Summary of our Discussion I John 2:1-6

John refers to the listeners of his words as “dear children” or “beloved.” Why? Because he loves them and his relationship with them is close and loving. Everything John has to say to the hearers of his writings is written out of love and concern for their (and our) well being. Can we remember of think of a time when we have had such a loving, mentoring relationship?

John writes as the artist and not like the teacher Paul. John’s way of teaching is circular or spiral and he repeats his theme often, adding small tidbits along the way. John’s message is patient.

Of course, John’s desire is that none of his own would sin and yet he knows that they will. We will too. And because of this, it is so important that we look to our Advocate (parakletos – the one who walks beside) Jesus who will speak on our behalf. We must be honest with Jesus in order to appropriate the power of his sacrifice for us. Christ’s love does not waver, whether we sin or not.

Christ’s sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, of his own life for our lives was done for us as individuals, but also for everyone in the world. What is it we have to do? We must acknowledge this transaction; we must understand the power of this sacrifice so we can truly embed it into our beings. The forgiveness, the atoning blood of Jesus, is always available. (It’s like winning the lottery. We can have the winning ticket but it is worthless unless we turn it in for the cash. The ticket must be used, otherwise, it’s just a piece of paper, an idea with no power.)

In Old Testament times, sacrifice was a symbolic act (an ancient drama) by using the blood of animals to demonstrate a deeper truth. Christ’s sacrifice was the “ultimate battle when Christ disarms the power of sin and death.” [Mastering the New Testament: 1,2,3 John & Revelation by Earl F. Palmer] Jesus is not a victim like the animals. he chose to give up His life. His blood, like those of the animals, is on the mercy seat. We must grab hold.

Once we accept the atonement for our sins (our mistakes, our secrets, our choices), nothing can be the same for us. We are in relationship with Christ … but the quality of that relationship is up to us to nourish. He is walking with us (advocating for us) but we must also walk with Him.

There are two tests of an authentic Christian journey (I John 1:9 & 2:3): Confession and Obedience. These two form a circle: confess, obey, confess, obey, confess, obey. We talked at length about this chicken/egg concept. Ultimately, what are we obeying? How do we obey commandments if we don’t know what they are. And although I understand the logic of this, I also believe there is the mystery of experiencing the “next step” at the point of confession (and forgiveness). The commandments come out of relationship. As we enter into koinonia with Jesus (and others), we learn and grow. I am looking for obedience by choice (not fear). I am interested in obeying the “yes’s” and not the “no’s” or the “do-nots.”

His sacrifice and atonement gives us freedom.

Summary of our discussion on I John 1.

I’m not sure I can capture everything we covered in our first class discussion. For me, it was tremendously invigorating and filled with lots of good ideas and viewpoints from everyone. Hopefully, class participants will add what I have forgotten!

We spent a lot of time talking about beginnings. John begins this book, “That which was from the beginning, . . . ” which is very similar to how he begins his gospel. There is the true beginning, when it was only God (in all of his myriad forms); there is the beginning that happened when Jesus was born and God came to be among us humans; and, then, we discover later, there is the beginning of new life (a new age) on earth when Jesus sacrifices himself on the cross. We are still in this time. And finally, there is our own beginning in the class itself. We are looking for change, for insight, for understanding.

John wrote with authority because he was an eyewitness. A type of authority is given to us to tell our own stories of being touched by the Christ. We forget that this is the key to our witness: what we ourselves have experienced cannot be taken away. Someone can say that they don’t believe in Jesus, but they cannot break apart one’s own eyewitness of Jesus’s work in our lives. Also, remember, our roles as a witness also gives us the authority to proclaim the meaning and significance of those events in our lives. We have the authority to interpret our own experiences.

Jesus is the Word of Life… the logos, the mouthpiece for God. The word went from being abstract in the Old Testament to concrete in Jesus.

Fellowship is at the heart of John’s message because love is there. Koinōnia (close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, and close relationships) is demonstrated through the relationship that Jesus (on Earth) had with the Father. We are invited to have koinōnia with the Christ. Walking in the light is being in koinōnia. If we are in koinōnia with Jesus, we should also be in fellowship with one another. If there is a breakdown in either area, we are actually moving toward darkness.

There are opponents to koinōnia like pride, jealousy, lying, gossip, etc. (in other words, sin).

In most of our churches, we are not in koinōnia. Most of our church relationships are surface relationships. We do not expose our true selves. We may fear rejection. It’s a risk to be transparent.

Is Christianity black and white? If it is true that all that is “white” or “light” is Christ Jesus, then it makes sense that all that “black” or “dark” or evil is embodied in Satan. Everything in between is us. We are all in the gray areas … some lighter shades as we move toward the light and some darker as we are either sucked back into the darkness of sin or willfully turning away from the light.

All sin is black whether it’s murder or gossip or betrayal or gluttony. Like the spots on a dalmatian dog, it attaches to us. We must take care that we don’t look at the sins of others as though they are worse then our own. We are all capable of great harm and evil.

If we are in the darkness, we must want to move into the light. We have to come to grips with the reality of where we are. We must be transparent with ourselves. Denial or self-deceit will keep us in the dark. We must acknowledge our own sins (our secrets). We may have to come to the “end of ourselves” before we realize what we need. We may need someone to walk along to help us turn around.

The best way to begin the journey is confession (I John 1:9). The Greek for confess is homologeō which means “to say the same thing.” God knows our sin and is waiting for us to acknowledge and profess what is already known. This is part of the cleansing.

And as a result, God extends forgiveness: freely.

1. Why does John refer to his listeners as “dear children?” Does it make a difference?
2. If Christ has atoned for the sins of the world, why must we be “saved?” Doesn’t that sacrifice count with or without our participation?
3. What does sacrifice look like? How does it work?
4. What are the two tests of an authentic Christian journey (see I John 1:9 and 2:3)
5. To what is John referring when he speaks of the old commandment and the new commandment in verse 2:7?
6. How does hate blind us? How do we get out of the darkness? Is there such a thing as “twilight walking” vs. walking in the light or walking in darkness?
7. In I John 2:6, there are three groups identified… why? What do these mean? And what is John offering to the those groups?
8. How do we understand the difference between I John 2:15 (“Do not love the world…”) with John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”)
9. How does loving the world keep us away from a loving Father, specifically? What are some of the symptoms?

As we meet on Wednesday, the 13th, we’ll be discussing the first Chapter of I John. Here are some questions that you might consider beforehand:

1. If you could imagine true Christian fellowship, what would it look like?
2. Should Christian friendship/fellowship be deeper than non-Christian ones? Why or Why not?
3. Can you have Koinonia with Jesus and not have it with others, or vice versa?
4. What does it really mean to walk in the light?
5. How do we overcome sin and return to the light again?
6. How does confession fit in and what difference does it make?

Please bring your own questions as well. See you then.

After a long hiatus of leading a bible study, I am off and running again: this time with the letters of John (1, 2 & 3). I prefer the 8-week format at this point and I invite anyone in the Harford County area to join us, beginning January 13th, from 6:30 – 8 pm at Mt. Zion Church in Bel Air. If you are unable to attend, please feel free to join us virtually and drop in your questions or comments.

One of my main goals is uncovering some nuggets in these letters that we may have overlooked. One of the greatest images through the first letter is “walking in the light.” Let’s examine the power of this concept and apply it to our daily lives.

I will try to post questions on the blog before the upcoming class.

Philippians 4:4 – 23
So many people think of Philippians as the book about “joy” and although that is true to some degree, I believe that we, as a class, discovered many other gems and truths that pervade this book.

However, finally, we come to the key “joy” verses, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!” rejoicing_sheep(vs 4:4) I asked the group, what exactly Paul is asking them to do? We talked about it’s source (from within), about lifting up one’s soul to the Lord, about being focused on what we want [which discovered earlier is Christ, for to live IS Christ], and we discussed that it’s a command. BUT, one can’t fabricate joy. It is an authentic expression of Christ within. The choice comes in our seeking Christ and the joy is the result. One reminder is that we cannot judge what joy will look like. Let us not only look with the lenses of our own experience.

In the end, I would say that most people are actually looking for joy in their lives. And much like the old adage that unbelievers have a Jesus-sized hole in their hearts, this is same for joy. Everything else is a weak substitute to having Christ within.

gentle_deerGentleness goes hand in hand with joy and undoubtedly because the Greek word for gentleness, epiekes, means a humble steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred or malice, trusting God in spite of it all.” So, gentleness is another way of speaking about humility. And doesn’t it make sense that humility and joy would be linked?

It is interesting to me that Paul adds the phrase, “The Lord is near,” after calling for gentleness to be evidenced along with the joy. We cannot know for sure, is it time, as in the Lord is coming soon or is it proximity, that as joy, gentleness and lack of anxiety, make us mindful of the Lord’s presence.

Moving on to verse 7, if we pay with thanksgiving, God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. How does this giving_thankshappen? I believe that thanksgiving implies trust. If we are giving thanks, we are trusting God to hear our prayer and answer it. Thanksgiving should simply “go along with the territory” of prayer. And lastly, as we pray with thanksgiving, allow God’s peace to guard our minds, we can begin to change the way to think about our world, our community, our relationships, ourselves. Here is another opportunity for choice: where will we put our minds?

beautiful_mountainIt’s very difficult to simply “block” anxious thoughts… we literally have to discipline our mind to consider other things. Paul gives us a list: things that are noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I challenged the group to really think about what these things would actually be. What is noble? Who is noble? What is pure? etc. In other words, these words are descriptions of persons, places, and things whose description (character or appearance) line up with these words.

prayerSo, there are several reasons for not disciplining the mind in this way (here are three): 1) we find this type of thinking unfamiliar and therefore we choose the things we normally choose (not always good); 2) it is difficult to change; and 3) we are not committed to the process. In order to begin this change process, there are a number of practices like Bible reading, Christian reading, memorization, prayer, prayer partner, conversations with like-minded people, and worship, to name a few.

In the end, I started this study with the idea that I wanted to learn more about contentment. How did Paul contentmentsucceed, as he says in verses 11-12, to “…be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” For Paul, this discovery was a type of epiphany… he suddenly “got it.” I believe I have had my own epiphany through the study of Philippians. For, just as joy is a by-product of following the path laid out in this book, so is contentment. If we pray, seek to know Christ in His fullness, come to Him in humility, follow Christ’s example, be steadfast in the race, and share ourselves in koinonia with other believers, then contentment will come. It is from within and is in direct ratio to our trust, despite the external circumstances.

Why are the poor of the West so discontent? They see what they cannot have everywhere, particularly through the media. They believe these “things” will make them happy. But even those who get the material things of life (like lottery winners) will often lose it all in a very short period of time. We can all fall into this mindset very easily unless we keep ourselves focused on God.

harvestAnd lastly, we plowed through the last few verses that basically articulate the “sowing & reaping” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 10-11) for we are promised if we give, we will receive. In the case of the Philippians, they gave financially and Paul promises they will have a spiritual return. But of course, the gifts must be given with a right motive (remember Cain and Abel).

In the last few minutes, we shared a little of what was significant about this study for the participants. It is holy_spiritmy prayer that each person will ponder the book further and as verses from this book come up in the future, and to remember our conversations. There is power in sharing the Word of God.

Now, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13).

As God leads, perhaps I will do a “virtual” Bible study and post some thoughts here on this blog. I will also be prayerfully asking the Lord to reveal whether I should lead another study in the Fall. In the meantime, it is my intent to continue to post to my other blogs, Meditations from Zion (daily devotions), and Refiner’s Fire — Emerging Heart (my personal journey of faith and challenges).

Philippians 3:13-4:3

We did some brainstorming about what is needed to run a marathon… people threw out lots of ideas like the will to finish, endurance, training, strength, a goal, energy, encouragement, competitors, equipment, water, and determination. But no one mentioned one thing that I thought was most critical of all: deciding to do it! When Paul uses the “race” analogy, I think he’s thinking of all of these things. And I believe the decision to run the Christian race of life, is essential. That’s really beginning at the beginning. We had such an upbeat discussion of this analogy that we kept returning to it throughout the evening.

tortoise-hareI also shared with the group my favorite fable: The Tortoise and the Hare. Of course, this story is also about a race. And I have confessed dozens of times… I am still a hare, sprinting and wasting energy, while it’s the tortoise that knows the secret: keep on keeping on… steady and determined, persistent to the end. And what is our goal? To know Christ… to be in Christ… to be like Christ for to Live is Christ!

I talked a little bit about verse 15, particularly the idea that Paul was making a distinction between those who are “mature” and those who “think” they are mature (or arrived… i.e. reached the goal of the race). But, no matter whether truly mature or not, whatever distance we have come, we are responsible for what we have learned so far and should live that out. Those who think they have arrived can be rather irritating folk, but in the end, it’s between them and God, “who will make it clear to them.” Take care, there are many who can “undermine” or sabotage our race.

Then we discussed the idea of telling less mature believers to “follow our example” in the same way that Paul said it, over and over again throughout several epistles. It was interesting to discover in our discussion how uncomfortable that idea can make us, feeling as though we are not far enough along the way to encourage others to imitate us. Someone brought the idea into clear focus however, saying that the imitation includes “lessons learned” (our mistakes corrected) and the honesty that we would share as well, that we continue to err, but our hearts are still on fire for the Lord… we are still in race: that is the part to be truly imitated. It is our authentic selves that draws others to the race. The Christian life is a process (the race) and although we have a goal, it is the running of the race itself that is glorious. And who is our truly perfect example? Christ Jesus, of course.

Who, then, is an “enemy of the cross of Christ?” Lots of labels went flying: interfering people, hedonistic people, those who think they are mature, the Devil himself, self-indulgent people, and self-centered people were a few descriptions I captured on paper. All of the types of people mentioned are those focused on earthly things and earthly desires above all else. But, here’s something we must all remember, lest we ourselves fall into “thinking ourselves mature.” Although we need to be discerning, for these enemies can and will sabotage us, and yet, we are not to judge them. Luke 6:37 says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” What kind of judgment are we talking about here? Someone in class said it best: we must avoid judgment without mercy. That is not the way of Jesus.

We then talked about the meaning of being an “alien in the land.” We played with the idea of visiting a touristsforeign country and how hard it can be to be in a country or city or area where no one speaks your language. One can feel isolated and yet, if another person comes who also speaks your language, isn’t it wonderful to share that time together? It should be like that for all of Christ’s followers. But, we can also insulate ourselves in a group, no longer engaging with those who live in that land. Balance is everything. Find support and renewal with those who are like-minded but then enter and participate in the world without becoming fully part of it. Paul’s heart desire was for his dear Philippian friends to know the joys of fellowship, the challenges of the race and the persistence of the tortoise!

Lastly, we chatted about Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement. No one really knows the story about these “fellow-workers,” but clearly they were in conflict. The whole book of Philippians has been written with them in mind. They symbolically represent that portion of the body, despite their works and their love for God, who are undermining the faithful by their inability to make peace with one another. But Paul has confidence in their reconciliation because he has confidence in the koinonia of these people who love Jesus. And Jesus is, after all, the Lord of reconciliation.

Philippians 3:2-9

I didn’t know how this study would go, but I felt in the end, that it was a significant time. The words, “knowing Christ” were emblazoned in my heart and so the study did ultimately go.

But first, we looked at Paul’s anger and warning about the “dogs” or Judaizers. We talked about how dogs were such scavengers in that time period and to call someone a “dog” was a huge insult. (Also, as an aside, Jews often called gentiles, the dogs, and here, Paul is passing back the insult.) Anyway, to bring things to our time period, we talked about scavengers of today, like gulls, vultures, and buzzards. With that, I told them a personal experience with vultures. They are a disconcerting presence to say the least. However, after we talked about the “legalism” and destructiveness of these Judaizers, I reminded them that before Paul went venturing forth to proclaim the gospel of Christ, these same “dogs,” who were also Christ-believing Jews, they were the norm back in Jerusalem. When Paul ventured forth, he was shaking up everything they had believed in … gentiles as believers? And NOT circumcised? They were shocked!

But here’s the point, how many people today haven’t done the same things when something “new” comes along? How many people were shocked the first time a drum set was brought into the sanctuary? How many were shocked when folks came to church in jeans? How many of our denominations have been created because of a split in “forms” of worship. How many of us will be the “dogs” when then next wave comes along? Something to consider, eh?

We then talked about the “true circumcision” — the circumcision of the heart. What is that and how do we know we have it? Is the circumcision of the heart at the point of salvation or is part of the sancitification process? I’m not so learned to really know and certainly, the group was divided on this point. It was a fascinating discussion. For me, I see that heart circumcision as one layer of my heart being peeled gently away to make it possible for communion to begin. If an adult male decides to be circumcised, he must be a willing participant, he must humble himself to the procedure and he must present himself to the “surgeon” with trust. Is it any different for the heart? I don’t think so. We must trust the Holy Spirit who is greatest heart surgeon around. (Romans 2:28-29)

jesus-prayingAnd then we moved into the most important part of the evening for me… beginning with verse 7. For Paul, being fully “credentialed” considered all of that nothing — his heritage, his tribe, his orthodoxy, his zeal, his “righeousness”– compared to knowing Christ Jesus. And so we talked at length about what it means to “know” Jesus; what it means to “know” anyone. Some even found verses like John 14:21 (“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” [emphasis mine]) Others mentioned Psalm 51 and Psalm 37 as well with instructions or “tips” for knowing God. In my mind, if the heart is drawn to Him, and we give Him our trust, our energy, our worship, our love… then knowing/communing begins.

One of the keys is in the area of righteousness. This word, which trips so quickly off the lips of many Christians, has lost its power. I find it a word rich with possibilities. Clearly, Paul emphasizes the difference between our “own” righteousness and the righteousness that comes from God. In our own righteousness, we can actually do good things, be “good people” and accomplish great things. But we won’t know the Lord. To know the Lord requires HIS righteousness. And when he gifts us with His righteousness, then the door is open for true communion. Then, we can be IN Christ. Before, we considered the phrase, “to live is Christ,” now we add another dimension, “in Christ.”

These are supernatural states of being. These states of intimacy are happening in the spirit realm. These states are happening within the circumcised heart. These states are happening through the indwelling Holy Spirit. These states happen in our surrender… in presenting our hearts to God to do with as God wills.

We closed the evening by reading aloud a devotional selection from the words of St. John of the Cross (You Set My Spirit Free, edited by David Hazard) and then listening to a recording of Knowing You by Graham Kendrick.

Philippians 2:12-30

We finished up last week’s questions first and then plowed on to do the short list of questions for this week from verses 19-30.

We talked quite a bit about the idea of “working out your salvation with fear trembling.” Until I worked more deeply on this verse, I did not realize that this phrase, although initially seems particularly apt for an individual, is really for the group… in this case, the Philippians, but just as readily for the church… or small group, etc. The entire “working out” process is communal in nature. It was interesting to do a brief review of what “fear of God” might mean to folks in the group. So many shared the experience of awe of God in nature. But none really mentioned this type of “awe” in worship or prayer. I think that is something I want to experience more. I also shared with them our previous study about the fear of God.

Maria shared the Amplified Bible’s “definition” of working out our salvation (ponder this passage):

“Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out — cultivate, carry out to the goal and fully complete — your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling [self-distrust, that is, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness againsts temptation; timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ].

We also discussed the power of “complaining and arguing” to break koinonia… to break down the “working out” process. Literally, this behavior can actually get in the way of what the Lord is trying to accomplish in a person’s heart… as well as in a community of believers. It shows a lack of trust in God.

There was a short time of sharing about the “drink offering” that Paul mentions in verse 17. It is of particular interest to me that this offering is usually related to a work completed. It’s a sign of blessing. And so, for Paul, it is worth it, his sacrifice for them, because he believes they will move on… and deeper into the things of God. I had thought that some personal testimony of a “drink offering” might come forth, but this did not resonate as much with the group as I had hoped.

As we move into the sections about Timothy and Epaphroditus, we talked about the attributes of leadership that Paul uses to describe them both, though differently. For Timothy is like-minded, sincere, genuine, tested and proven, mentored by Paul, one who has served faithfully and cares about the Philippians in particular. And Epaphroditus he describes as a brother (part of the family), a fellow worker (equal in value for his work), a fellow soldier (for enduring the same hardships and battles at personal cost), a messenger (who carries the word of life), and one worthy of appreciation.

This is part of who we become, this “servant leader” when we grow up in the Lord. I had asked the group to read a chapter from the book, Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter. This chapter outlines very clearly a definition of the servant leader:

Leadership begins with the will, which is our unique ability as human beings to align our intentions with our actions and choose our behavior. With the proper will, we can choose our behavior. With the proper will, we can choose to love, the verb, which is about identifying and meeting the legitimate needs, not wants, of those we lead. When we meet the needs of others we will, by definition, be called upon to serve and even sacrifice. When we serve and sacrifice for others, we build authority or influence, the ‘Law of the Harvest.’ And when we build authority with people, then we ahve earned the right to be called leader.

And so, I ask each one of us… are we there yet? Are we servant leaders? Are we choosing our behaviors or just reacting? Are we choosing to act in a loving way to all, knowing that all people are ultimately sacred creations of God? Are we meeting the true needs of others? Are we willing to sacrifice our own comfort to make someone else comfortable? Have we earned the authority to influence others by our acts of love & service? Are we servant leaders?

Oh, Lord, this is my prayer.

Philippians 2:1-11
Earlier in the week, I asked everyone, by email, to take a survey I created based on the first two verses of chapter two. Primarily, the reason to take this survey was to think about the descriptive words Paul gives the Philippians … “if” they are indeed “united with Christ.” And doesn’t “united with Christ” also feel very similar to “to live IS Christ.” They are the same idea.

So, what are those words: encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness & compassion are specifically mentioned in the NIV, but class members added strength, joy, affection, mercy, sympathy, and humility. All of these are a “measuring stick” of sorts for unity with Christ. Do we experience these attributes? Do we practice them? It is in my mind that “the degree to which we can claim these words and walk them out is the degree to which we can experience unity with Christ … and thereby, unity with the Body.

When Paul says that their practice of these words would make his joy complete, he is sharing with them how much he cares about their progress… their practice is proof or confirmation that his teaching wa meaningful and significant. He wants them to be ready for the next step!

As we discussed the concept of like-mindedness, there were several good discussion points: one person called it agreeing with the center… or another said that the goal is the same. In essence, we all understood that there may not be agreement on the details, but the core truth is the same. It is not and should not be an excuse for creating “automatons” or practicing “group think” [like the novel, 1984]. Another way of thinking of like-mindedness is harmony in music. To sing or play instruments, we don’t all have to play the melody … in fact, the melody becomes richer when others are singing parts. We even sang a bit as a group: “Jesus, Jesus… let me tell you how I feel. You have given me your Spirit, I love you so.”

I then described to them the story of the “long handled spoons” … I actually found a more succinct version of it on the Internet. It goes like this:

Long Handled Spoon

Long Handled Spoon
[Author Unknown]
A man spoke with the Lord about heaven and hell. The Lord said to the man, “Come, I will show you hell.”

They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished, desperate and starving. Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their own arm that it could not be used to get the stew into their own mouths. The suffering was terrible.

Come, now I will show you heaven,” the Lord said after a while. They entered another room, identical to the first — the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long-handled spoons. But there everyone was happy and well-nourished. “I don’t understand,” said the man. “Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything was the same?”

The Lord smiled, “Ah, it is simple,” he said. “Here they have learned to feed each other.”

This is what we must learn here on earth… and not wait until heaven. This is about being like-minded and all the other words as well. This is about unity and community!

But the primary destroyer of unity (and community) is “selfish ambition.” It only takes one person to destroy a community. In the church today, it still happens, but it looks like territorialism. This is the opposite of harmony. This is discordant. Individualism is strong. It’s actually one of the attributes of the early Americans who forged this country. Is it so bad? It is if the individual isn’t rooted in a higher truth.

On the flip side is humility… but not “doormat humility” which is not humility at all. That’s a false modesty; that’s a victim mentality. That is not what Paul is recommending at all. True humility is focused on God and on others. It places the attention on the strengths and virtues of others. Its ROOT is love. I heard another definition of humility while I was at a Leadership seminar and the speaker said that humlility also requires a realistic understanding of self… it’s being at peace with yourself. Of course, this is also crucial to love, really.

Lastly, we addressed verses 6-11, which are sometimes referred to as a “hymn to Christ.” Scholars actually disagree as to whether or not it is or isn’t a hymn, but I don’t think that’s critical to our current study or understanding. The key to these verses is that they are Paul’s way of giving us the “ultimate example” of everything we discussed in session: Christ is the perfect example of humility.

In the 4th Century AD, in the time of Constantine, there were two bishops with divergent ideas about the divinity of Christ Jesus. One, Alexander, believed that Jesus “was” from the beginning, equal in divinity with God and always existed (based on John 1:1-2). Another bishop, Arius, believed that Jesus was of lesser divinity until he completed the task given to him by God and only then was he fully exalted. Arius did not believe that Jesus always existed. What’s particularly interesting to me is that two modern day groups still follow this understanding of Arius: Jehovah’s Witnesses & LDS. That’s interesting. But, to complete this history lesson, Constantine got all the bishops of that time together and they met at the Council of Nicea and he basically told them: don’t come out until you come to an agreement. In the end, they produced a document that is still used today: The Nicene Creed. And yes, they followed the lead of Bishop Alexander.

Christ’s example, then, of humility is that he willingly became a man (that might compare to one of us agreeing to be an insect) and did not claim any extraordinary powers but came as a servant to mankind, and died as God, the Father, asked him. And only after his complete surrender, his complete humiliation, was he raised up and exalted. This is the extreme version of what we are told over and over through the New Testament: Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Lluke 14:11; Luke 18:14; James 4:10; and I Peter 5:6.

Reach out this week in humility with a long spoon of selflessness.