This morning in my Bible reading I was stopped by this verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church,
‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!’ (4:1)
I was struck by Paul’s affection for the local church in Philippi. He not only loves the people and wants to be with them, he speaks of them as being his joy and crown. This made me pause and ask myself, what words do I use to describe Mentone Baptist Church? How do I view this family to whom I belong in Christ?
Joy is one of the main themes that threads through the entire letter; it speaks of a deep wonderment and excitement of knowing these people are God’s and were partnering alongside Paul in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Crown refers to the wreath awarded to an athlete who had trained hard and seen success. As Paul surveys his life and ministry, his prized achievement and great happiness is a local church, and this accomplishment is all God’s doing. From what we know of the Philippian Church there was nothing remarkable about them, but in their ordinariness they lived the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s joy was not rooted in the Church’s power ministries, or in some captured à la mode vibe, but in the genuineness of their Gospel partnership.
We will better understand Paul’s affection for the Church by reading what he says prior to and following 4:1:
In the latter part of chapter 3 Paul has exposed a group of people, who though probably connected to the Church, were not genuine believers. He refers to their appetite for ‘earthly things’. These people lived for now and the pleasures that can be had in the present, whilst ignoring greater and more important realities. In contrast, Paul reminds us of an identity and home that is in heaven, and we set our minds on this hope.
‘Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’
Immediately following 4:1, Paul mentions an argument that is occurring within the church between two godly and Gospel-centred women, Euodia and Syntche.
‘I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.’
Paul can both speak wonderfully of this Church and also recognise there are issues needing to be addressed.
The two women whom Paul is talking about are not enemies of the Gospel, they are mature and faithful workers who have found themselves clashing. We don’t know the nature of their disagreement, but it is clear the issue needs resolving. In verses 2-3 we see that Paul is not harsh with them, he does not tell them to leave or remove them from ministry, but rather he organises counselling for them in order to restore the relationship.
As I meditated on God’s words today, these 3 points came to mind:
Firstly, Philippians 4:1-3 encourages me because even healthy churches have disagreements. It is inevitable but it need not diminish our affection for one another; indeed we can and ought to work through these quarrels and arguments because of our Gospel partnership.
Secondly, an appetite for ‘earthly things’ is a constant danger and is a destroyer of genuine Christian fellowship and joy. If our affection for the local church diminishes, it is worth asking ourselves the question, what are we hungry for? What are we filling up on in order to feel satisfied?
Third and foremost, when we sense our passion and love for our local church dissipating, return to the Scriptures and listen afresh to how God describes these communities of brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible is a great antidote to our modern individualism and sense of autonomous living, which sadly impacts the growth of so many of our Churches.
I confess, there are moments when my own Church doesn’t feel like it’s my joy and crown, and I suspect the sentiment is at times reciprocated! That is a great reason for reading Philippians 4:1 and many other passages like it. We often forget how extraordinary the local church is in the sight of God, and how wonderful it is to be called by God to belong to a local gathering of his people.
Is our local Church a people whom we love and long to spend time with? Do we see the local church to whom we belong as our joy and crown?