We encourage you to read all of Philippians 2 each day this week. As you do today, focus on verses 1-4, printed below.
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.
Paul didn’t write to the Philippians about unity as an abstract idea. As we will find in chapters 3 and 4, there were tensions and disputes among the Christians in Philippi. Paul urged Jesus’ followers there to find unity in love. That, he said, would make his joy complete. The behaviors Paul encouraged in verses 1 and 2 are good guides for any relationships. Our starting point always needs to be humility, considering others before ourselves as an extension of who we are as Christ followers.
Eternal God, put me in my proper place. I recognize that you are God and I am not. Based on that, help me to think of others as better than myself as I seek unity and agreement with all your children. Amen.
This past week my kids headed back to school and like many parents and grandparents who are finding themselves homeschooling I found myself asking, “What exciting new things will I get to discover with common core math this year?” That may have been a little sarcastic, as most days I now struggle to keep up with my fourth grader on her math work. I often hear myself asking, “Why did they change math”?
After talking to some gifted friends who teach math, I came away with a better understanding of what is trying to be accomplished. The truth is that math didn’t change; just how we are teaching kids to approach it. This new (and mostly improved) way of teaching math helps our kids understand that there are multiple ways that you can solve a problem, helping them to think critically about problem solving. That sounds like a good thing to me and yet many of us who learned “the old way” would rather we just left it alone. Who knew math could be controversial?
Where am I going with this? This is what was on my mind as I read through Paul’s word to the church in Philippi in chapter 2:
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.
When Paul says that we should be united “by thinking the same way,” I don’t think he meant that we all had to agree on everything. Just as there are many ways to solve the same math problem, there are many opinions on how to solve other problems in our communities. Unfortunately, many in our communities have fallen into the trap of believing that there is only one way to solve a problem and that anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong.
We all know that to be a false premise so why is it becoming so prevalent in our culture? How do we counteract it? I think Paul gives us the answer in verse 3: “with humility think of others.”
If I go back to the example of math, I can tell you that nothing humbles me more quickly than trying to solve math problems. It’s just not my gift. What helps me overcome my frustration is having a spirit of curiosity. I think this applies to the difficult conversations we have these days, too. When I approach someone with a spirit of genuine curiosity, listening to hear their viewpoint, I not only find myself in a position of humility but also with an opportunity to grow. We seem to have lost our ability to be curious.
This is happening not just in our tangential relationships, those we interact with briefly, but also in our more intimate friendships. In my role with small groups at Resurrection, I have had more inquiries about how to bridge the political gap in small groups this past month than ever before. These are groups of people who have been in fellowship and growing together in their faith for a while, yet even they have fallen into this false narrative.
We created a guide to help our small group leaders lead through these types of conversations. You can find it here. The point is that whether it's which party to vote for, which candidate to get behind, how we feel about a social justice issue, or even something as simple as math, we have to approach it with a sense of curiosity. When we are curious, we are open, and when we are open, we have the opportunity to grow. Curiosity asks questions. Curiosity listens.
Curiosity won’t put us all on the same page on every issue. It might not even change your viewpoint on a particular topic. What it will do is allow us to lovingly have conversations with each other that stretch us and grow us both as individuals and as a community. We need to be having these conversations with each other, but we must do so in a way that honors each other. So this week... stay curious, my friends.
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