhaps I won’t bother”.

But this is where Paul comes in with some good news: “for it is God who works in you…

My father was a good man, but not a Christian, so when I was converted as a teenager, it triggered some interesting discussions in the home. He felt the need to explain why he wasn’t himself a Christian.

For one thing, he had an office colleague who was open about being a lay preacher, but who – in my father’s eyes at least – told jokes and used language which were “dirty”. Sad – and a warning to each of us.

And then he had had a bad experience at an evangelistic rally as a young man. He had “gone forward” at the end of a very emotional meeting, but when he woke up the next morning it had all gone flat. He felt he had been manipulated. Again, sad.

Yet another thing was – and I’ll quote his words – “I couldn’t become a Christian, because I know I wouldn’t be able to keep it up.”

Ah! He obviously had the idea in his head that following Jesus is all about our own effort and will-power.

I was still a new Christian at the time, and I just didn’t know these words of Paul. Yes, as we have seen, the Christian life does call for real hard work; but what matters is that we don’t have to do it on our own: “it is God who works in you” (that could be translated “energises you”).

Paul doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit here, but that surely must be what he means: once you receive Christ by faith he breathes into you the power, the energy of his Holy Spirit. So the message is…

Expect to win! Expect to get the victory! Expect to succeed day by day! No droopy shoulders! No dreary pessimism! No hangdog looks! As Paul puts it elsewhere, we are “more than conquerors” through Christ who loves us.

I wonder if these words, if I had known them, might have made a difference to my father? Well, I’ll never know. But I hope that just possibly they might make a difference to you today.

5 Christian, be good-natured – verse 14.

This is the best way I can think of to sum up this verse: “Do everything without complaining or arguing”.

There are times of course when we need to disagree with our fellow-Christians, perhaps even quite strongly. It’s clear from Galatians 2, for example, that Paul himself had quite a bust-up with Simon Peter. But something really serious was at stake. All right, that may be the case with us, but it really should be a matter of last resort, not some trivial or stupid difference.

Sadly, Christians can sometimes be (now, how can I put this?) argumentative, grumbly, nit-picking, quarrelsome, cussed, awkward… All right, I’ll stop there!

Not you, surely! Nor me! Oh no, of course not… Ahem.

6 Christian, be holy – verses 14-15.

In a sense everything we have said so far – all the first five be’s – are just a part of the overall picture described in this rich and beautiful couple of verses. There isn’t space to unpack it all, so why not simply allow these wonderful expressions to sink into our minds… Blameless and pure… children of God without fault…shining like stars in the universe…holding out the word of life… 

People like that are, in the true sense of an old-fashioned word, “godly”. But doesn’t that apply to every Christian?

Yes? Well, let’s get on with it then!

Father, I truly want to shine like a star in the universe, giving glory to Jesus. Please help me to be true to this wonderful calling. Amen.

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