The Influence of Passion

Gordon MackleyPosted on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 by Gordon Mackley

Continuing the examination of two passages from the Bible, Nehemiah 5:1-13 and Philippians 2:12-16.

Do everything without grumbling

There is no long history in respect of this passage but just a little bit of background.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi – a place then in Macedonia (now in modern day Greece). We need to take note that everything in the Greek is in the plural, so this passage is not primarily about personal salvation or behaviour, but about that of the whole body, the fellowship of believers at Philippi.

I have used the expression, ‘fellowship of believers’, as ‘church’ tends to conjure up pictures of buildings and human structures of roles and responsibilities connected with such buildings. The Greek word, ‘ekklesia’ usually translated as church, actually just means a group of people who have come out of the whole group for a specific purpose, which originally could have been political or judicial.

In our case, it is for worship of God, but no buildings or vicars are implied by the word!

In regard to the background, in around AD 50, the city was visited by the apostle Paul (Acts 16:9-10).

He is believed to have preached for the first time on European soil in Philippi (Acts 16:12-40). Paul visited the city on two other occasions, around AD 56. The Epistle to the Philippians dates from around AD 61 and is believed to show the immediate impact of Paul’s instruction.

The Jewish population here was small and so this is mainly a Gentile church. This is confirmed by a paucity of Old Testament quotes in Philippians, although one verse in our passage (v15) does quote the Old Testament language of Deuteronomy 32:5. The phrase is,

“They are a warped and crooked generation”.

This is clearer in some translations, but somewhat lost in the Message version.

We can see from the dates that this is probably not a very mature ‘ekklesia’ (fellowship of believers) and is certainly not immersed in Jewish Old Testament scripture. They would undoubtedly have been a very small group within what was, at the time, a city with a large total population.

Pagan magic is practised in Philippi and this gets Paul and Silas imprisoned there after they cast out a spirit from a slave girl being exploited by her masters (exploitation again!). The story of this is in Acts 16.

Paul is clearly pleased with the fellowship at Philippi and states that it had started well. Paul wishes it to continue well as it grows bigger.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1)

However Paul could see dangers ahead. He stresses that unity is required. This needs each person doing what God has given them as gifts in order to make the whole body work well for the Kingdom and to produce a great witness amongst the general population.

He also says that they need to be careful in respect of humility (earlier in this chapter 2). We need always as Christians today to remember that it is not about a great and good ‘us’ in a world of nasty and wicked ‘them’.

Interestingly, the Deuteronomy ‘warped and crooked generation’ quote is not about the Gentile world (the ‘them’ to the Jews) but about Jews themselves, so the reference is to ‘us’!

It is far too easy as believers to start to think in this superior attitude manner. This is the opposite of what God requires of us.

Both individually and as church, we need to be humble – we certainly have much to be humble about! God requires us as a body to be united in serving others gladly and humbly, not assuming any false holiness or grumbling over often petty issues!

What exactly is this grumbling? It’s not open opposition. In any group of people (especially those passionate about something), there will always be opposing views and conflict. This is not a problem if handled correctly with love on both sides.

Grumbling is a way of not handling this correctly. It consists of discontented muttering and stirring up others covertly.

It is divisive and destructive.

Fellowships which have been very successful in expanding the Kingdom have been split apart and become totally ineffective (and usually, much reduced in number) by the effect of such mutterings and grumbling.

The Philippians, then, are not to do this but to produce the fruit of their salvation. That is peace, love, and harmony in the Spirit that flows from love.

Rather than fighting with each other, Paul commands the Philippians, and us, to work out our salvation by encouraging each other to grow in humility and unity. We should note that it is ‘work out’, not ‘work for’. Individuals are already saved by grace, but together as a church we need to work out that salvation. Work out in this sense is similar to physical working out, in that the result is that the church grows stronger and fitter!

People today, as then, do not want to join a group of people who think they are superior or who spend time arguing amongst themselves. They can do without the hassle of that and if that is us – they can do very easily do without us!

But if we heed the warnings here, God can be at work in the church.

Paul uses two little phrases, ‘to will’ and ‘to work’ to describe God’s activity.

Both the desire and the deed belong to God; both the prompting and the performing are attributed to Him. Nevertheless, it is only as we cooperate with Him that we see the true potential of our lives realised both as individuals and as a group (church).

Comparing the two passages

Thus there is a contrast between the two passages. Nehemiah’s people’s complaints were a just cause that needed redressing. God calls us to support that redressing with all that prayer and our human resources can muster. To do so is to show love.

This is not the same as petty grumblings and moaning amongst ourselves, to no good effect but which in fact harm the body. This action is not God based, but a weapon of the enemy to render the fellowships of God’s people less effective. It shows a lack of love.

We probably all know churches where silly disagreements have caused many to leave and the body become weakened. We have ourselves not of course been immune to that here.

We are currently assessing our spiritual gifts (as in 1 Corinthians 12) but last week we were reminded that all of that is worthless without the content of the next chapter 13 – love.

Just like the Philippian church, if we are truly to be a breath of fresh air and expand as a few amongst the many in a ‘squalid and polluted society’ (Message wording) or a ‘warped and crooked generation’, the only way to do this is the same for us, as for them.

We need as a body to exemplify all those qualities listed in that great chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians – not a few of us trying to show a few of them when we remember, but everyone praying to God and trying as hard as possible to show all of them.

It is the love of God and the love of people (totally connected one with the other) that enables a church to work out the salvation of it’s members making it stronger and fitter and able to work and go in the right direction. It is this love that makes it attractive and gain new members of the Kingdom now, as in AD 60 at Philippi!

I spotted this photograph of a small child pushing a shopping trolley in this article online.

In this picture, the child thinks they can push the trolley and keep it going in the right direction. But in reality they cannot see clearly, nor do they have the power to keep pushing it as it fills up. It is the adult who, out of love, is truly seeing ahead, pushing and guiding it correctly, whilst allowing the child to believe that they are doing it.

The child is us in the church and the adult is God. Now think what happens if instead, the adult is pushed away and is no longer in control. There are now many small children all trying to push the trolley along, perhaps even one or more at the front trying to push it backwards. We can imagine what the end result is likely to be!

Instead of directed movement of the trolley to collect the shopping, there is likely to be haphazard movement going nowhere specific and probably crashing after a very short time into one of the shelves.

We in the church must not behave like the children in this illustration – jostling and pushing to get the trolley going where we want (even if we cannot see clearly where that is!).

We need instead as mature Christians to ensure that we all accept that God has the superior vision to us all. We should also then accept His loving guidance of our ‘shopping trolley church’ so that we can accomplish the task He has given us (individually and corporately).

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