READ: Philippians 2:3-8
When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Phillipi, there was some sort of tension and disunity happening there. In our present moment, we certainly feel tension and disunity all around us. It can be overwhelming to look at the racial and political disunity in America and wonder where to begin. Paul provides us with a model in our passage for today.
Paul encourages his readers that unity starts with humility, and humility is modeled best in Christ. This was Jesus’ mindset. Jesus certainly had a privileged position! Despite his position, he didn’t grasp power for his own use, but he humbled himself to serve others. When left to our selfish inclinations, we will never put others before ourselves. However, when we seek to model Christ, we must continually humble ourselves and consider the needs of others before our own.
We have salvation because Christ considered us before he considered himself. We can have unity when we follow his model.
Reflect: When do you put others first? Maybe it is easy to put your family first, or your friends. But what about your enemies? Take a moment to think about someone who is different than you, maybe someone of a different race, religion, or financial class. How can you put their needs before your own? Have you ever considered this before?
Pray: Jesus, thank you for your perfect model of humility. I am the generous recipient of your grace. Help me to follow your model, God, even when it is hard. I am more comfortable when I consider my needs, and the needs of people who look and think like me. Help me to go outside my comfort zone and seek the welfare of people who are really different than me. Guide me, God. Amen.
READ: Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Zechariah 7:9-10
Ethnically, God’s people in the Old Testament were pretty similar. But there were situations when those of other ethnicities lived with the Jews in Israel. When there is somebody different in a group, it’s pretty easy to take advantage of them—especially when that person might not be familiar with the languages or customs of their new homeland.
God continually points his people to a different way of treating the vulnerable among them. There are other verses in the Old Testament when God specifically instructs the people to leave the corners of their fields for the poor and foreigners. God is a God of great compassion, love, and care, especially for those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable.
God reminds his Old Testament people that they knew what it was like to be displaced in a strange land, since they were foreigners in Egypt. Not many us know that feeling. However, the New Testament reminds followers of Jesus
that we are in a strange land that isn’t our ultimate home. We, too, are surrounded by people with different customs and traditions than our own.
Reflect: In our modern times, who do you think is the “foreigner” among us? How are they treated?
Pray: God, help me to see people the way that you see them. Help me to seek to understand and befriend people who are really different than me. Help me to recognize the needy and lonely among me and reach out in love. This can be really difficult and uncomfortable, God. Sometimes I feel scared or intimidated, or unsure of what to say. Guide me, God. Help me to represent you well. Amen.
READ: Matthew 5:43-48, 7:12
Jesus is right. (Jesus is always right, by the way!) But in this case, he is right when he emphasizes that we have heard it said that we should hate our enemies. We hear that all the time, right? We live in a culture that is always telling us who we should be against, who we should “cancel,” who we need to unfollow. There are television channels and websites and social media accounts delivering a never-ending list of enemies. As Christians, we all too often fall into this trap. Yes, we have heard it said to hate our enemies.
But Jesus offers a different way. Jesus says that we should love our enemies. We should pray for them. It’s easy to love the people who look and think and behave just like us. It’s easy to love the people who make us feel comfortable and safe. We don’t always start out by hating our enemies. We begin by judging them. Jesus goes on in Matthew to lay out what we commonly call The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Jesus leaves no room for judgement and hate in his new way of living.
Reflect: Do you have an enemy? Who can you think of that you just wouldn’t want to spend time with? Is it a person? Is it a group of people? Is it people who believe a certain way or hold certain beliefs? What would it look like for you to love that person/group?
Pray: God, there are people who really make me angry. And when there is anger and judgement, it can easily become hate. Forgive me for hating my enemies, God. Forgive me for thinking that I am better than them, God. Help me to see people the way you see them. Help me to love my enemies. Amen.
READ: 1 John 4:19-21
Love for God always shows itself in love for people. Look at the example of Jesus. When he was on earth, he was always going out of his way to love people. Unlikely people. Samaritans. Women. Gentiles. Tax collectors. Sinners. Sick people. Grieving people.
Today’s passage reminds us to not love God, who is unseen, while overlooking those we can see.
Do you always see people? It’s easy not to see people. It’s easy to overlook them. It’s easy to look away. Paul Miller writes, “When we confront a new or difficult situation, we can become confused or overwhelmed. Often, we don’t even know how to begin. But we can look. We might not feel compassion, but we can concentrate on the other person. By keeping the other person in front of us, we are opening the door to compassion.”
Loving like Jesus starts with seeing, acknowledging, and investing in those around us.
Reflect: Who do you need to see, really see, this week? Who is the brother or sister in need of your love? Ask God to reveal this to you.
Pray: God, you loved really unlikely people. I can too. But sometimes I look at people with judgement and hatred, instead of humility and compassion. Help me to see like you, God. Help me to see others the way you want me to see them. Help me to love those around me. Amen.
READ: 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. (James 1:26-2:1, MES)
We live in a country that loves “rights,” don’t we? Our United States Constitution promises all sorts of rights. We call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution the Bill of Rights. They were written in response to a call for greater protection for individual liberties. But here, in our passage for today, we find a reminder that while we have rights, not everything is good or beneficial. And, rather than emphasize our own individual rights, we should seek the good of others.
This goes against everything we seem to treasure in America! We are so concerned with our own individual rights, possessions, and happiness, that we tend to overlook or even abuse others in the pursuit of our rights. Paul reminds us that we need to always seek the good of others above ourselves. Jesus’ way is a new way of life, a new Kingdom, a new order. It’s counter to many things we hold dear. It’s difficult and it’s challenging. But James reminds us to keep public opinion from influencing this “glorious, Christoriginated faith.”
Reflect: What responsibility do we have to others? How do you seek the good of others first?
Pray: God, your Kingdom is vastly different from this world. Sometimes that can feel disorienting or hard or impossible! Holy Spirit, empower me to love like Jesus. Help me to live out our “glorious, Christ-originated faith.” We love you, God. Amen.
- Songs We Sing
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