For Your Sake

Earlier this week I was out getting a bite to eat between classes and meetings, and I saw a woman with her son. I like to people watch when I’m out by myself. The son was obviously in a bad mood, stamping his feet just a little, huffing and puffing like he was a wolf from a fairy tale rather than a kid in a restaurant. The mother, though, is what got my attention. I see upset kids all the time, I work in youth ministry, but the mother did something I honestly don’t see every day. She smiled, both at her frustrated son and at the restaurant workers. It wasn’t a fake or forced smile, just the patience of someone who isn’t caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. She endured the groaning of her son, asked him what he wanted, and got it for him. She paid for the food, thanked the cashier with the same sincere smile, and sat down with her son as he ate. She didn’t get anything for herself, just watched him eat, and tried as best she could to engage him in conversation. She wasn’t on her phone, she wasn’t impatiently prodding him along to finish so she could leave and get on with her day. She waited.

The scene struck me in an unusual way because there’s not many people like that. Patient. Enduring. A joy that wasn’t thwarted by an upset kid or a wait. I honestly wanted to ask her if she knows Jesus, because I saw Him through her that afternoon. She put her son before herself. She put the workers before herself. She set an example for her son, and for me, for what it looks like to not be self-concerned but to genuinely care for others in spite of situation or their treatment of you. It also struck me that this is how God is with us. God is a loving father. He patiently waits on us through our temper tantrums and sins against him. He loves us and provides for us even as we rage against him. He tries to win our hearts, engaging with us on a personal level.

I am still going through the book of Philippians, we’re almost through the first chapter, I‘m a slow reader haha. One of the remarkable things about the woman, the mother in my story, is also one of the remarkable things about Paul in the book of Philippians. Like Paul, she puts others before herself. This is a major theme in this book, and in the Bible as a whole. Paul’s posture towards others is evident in the scriptures, not only through his outright commands to believers, but in the way he speaks to them.

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
(Philippians 1:24-26 ESV)

Last week we saw that Paul’s posture of life was formed by the fact that he views Jesus as far better than anything that life has to offer. Here, we see that in that posture he puts others before himself. He weighs his decisions based on taking others into account. His first priority is not himself, but seeing that others are taken care of and pointed toward Christ. This makes sense if you know the teachings of Jesus and the way Paul views the Christian life. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (ESV). This teaching shines through in Paul’s teaching in Romans 13, “to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (ESV). Paul viewed the Christian life as a love for God that overflows into a love for others. His thinking revolved around these two things.

When I see this paradigm played out in scripture, I can’t help but ask myself: Does my life reflect the goals depicted here? Does it stir others to progress and joy in the faith? If I’m honest, my life is mostly built around me and my needs. When I am making decisions, I am not usually focused on the good and growth of others as the driving factor in what I choose. Looking, though, at the example of Christ, who stepped out of His comfort and suffered for my good, how can I not want the good of others? Looking at the example of Paul, who sitting on a prison floor hungry and hurting, still put others first, how can I not put others first? Considering the woman from my story, who patiently cared for her son, thinking of his needs despite his bad attitude, how can I not take steps to think of the good of others before myself? This is the Christian life.

When Paul thinks of others, he is not just thinking of their physical well being, but their spiritual growth and love for God. He is focused on his friends’ “progress and joy in the faith,” and on giving them “ample cause to glory in Christ.” The Bible talks about glory in two ways. It talks about the glory of God as an aspect of who God is. He is glorious, worthy of all praise. It also talks about the call of believers to glory in Christ. To glory as an action means to celebrate, to praise, to participate in the worship and stand in awe of the God who has made his glory available to us. Paul wants his friends to share in the joy and worship of Christ. The reason he can do this, the reason he can point them towards that glory, is because he has experienced it himself. The only way we can genuinely and winsomely point people to God is if we enjoy and worship him ourselves. Like I said earlier, the love for others is an outpouring of our love for God.

Does my life stir others to progress and joy in the faith? Does it give others cause to glory in Christ? Am I concerned with the good of others and the glory of God, or am I only concerned with myself?

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

(Philippians 1:24-26 ESV)


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