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Like Jesus: Legalism is Easier

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

A lot of people hate legalism for the wrong reasons. They get mad when someone suggests we should say “no” to some things when the Bible has not really made those thing off-limits. They don’t like hearing “no.” Paul hated legalism, too, but mostly for a bigger, harder reason.

steps_350I grew up around legalism, and it was a good fit for me. I was a pleaser and a child. It wasn’t too hard to keep the list of do’s and don’ts. So mostly I felt pretty good about my relationship with God. If the unofficial ranking of “good Christian kids” was actually published, I would have been near the top. The problem with legalism is that it’s too easy.

In today’s verse (and the 6 after it), Paul smashes legalistic satisfaction by showing what God really wants from us. He doesn’t want us to grow holy from the outside in — by doing/avoiding all the listed items and waiting for our hearts to catch up. He wants to transform us from the inside by dismantling the machine and rebuilding it without the selfish button. He wants us to think like Jesus.

That’s way too hard. Let’s just not smoke or swear and then feel really good about ourselves.

Think: What’s harder, to follow a list of rules or to learn to think as selflessly as Jesus did? Is it even possible to have the same kind of humility He had?

Pray: Ask God to change your heart to begin to think and feel like Jesus did.

Do: A good way to begin thinking like Jesus would be to memorize Philippians 2:5-11.

Like Jesus: Mission Not Mine

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Yesterday, we talked about Paul’s upside-down command to think of others as better than ourselves. In other words, part of our mission in life is to make other people successful. This verse takes that a step further — “look to” others’ interests.

steps_350We’re not necessarily talking about appreciating each others’ hobbies or music playlists here. We’re talking about getting practical about what it means to love another person as we love ourselves.

It’s a two-step process. One: Take the time to really think through, ask about, and understand what another person wants and needs out of life right now. Two: Make a plan to do something about it. (Read the “Do” line below to get even more specific.)

Think: Who in your life has made it their business to help you with your “interests,” to be available to help you accomplish what you need to do with your time and energy? Why do they do that for you?

Pray: Ask God to help you want to help other people with their interests, as well as taking care of your own stuff.

Do: Make three lists. On the first, list you “interests;” not what you like, but what you need to do and figure out and accomplish this week. Now pick two other people (parents, friends, etc.), and make the same list for them. Finally, take those lists to them and ask what else is on their plates.

Like Jesus: Let the Dream Die

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Selfish ambition and vain conceit are such ugly words. We don’t usually use them to describe our own motives. Instead, we say, “Don’t give up on your dreams” (for success and nice things and being respected and winning it all). We say, “You’ve got to make some sacrifices if you want to get ahead” (and get the glory and get the girl/guy and get famous).

steps_350In fact, you’ve probably heard motivational speakers break it down like this: “Think about what you want for yourself out of life. Make a goal. And figure out the steps to get what you want. Along the way, don’t let anyone treat you like you’re less valuable.”

James called that “worldly wisdom,” and it works sometimes to make people rich or famous. But Paul says, “Identify what other people want out of life, and help them get it. Along the way, don’t let anyone treat you like you’re better than they are. If your dreams don’t include making others successful, let the dreams die.”

Think: Why does this verse — treat others better than yourself — sound so backwards to us? How often do we really do this?

Pray: Ask God to help you want to treat others better than yourself.

Do: Write a one-line motivational poster that would fit the philosophy of this verse.

Like Jesus: Relationship Fallout

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

I’m told that in the original language, Paul’s sentence in these two verses assumes that the answer to all these “if” statements is a “yes.” He is saying, “Look at everything you have in Christ: encouragement from being ‘with’ Him; comfort from being loved by Him; a sense of togetherness with the Holy Spirit; and a new tenderness and compassion!”

steps_350Here’s my question: Would those things describe your life in Christ? Have you experienced that encouragement, comfort, fellowship, and compassion? If not, we should ask ourselves, “What’s the deal?” Are we really walking with Christ — or are we just satisfied with being in the Christian club without being radically engulfed in relationship with Him?

Paul’s friends were genuine Jesus-followers, and they experienced all of these things as a result. They still had sad times. They still had frustrating days. They still suffered. But being in Christ brought meaning in all of the ways Paul described.

Think: How has being in relationship with Jesus changed your life? Has it brought you comfort, compassion, encouragement, and fellowship with God?

Pray: Ask God to help you walk in close relationship with Him? Thank Him that He loves you and provides for you in every possible way.

Do: Read the rest of today’s passage to discover what Paul wanted his encouraged, comforted, compassionate friends to do to make him fully joyful.

Like Jesus: No Fear

“. . . without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him . . .” (Philippians 1:28)

Back in the 90s, a brand of clothing called No Fear got hugely popular. Part of the attraction was the idea behind the logo — live to the extreme in sports, in life. Don’t be afraid of pain or breaking out of tradition. Don’t conform. Live on the edge.

steps_350In his letter to the Philippians, Paul described how Christians can live without fear. We saw the first two steps in yesterday’s devo: live like the gospel matters (with integrity) and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other believers (as one person). That makes sense.

The next step is harder: expect to suffer. People who see pain as normal are not afraid of it. Athletes push through the pain of working out knowing they’ll have pain from it the next day, too. Boxers expect to take punches. Christians should expect to suffer for Jesus, Paul wrote.

Think: Does expecting pain make pain less scary? Do you know of any Christians who have suffered real persecution for their faith?

Pray: Ask God to help you live without fear in the way Paul describes here.

Do: Go out and buy a “No Fear” energy drink. Wait, I’m not supposed to say that unless they send us money. Drink something else. But don’t be scared.

Like Jesus: Together and Fearless

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then . . . I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” (Philippians 1:27-28)

Paul is writing to some great friends of his, Christians in the town of Philippi. They were going through some rough times, being treated badly because they believed in Jesus. Paul could relate; he was writing this letter from prison for the same reason.

steps_350The letter is full of encouragement for believers, but Paul also urged his friends to do better. It matters how we live, he said, because people are watching. They’re looking to see if faith in Jesus makes any difference in the lives of those who trust Him.

What’s your salvation worth to you? he asks. Show its worth in how you live. And don’t make it a “personal thing.” Stand for what you believe together. Firmly. Fight for it together, so close that you seem like parts of the same person. Be fearless.

Think: Does standing and fighting and sharing real life with other Christians make us stronger? How can it make us fearless?

Pray: Ask God to help unbelievers see Jesus in you and the people in your church.

Do: Write down a few of the ways you do/could “stand firm in one spirit” and “contend as one man” with other believers in your life.

Desperate: God Goes First

‘If you will not,’ said Naaman, ‘please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.’ ” (2 Kings 5:17)

Notice two amazing things from today’s passage. First, Naaman asks for some Israeli dirt on which to set up an altar back home for making sacrifices to the God of Israel. He vows never again to sacrifice to another god. Seems like a rational response to his miracle healing, but it had the potential to be risky for Naaman. His boss the king worshipped another god.

dive_350The bigger deal to me, though, is what this story says about God. He did not require Naaman to vow to worship Him before He healed him. His only demand was that Naaman trust Him enough to follow the instructions to wash in the humble river. God healed Naaman with few strings attached — and Naaman’s worship followed.

God did the same for us, but in a much bigger way. In Romans 5, we’re told that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God gave the gift first — the gift of His only Son’s life for our sin. Our conversion and worship of Him followed once we understood His sacrifice and power and love.

Think: Is it risky for God to give away such amazing gifts without asking us to sign on the dotted line first?

Pray: Thank God for sacrificing Jesus before you knew to want to be saved. Ask Him to help you to worship Him in the best possible way.

Do: Read the last 10 verses of chapter 5 to catch the surprising ending to the story of Naaman and Elisha.