“…Self Serve Soda Fountain,” Mike Mozart, 2014. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Philippians 4.4-9 (NIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 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.
- Take just a minute or two and write down the names of three people who have been examples, or role models for you.
- Now write a few words about what it was about these people that influenced and inspired you?
- (With the group) Who are some of your role models? What is it about them that you admire?
There are so many people who inspire and influence us … so many people who challenge us and encourage us to grow and be our best. I have had some great role models and a few mentors – family members … musicians … artists … athletes … writers … church leaders. It seems pretty natural … there has always been someone I have looked up to. So, why does it make me so uncomfortable that Paul keeps setting himself up as an example for the Christians in Philippi to follow? Maybe it’s that rebellious part of me that doesn’t want other people to tell me what to do … or maybe it seems kind of self-important … that he would say he is an example for other people out loud.
I have to remind myself I don’t have the same relationship the Christians in Philippi had with Paul. They were close.
It’s not like he is telling random people he didn’t know and who didn’t know him, they need to follow his example. That would be kind of strange.
We have to remember Paul was close to these people. There is a friendship behind what Paul is saying. They had been through a lot together. They knew each other well. Paul really liked them. And, apparently, the feeling was mutual. They really liked Paul and went to extra and risky efforts to help when Paul was stuck in prison. Paul understood the Philippian Christians as colleagues … partners living and sharing the good news about Jesus together. His comments about being an example are probably less about arrogance, and more about necessity. Paul, had this amazing, reorienting, life shaping encounter with Jesus that dramatically changed the direction of his life, and he wanted to share it with people … he wanted to pass along the grace and love of God that had shaped his life. He wanted people to have an encounter with Jesus. I would bet Paul’s invitation to follow him, is a lot more humble and more mutual than I tend to give it credit for.
It doesn’t seem like he is out to make a bunch of mini-Paul clones either. This is bigger than personality or preferences. Paul want’s the church to see him as an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus … what it looks like to live in response to the grace and goodness of God the church has experienced in Jesus … Paul want’s the church to have trust and joy and conviction even when life is really hard.
Paul want’s the church to keep pressing forward even when it would be tempting to give up. Paul believed encountering and following Jesus would change people. He believed he was a living, breathing, example of what God can do in a person’s life.
When Paul encourages the church to think about whatever it is that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, or praiseworthy, he is pointing us toward Jesus. I like that this is positive stuff. It isn’t a list of don’ts. It is a list of do’s. It is expansive … it stretches us out … it points us toward bigger and better horizons and doesn’t weigh us down. It points us in a helpful direction and invites us to live in creative tension. I am starting to see laws and rules as the lowest level of acceptable behavior. Sure a person can technically keep all the rules, and still not be all that pleasant to be around, not be a very good neighbor, not be life-giving or bear much good spiritual fruit in their loves..
Paul stretches us above the bare minimum, pointing us toward Jesus and toward joyful, grace-filled, above-and-beyond, transformed kind of living. This leads us to live in creative tension. As we figure out what it looks like to live faithful, creative, joyful, and grace filled lives, we have to navigate what this looks like in our own time and place … in our work and connections … in our situations. I think this means we need to find people who will encourage, support, and help us to figure out and live, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … excellent or praiseworthy.” This is why we need the church … this is why we need examples and mentors in our lives.
It seems like so much of discipleship is paying attention to what we are looking at … what we are aiming our lives toward … and making sure that we are aiming higher … pushing forward … and encouraging each other as we live in that tension. Are we focused on what we don’t want to do or are we focused on what we want to do? How many times have we heard ski student’s … beginning bike riders, and student drivers told something along the lines of, “Look where you want to go.” Maybe Paul was on to something similar – “You are going to go in the direction you are looking toward … think about these things and you will be headed in the direction of Jesus.”
I worked for a summer in a store that had a soda fountain. One of the hardest things I had to do was empty the trough on the front of the fountain that collected the overflow soda. (It was probably also my fault that it got so full. The soda usually tasted really bad and my boss wouldn’t get the mix adjusted, and I felt bad selling people gross soda. I would usually ask people to taste it before they bought it, and if it didn’t taste right to dump it, and buy soda in a bottle.)
I had a hard time carrying the trough to the sink without splashing and spilling soda all over the floor and all over myself. I looked at the trough the whole way … I watched how the gross soda mixture would slosh from one side to the other … I would try to correct it by moving one end down or the other up, but that always seemed to make it worse.
One day a customer noticed me struggling with the trough and said that if I stopped looking at the trough and looked straight ahead to where I wanted to go, I would have an easier time and wouldn’t spill. The advice annoyed me, since I didn’t really know anything about the person it came from, and I didn’t ask them for any help. But I was also desperate to find a better way. I tried it … I looked straight at the sink in the storage room … and I made it without sloshing or spilling. I think that advice to look to where you want to go and not down at the trough … or at our shoes … or at the obstacles … goes a long way.
As I sat with this passage this week, I had a realization. I naturally gravitate toward a more negative, more avoidance, don’t do that, don’t be like that way of thinking. I realized I could tell you about a lot of, traits or habits I don’t want and I have a shorter list of the more positive examples of characteristics I want in my life. I don’t think it is all that great of motivation to just not want to be something. It sets a low bar and makes so many of my decisions reactive. I don’t think the bible points us toward a picture of being Jesus’ disciple by locking ourselves up in a fortress defending and reacting. (In the Book of Acts – the disciples are usually being pushed out of their fortresses.) Discipleship is more positive … it is more adventurous. As disciples we are for Christ … for the gospel … for love … for peace … for joy …
We need positive examples in our lives. We need friendships who encourage us in following Jesus. We need Pauls … examples who will challenge and stretch us … who will support and encourage us as we seek to follow Jesus and grow in Christ-likeness. We need to be around living breathing examples of faithfulness … role-models … and mentors who help us to figure out and live, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable… excellent or praiseworthy.”