Week 2 in our series on Paul's letter to the Philippians; "Real, Gritty Joy."
A Summary of Week 2
Every one of our relationships is strained by the desire for intimacy and a propensity to selfishness. Our drive to find meaning and identity moves us together and, like a bomb in a crowded market, our sin destroys - the greatest damage done to those closest to us. The very thing that, we believe, holds the key to our joy becomes our burden and a source of pain.
Our relationships need saving but that is not to say they need more focus. It is our intense focus on "getting" from our relationships that, in the end, is the cause of their death. Like a snake eating its tail, we devour each other (Gal. 5:14-15). Redemption must come from something greater than ourselves.
In the midst of this constant relational cannibalism (which is the history of the world), the apostle Paul reveals a glimpse of a new way. His relationship with the Philippians was a source of joy:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1.3-5)
How could this be? Answer: The source of this joy could not have been horizontal. The relationships or personalities themselves could not have been a lasting source of happiness. The source of Paul's great joy and the secret to our joy in relationships lies in this little phrase:
"because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."
A Holy Feedback Loop
When our relationships exist for our own benefit, they eat themselves alive. When they exist for the glory of Jesus Christ and the spreading of His Gospel, they find a constant source of life, meaning and mutual affection.
There is a feedback loop here. The more the gospel is the center of our relationships (as the foundation and the reason), the more we see of God's character and the power of the Gospel. This feeds our hungry souls with truth about God's sovereign ability, his tender grace to us in Christ and our secure identity in Him. Fed souls need not take from others, instead, they pour out life. A community of God-satisfied, self-forgetful people builds itself up. This holy community, this Body of Christ, now becomes a better reflection of Christ and the Gospel which, in turn, more deeply satisfies its souls - a holy feedback.
It is important for us to acknowledge that this is to be the rule in local churches (Ephesians 4) not the exception! We must be careful to hold on to God's promises to build this community in gospel-centered churches (Phil. 1:6, 1 Peter 4:10-11 and 2 Peter 1:3-8) and we must be careful to reject the many other relational "gospels" which really are no gospels at all (Gal. 1:6). Our real joy and the propagation of the Gospel depend on it.