So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
The second chapter of Paul’s letter to Philippians opens with Paul urging them to make his joy complete by having the same mind as together they are: having the same love, minding unity, counting others better in humility and looking to the interests of others. How would such a diverse group of people who have had problems with each other learn to have the same mind? Paul answered this by telling them to have the attitude in themselves that was in Christ, and he movingly writes of the great example of the Lord Jesus; in His great love, humility and obedience we see the essential mind and heart of living out the ministry of grace and love to one another to which God has called us.
Paul’s ministry was deeply rooted in his passion for Christ, and clearly seen in his love for believers. This is evident in his words in Philippians 2:12–16, as he urges them to obey to God in his earnest desire that their lives be proved blameless and innocent. Paul’s letters are full of his watchfulness over those with whom he has shared not only the gospel, but his own life. He calls the Galatians his children and writes:
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you–
He reminds the Thessalonians of his care for them, and how he had exhorted, encouraged and implored them as a father would have done with his own children so that they would walk worthy of God. Not only was Paul concerned for those whom he knew personally, he also writes to the Colossians, telling them of his great struggle on their behalf and for all who have never even seen his face. To the Corinthians he expresses his care for all Christians:
Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
2 Corinthians 11:28–29
This was Paul’s toil and labor of love—to make disciples of Christ who would hold fast the word of life, and for this purpose he watched and worked. We don’t have Paul’s gifts or calling, but each believer has spiritual gifts which God calls us to use for service in ministry to others. Do we have Paul’s diligence and care? Are we concerned, not about whether we are satisfied with what we are doing, but about whether or not our use of our gifts is helping other Christians hold fast to Christ? If you have the gift of teaching, do you labor to carefully handle the Bible, and apply its teaching to your own life, and then to the lives of your listeners? If you have the gift of hospitality, are you weighed with care about whether everything is done exactly right, or have you learned that what’s important is that the welcome of hospitality show others love and care that can give them joy and encouragement? If you have the gift of encouragement and exhortation, do you work to understand life from the point of view of others and willingly do the hard work of matching your words to their needs?
These words of Paul to the Philippians are in the middle of chapter two. He has just written about Christ, and he will next write about his own ministry and that of Timothy and Epaphroditus. In the midst of these examples, he gives these words of exhortation to the Philippians: be lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Are we lights in the midst of our own crooked and perverse generation? And do we serve and minister to help each other also be lights?
Ministry is characterized by diligence and care to see lives become changed.
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