The other day Mandi and I bought a pedestal fan. It was more than just a little “assembly required.” Mandi and Rachel put it together. When it was all done, they plugged it in and it worked great. Then they realized that they had not used a part. Has that ever happened to you? The part that they missed didn’t have anything to do with the function of the fan, it was only aesthetic, there to cover over the screws at the base of the pedestal.
Not all parts are like that though are they? Right now the AC in my car doesn’t work. Actually that is not quite accurate. The AC works fine but all that comes out is heat. The controls on the dash work fine. The fan works. The AC unit is fine. The problem is there is a little motor that lets the controls on the dash talk to the fan and the AC unit. Without it you can’t change the temperature setting. That part is essential for controlling the temperature in the car.
The essential parts of the Christian life consist of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I agree with Tom Johnston and Mike Perkinson who call this “the irreducible core.” A Christian is someone who loves God (through Christ) with all their heart, soul, and mind, and loves their neighbor as themselves; and someone who is making disciples as they go baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded (which is summed up in the Great Commandment).
Love God. Love others. Make disciples. The Christian life may include a lot of other things, but it does not include less.
Today (and the next two posts) I want to talk about that third essential part of the irreducible core: making disciples. A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who is living in the illumination of God’s love, incarnating that love to those around them, and imparting the knowledge of that love and the practice of that love for one another to others so they can do the same.
One of the places we see this is in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 4:9 Paul gets very clear that impartation is what he is after.
Philippians 4:9 (NIV) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Let me take a minute to put this verse in the context of the letter so that we can get a full appreciation of what Paul is saying.
In 1:9-10, I believe we have the theme and purpose of the letter: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. Love is at the heart of the gospel. To mature in their faith they need love for God and love for others. They need this love not only to be but to abound, and not just to abound, but to abound more and more. The rest of the letter spells out how they are to live in such a way that Paul’s prayer will be answered.
First he tells them how his imprisonment has not hampered his ministry at all, but rather has helped advance it. In 1:12-14 Paul tells them how he is still making disciples even under arrest. Not only that, but Paul’s commitment to follow the Great Commission—even in prison—has encouraged those outside to do the same.
His love for God gives him the perspective to see all this as good news, even though some of the people leading the work are doing so out of envy and rivalry (1:15). But what does it matter? He says in 1:18, The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
In 1:19-26 Paul then tells them that he has been lifted by their prayers and concern and encouragement; and that while it would be better for him to be with Christ, he was convinced that for their sake it was better that he remain. Paul was modeling for them how to love your neighbor as yourself, or as he says it later in 2:3-4, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In light of that conviction, in 1:27-30 Paul encourages them to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, to stand united in their faith, not being frightened by opposition, knowing that God’s call was not only to believe in Christ, but, like Paul to suffer for Him.
Since they were in Christ, united to Christ, loved by Christ, and comforted in that love Paul encourages them to live out that unity they have in Him by being of the same mind, spirit, and love. As Christ was humble, they should be humble. As Christ put their needs ahead of His own, they should put the needs of others ahead of their own. Jesus lived out the Great Commandment through the incarnation so that He could be a servant to them, so that He could show what it meant to live a life of love that looked out for the interests of others (2:1-11).
In light of Christ’s exultation and approval by the Father for doing so on our behalf they can put all our effort into doing the same because God is at work in us to accomplish that.
While learning to love your neighbor as yourself is difficult, hard, and even messy at times, they should do it without grumbling and complaining as Christ did. Doing so will make them shine…like the stars in the sky (2:15).
Knowing that such love is best learned by seeing and experiencing it, Paul tells them that he is sending Epaphroditus back to them (he had brought Paul news, supplies, and encouragement from the Philippians to Paul in prison) with his letter, and Timothy soon after, and plans to follow them himself when he is able (2:19-30).
Chapter 3 opens with the command to rejoice in the Lord. In order to protect that joy and love they have for God they need to be on guard against legalists. Paul knows from experience that legalism is the enemy of joy. Knowing and loving Jesus is everything. Nothing is to be gained—in fact everything will be lost—if their dependence is on anything other than Christ. All the work to secure their relationship with God was done by Christ (3:1-15).
But that does not mean they can live any way they wish, rather they should live up to what they have already attained in Christ (3:16). Therefore, Paul says follow his example and others who live as he does. Their citizenship is in heaven they need to act according that reality (3:17-21). They need to work to resolve conflict. They need to rejoice in the Lord. They need to love Him and let the joy of that love abound. When it does gentleness will abound and conflicts will therefore be few and far between. Thanksgiving and prayer will bring the peace of God that transcends all understanding and cut the roots of anxiety. Love for God will lead them to see and focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent.
And then we come to 4:9, Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Learned or received, meaning the message of the gospel that Paul preached to them and continued to explain in his letters.
Heard from me or seen in me, meaning how he lived when he was with them. How he lived out his love for God, his love for others, and his commitment to make disciples. Each of these are themes clearly woven through his letter. All three of these they are not only to learn, but to practice. Paul was not just imparting knowledge, but a way of life; a way of life that is not fully realized until those who are practicing it are helping others to practice it.
But more on that in tomorrow’s post.