This morning I read this article about a clothing company in Italy that makes Jesus Jeans. They have trademarked the word Jesus, giving them legal rights when adorning “clothing and sportswear, including jackets, vests, shirts, pants and belts”. The company is serious about protecting the divine brand, and quick to sue anyone who would encroach on it. The article’s timing couldn’t have been better. I was working through the introduction of Mark early this morning, and this is just the sort of silliness that helps make my point. Our Savior, who was temporarily given the name Jesus, lived in a veritable crowd of Jesus’. It was one of the most common names among first century Jews (the Greek form of Joshua). Between 30BC and 60AD there were four High Priests named Jesus. The NT records numerous Jesus’ or Joshua’s (Luke 3:29; Acts 7:45; Colossians 4:11). Jesus is common. It still is. Every knee will bow some day to the one who is given a name (meaning prominence) above every name (Philippians 2:10). This is the name given to the one we know as Jesus, but not the name “Jesus” in particular. Let the jean maker have it. We have the Lord behind it.
We are only followers of Christ when we actually follow. This requires a consistent pattern of obedience, and a willingness to trust him even though times get tough. We’re blessed to have help along the way in the form of Godly examples, willing to act as coaches. Being an example in this regard takes guts and integrity. You can’t tell other believers to follow you without being confident of your direction. Being consistent only gets more difficult, because you can’t rely on past performance to serve as an alibi. Discipleship means putting yourself in the way of intense scrutiny from both God and man. This is the difference between celebrity and a mentorship. Celebrities can be privately defective as long as their brand is strong (most are). Mentors who serve as flawed though determined imitators of Christ are in the opposite position. For them, consistency is all that matters because status is irrelevant. This requires much grace. It transcends our inherently blemished efforts to evaluate failure or success. It is the essential component of a life marked by consistency, stability, balance, and a predictable pattern of Christ like behavior. By grace we are saved, and by grace we are sanctified.
The Word of God is the pipeline for Spirit filling. This in turn results in obedience, fruit bearing, evangelistic zeal, compassion, and sanctification. It is also the only way to know the true gospel of grace. Therefore, Paul doesn’t trifle with enemies of the truth. The difference between weak teaching and false teaching is the difference between Twinkies and poison. Philippians is partly a clarion call for fidelity to the truth. So the tone at the beginning of Philippians 3 is confrontational and provoking because the truth was being attacked. Novelty Judaism and infatuation with Jewish traditions threatened new believers. Implying that pre-conversion works are necessary suggests you can earn grace. Any post-conversion works must be fruit of the Spirit, not acts of the flesh. On both counts the Judaizers failed. Paul calls them evil dog mutilators just to make sure there was no confusion. This is in stark contrast to his virtually lethargic attitude toward brothers who refuse meat, wine, and prefer to keep the Sabbath. In those cases it’s futile and foolish to escalate hostilities. We need to pick battles wisely, but when we go to war, fight to win.
Humility exists where the attitude of Jesus Christ is evident in the behavior of his followers, demonstrating his lordship over their emotions and actions. On the surface that seems difficult, but it actually makes life easier. Matthew Henry says it “makes a man easy to himself and all about him”. No one complains about having humble people around. Specifically, the humble are called blameless and innocent (Philippians 2:15). If find it interesting that the contrasting defect is iniquitous grumbling (Philippians 2:14). Essentially you cannot be a humble complainer – though most fain it. Pseudo humility justifies grumbling is an acceptable sin because it appears to indicate discernment. Discoveries lead to discussions, and then to dissentions. The absence of humility in a church forms a vacuum that pulls the weak down into sin while promising them enlightenment and empowerment. They become little Eve’s. However, if we take the battle to Satan by aggressively pursuing a campaign of putting others first, the whole church will stay on track. The rewarding result is being blameless, meaning no glaring fault can be found in us, and innocent, meaning our heart is free from guilt. We become easy to others and ourselves.
Unity is based on an attitude of confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit to harmonize believers who have little in common but Jesus. Paul is allergic to disunity. He persistently addresses anything that would sow discord among the brothers (or sisters). It’s interesting to note how Christians have a long history intensely disagreeing with each other. Most denominations are the byproduct of a church-turned-centrifuge. The only bonding agent strong enough to keep us together is the Spirit-wrought commitment to agreement. This was Paul’s command to the women in Philippians 4:2. It does not mean “get on the same side so the argument will stop” but “pick a humble attitude despite being on different sides”. Believers with wildly different views on certain issues can live in perfect harmony. All it takes is for each person to obey Philippians 2:1-4 as illustrated by Christ in Philippians 2:5-8. These women (and any factious person) threaten the whole church with their petty dispute. The argument was literally over nothing of substance, but had the power to take down everything. When the attitude goes bad, the whole enterprise can be lost. Most churches split because of attitude problems, not doctrinal ones.
I’m increasingly convinced that the pursuit of spiritual maturity is at the heart of Philippians. Paul lists out numerous instructions to achieve this, and his prayers reveal the expectations that they will be followed to this end. Leaving the church alone without apostolic supervision, he reminds them that whatever applied when he was there, applies when he is not. He acknowledges anything honorable is ultimately the work of God because according to Philippians 1:6 “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. This work is a maturing work. The believers were expected to grow, and pushing them in that direction involves prayers like the one in Philippians 1:9-11. These are the key performance indicators of the Christians life. We can apply them to ourselves by asking if we are abounding in love, increasing in knowledge, developing discernment, remaining pure, and manifesting fruitfulness. This is how we know we are truly saved. The danger is that otherwise we start thinking maturity is a natural function of time. But it’s not. We grow physically without working at it, but the same is not true in the spiritual realm. We all must work at it.
Epaphroditus delivered Paul’s letter to the leaders in Philippi who were responsible for reading it to the congregation when they met. It closes (Philippians 4:21) with a command to individually greet each believer on Paul’s behalf. This is different than the way 1 and 2 Corinthians wraps up. In those letters the congregation is instructed to greet each other in an effort to, as one commentator put it, “cement cordial relations”. It’s the group hug approach. Philippians is different. Apostolic authority and pastoral care extend to the individuals for personal benefit and growth. The leadership of the church was entrusted with a significant responsibility. They were told to help assist in the unity building of the church. By receiving a greeting from the apostle, through the leadership, everyone received a personal message. This would extend to both Euodia and Synteche in the form of an instruction to get along. It would extend to the group that is leaning toward novelty Judaism as a reminder that we are saved Gentiles and can live like it. Even the ones that couldn’t give up their preferences in order to serve others would need a personal word, and maybe a little kick. Hugs could come later.