Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #11: Are You Second?
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. Philippians 2:15b-17 NIV
I like the subtle signal that Paul gives here. “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith …” You probably get the underlying message. A drink offering was never the main sacrifice, but was a secondary gift to be poured on the altar by the priest. In modern words, Paul is saying, “I am second.”
He is second for a profound reason. Although he was used by Jesus to bring the gospel to them, it is the sacrifice and service of the Philippians themselves that matters now. It is the work of Jesus through them that counts the most in their situation. Paul does not want them to recount the church’s ‘golden years’ when he was there with Silas, proclaiming the gospel in the marketplace, casting demons out of an exploited girl who hounded them, then being beaten and thrown into prison. He isn’t retracing the amazing nighttime conversion of the jailer and his family after God sent an earthquake to open the prison doors.
Incredible times! But this is no longer Paul’s time. It is their time. Paul entrusted the gospel to them so that they would proclaim the good news to their city as they cooperated with God in working out their own salvation. This is like the scene in The Lord of the Rings where Gandalf tells Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen that his time to deal with their challenges is over. “That is what you were trained for.” he reminds them. Paul is saying much the same. My role is now is secondary. This is your time to pass the gospel on to others—to shine like stars.
One of the key elements I emphasize when training leaders in the transformational gospel is to avoid becoming a substitute for God in the lives of people. It is an occupational hazard for a pastor to think of a congregation as ‘my people.’ They are not. They belong to Jesus. Pastors’ role is not to own believers, to attach their congregation to themselves, but to point them toward an ever deepening relationship with God alone.
Why? Because we cannot fix them. Pastors have no power within themselves to change one person’s life, not even their own. And this is the reason Paul is saying he is second. “I am here to see that you follow Jesus and allow him to not only change your lives, but to use your lives for his glory.” It is really at the core of his understanding of his apostolic role. Notice how Paul advances this theme in various letters he sent.
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. Galatians 4:19 NIV
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3 NIV
It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 NIV
It is as if Paul is using the drink offering image to say, “I don’t want you whom I mentor to look to me as your anchor. I want you to be conformed to Christ and trust that his life is your life now.”
This does not diminish the fact that Paul’s sacrifice for them is real. He had endured many instances of suffering in many places including Philippi, for the sake of the gospel. He is now in prison, not sure of what is to come. We do know at some point after this letter he was martyred for his faith.
So why does this matter? Unfortunately, the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was absorbing the church and diverting it from its shining course. I do not think it is over-the-top to suggest that the Philippi church was rapidly becoming inward-focused and moving toward factions being established similar to the mess in the Corinth church which Paul had previously rebuked.
As Paul continues to address the underlying conflict between these two co-workers who contended by his side for the sake of the gospel, he reminds them for what purpose they had been trained. It was to fight…but not each other. Fight to proclaim the good news of Jesus to their family, to their friends, to their city.
The hope of this passage is that we will follow Paul’s lead: I am second. I am appointed by God to be a conduit of the gospel so that those I invest in will shine like the stars. Remember this as you deal with potential conflict in your congregation. They are not your people. They belong to Jesus. Encourage them to prefer his ways over their own and trust him to empower their witness.