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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Notorious Reasonableness

It is all too easy in this life to gain a reputation for something that is not a positive thing.  Some are notorious hotheads.  Some are notoriously stingy.  Others are known for their shady dealings or gossip.
And some people are notoriously disagreeable.  They insist on their own way.  They refuse to prefer others even in simple things.  It seems that there were at least pockets of this kind of disagreeableness among the saints at Philippi.  Scattered throughout Paul’s letter to them, there are hints that the believers there were having a hard time getting along, and the source of this conflict was habitual self-seeking.
For example, read the first few verses of Philippians 2:
 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
My paraphrase of vv1-2 would be, “if you guys are really Christians, it would bring me great joy for you all to get along.”  In vv3-4, he tells them exactly what he means.  He wants them to prefer one another and stop seeking their own way.  And then he gives the supreme example of the kind of humility to which he is calling them by describing Christ humbling Himself to take the form of a man and die for our sins. 
There are other signs in Philippians that there was discord among the saints.  Later in ch2, he writes: Do all things without grumbling or questioning.  Apparently, when people in the Philippian church didn’t get their way, they were in the habit of making noise about it, complaining and challenging one another. 
Still later in ch2, Paul commends Timothy to the Philippians, saying that Timothy is unlike all his other companions, who “all seek their own interests, not those of Christ.”  So even when Paul is not directly addressing the self-seeking of the Philippians, he is commending those who are not self-seeking.  It appears that Paul has this issue on the forefront of his mind.  And it is interesting that he juxtaposes self-seeking with Christ-seeking.  His comments about those who are self-seeking demonstrate that it is impossible to advocate for self and Christ at the same time. 
Toward the end of the letter, Paul refers to one specific pair of antagonists: 2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women…(Phil 4:2-3a).  There are at least two striking things about this passage.  First, the rivalry between Euodia and Syntyche was so serious that it not only needed to be addressed with specificity, but the church also needed to be called into action in the matter.  Second, the feud was so well known, that Paul didn’t have to say a word about the nature of the disagreement – everyone was already aware of the situation.  You could say that these women were notoriously disagreeable. 
All of this leads to a remarkable exhortation in 4:5a: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  It’s so easy to gain a reputation for something bad, but it takes time and consistency to gain a reputation for something good.  And here Paul has called the church to be notoriously reasonable.  Can you imagine preferring others to the extent that you acquire a reputation for it?  That’s some serious reasonableness!
Take a second to think about your own life.  Are you notoriously reasonable?  Or are there areas in which you are seeking your own way at the expense of others?  What are they?  If we are insisting on our own way, Philippians would tell us that we are not seeking the interests of Christ and that we should strive to be reasonable.
But how do we get there?  I think we can identify some clues in the letter that would lead us to conclude that the key is to find our joy and satisfaction in Christ.  I already noted above that Paul juxtaposed self-seeking with Christ-seeking (2:21).  Clearly self-seeking is what we are to put off, but in its place we should put on seeking the interests of Christ.  Serving Him.  Desiring Him.  Working to achieve His agenda and sacrificing our own. 
Another clue is in the first chapter where Paul describes his imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.  He notes that there are those on the outside who are seeking to share the gospel in such a way as to antagonize him.  His response?  Hallelujah!  “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (1:12-18).  Paul was so intent upon seeking the interests of Christ that it bothered him none to be targeted by others.  Most of us would not have felt the same way.  But Paul provided a living example of what it means to be Christ-seeking instead of self-seeking.
There are other clues.  The next section in ch1 reveals that Paul would prefer to leave this world and go home to be with the Lord, but that he is willing to continue on this earth for “your progress and joy in the faith…” (1:19-26).  He was putting off his own interests and seeking the interests of Christ by serving others.
In ch2, where he explicitly calls the Philippians to seek the interests of others, he implies that in doing so they will be following the example of Christ, which results in His being glorified.  Again, self-seeking is replaced with Christ-seeking.
In ch3, Paul details his impeccable credentials as a Jew, credentials which he formerly used to seek his own interests and which he could still use if he so chose.  But he chose another way: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (3:8).  What was gain to him he considered rubbish compared to Christ.  It was because of his satisfaction in Christ that Paul was able to say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:10-13).
But the primary reason we can know that the key to being reasonable is to find our joy and satisfaction in Christ is the immediate context of the command to be reasonable.  The exhortation to notorious reasonableness is bracketed by comments regarding the joy and closeness of the Lord:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand… (Phil 4:4-5).
If we strive to derive our joy and satisfaction in Christ, we are freed from self-seeking and are able to prefer others with fervor.  As long as He is near, we always have what we want most and are able to joyfully sacrifice lesser things. 
Are you notoriously reasonable?  If not, seek to find your joy and satisfaction in Him.  In time, your reasonableness with be known to everyone.  
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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