"One for You, Two for Me"
I have a confession to make: I am really bad at putting others first. Even though I’ve been a Christian for decades now, it’s always been a problem. My initial reaction is simply to want the best for myself. Take, for example, a Wendy’s hamburger restaurant in 1985. My brother and I had just been given a box of fries to share, and I, being the oldest, got to divvy them up. “One for you, one for me,” I meticulously counted. But every once in a while, with a not-too-subtle sleight of hand, there were really two for me. “Hey,” Jeff would cry when he’d notice, “That’s not fair!” No, my little brother, it’s not. You’ve got a selfish sister. Even to this day when I cut a piece of cake in half to share it with someone it takes an intentional effort to give them the best one.
Intellectually, I get it. This is what Jesus has done for me, so I do it for others. But how, Paul?
But putting others first is exactly what Paul says living a life worthy of the gospel is all about. It’s what I do as an individual to participate in the unity Jesus desires for his Church. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,” Paul says. “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Even harder, Paul says that we are to live this life of self-denial in the midst of inevitable suffering from those who oppose the gospel (Phil. 1:28-30). Intellectually, I get it. This is what Jesus has done for me, so I do it for others. But how, Paul? How when I want all the best fries for myself?
Provision from the Trinity
Paul gives the answer. Right smack dab in the middle of this “rock” (of-suffering ) and “hard place”(of-humility) Paul says that we can do this, because God loves us deeply and has given us every provision we need. Philippians 2:1 has four phrases that talk about these things in order to motivate us The first three are encouragement in Christ, the consolation of love, and the fellowship of the Spirit. Although the person of the Father is not mentioned, that second phrase probably references him (see a similar construction in 2 Cor. 13:14), which means that Paul is pointing to every person of the Trinity as he teaches us.
As a Christian, you have the encouragement of Christ. It’s like those times when Jesus said to people, “Take heart!” or “Take courage!” “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” (Mt. 9:2). “Take courage, daughter, your faith has made you well” (Mt. 9:22). “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). In each instance, Jesus is showing them that he has granted them everything they need.
You also have the knowledge that your heavenly Father, who created everything and has authority over it all, loves you. He loves you so much that he gave his only Son so that you could be adopted as his child. He won’t ultimately withhold anything good from you, and nothing can separate you from his love. What comfort this brings!
Finally, you have the fellowship of the Spirit. Paul’s getting at the gift of the Spirit – the very person of God dwelling in you. He’s the one who applies all of these truths to your heart. He brings you into fellowship with the Father and the Son. He changes your heart and produces good fruit. He is the provision of God who enables you to live a life worthy of the gospel – to give up the best for others. A dear sister said, “No one can live the Christian life except Christ…and he lives in you.” This is the gift of the Spirit of Christ!
God's Active Love
To wrap it all up, Paul concludes by telling us that we have affection and compassion from God. The meaning of these two words together is that God has love that acts. In the Greek culture, affection was tied to the gut. The first word means that feeling in your inner being that longs to be with those you love. To comfort them. To heal them. Only, since this is the love of Jesus for us, it’s deeper and infinitely more perfect than our love is. Compassion, the second word, is that affection in action. God doesn’t just feel deep love for you and me – he acts on our behalf. He did that preeminently when he sent Jesus to die for us, and he continues to do so in every situation in our life.
God is looking out for my best interests, at great cost to himself.
Well, if that’s true then perhaps I don’t have to have the best fries. Jesus is a lot better than fries or cake or that promotion or those accolades. Plus, it sounds like God is looking out for my best interests, at great cost to himself. There’s the immeasurable grace of the cross, the Spirit who will always bring us into the fellowship of the Trinity, Jesus who will come again to make all things new, our Father who will give us an eternal inheritance. And so my grip loosens on the things I to cling to in order to have what I think I need. There is someone else taking better care of me than I ever could. Now I know it….now I remember it….now I can put others first and suffer for Christ with joy. That’s how.
The good news is you don’t have to fear a lunch date with me now. We can split – but I’ll still let you divvy up the fries. How about you? What difference do these truths make in your life? Let us know!