1-2 If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.
(Philippians 2:1-2 The Message)
We often skip over the "small" words of the Bible, almost without noticing that they really convey a tremendous amount in how we interpret what it is we are reading. For example, when we see a statement that sets up a condition one way, then is joined to another statement with the word "but", that simple word "but" declares the initial condition as no longer applying because the second condition set out is really the accurate way we should see things. In this passage above, the little word with much meaning is the word "if". Let's dig in:
1) IF you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ... This starting statement begs the question, "What do I really 'get' out of following Christ?" There are times we take for granted his great sacrifice on our behalf - his cancelling of the debt we owed for our sin. I think we might bring a little grief to God's heart when we forget about the tremendous sacrifice he made in sending his Son to be the "covering" of our debt. God expects us to be conscious of the greatness of Christ's sacrifice - the total fulfillment of the demands of the Law, the total price he paid for our sins (both past and present).
We have often explored the idea that there is really no "thing" we can do that will add to or take away from the grace of his life sacrifice. I think we need some times in our daily walk when we set apart specific moments when we will connect afresh with God and allow him to refuel us for the journey. In those times, God is always faithful to remind us how much he loves us, how much his grace is sufficient, and how much he invests in never letting us go. You know, I think we often don't really appreciate the gift until we no longer sense the giver of that gift around us anymore! When we begin to feel like the giver is farther away from us than we'd like, we need to take the time to connect with him again. It is not just that we connect with the one who gives us good stuff - it is that we realize how much that the presence of the Giver really means to us in our daily walk.
2) IF his love has made any difference in your life... This begs the question, "What difference has the love of Christ made in your life?" We don't need to look too far to realize that his love has affected our character - what we once found fulfilling begins to pale in comparison to acting the way God desires. His love is an encouragement when we are down - lifting us up when all we feel is that our lives are nothing more than barren wasteland. His love enlightens us - welcoming us to ask questions, to seek to understand, to be enlarged in the understanding of his goodness and how that goodness can shine through each of us. His love envelopes us - not only to shelter us, but to nurture us and bring us to great growth in him.
3) IF being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you... Community gives us a sense of belonging like nothing else can. We are tenderly placed in the exact community we will grow within and where we will help others to realize their own growth through the revelation of God's grace in our lives. We don't always acknowledge the benefits of community. We somehow neglect the things that are the most beneficial for our growth. Perhaps it is our willful determination to do things completely on our own, or that we have never learned to value what another contributes, but when we neglect community, we neglect the very thing God provides for our development.
4) IF you have heart, IF you care... We need to recognize that at the core, we are really very self-determined individuals. God has an amazing way of placing our self-determined wills right smack in the middle of others who will try our patience, challenge our sensibilities, and uncover our hidden faults. He does so in order that we will learn to care about someone other than ourselves. We come to understand love best when we learn to serve others in love.
The epistles scripted by Paul all contain instructions on living with others in community. His hope was that we would learn how to agree, how to love each other, and how to be deep-spirited friends. The end God has in mind is often deeply connected to what the members of our "spiritual community" will reveal in us. Abandon any portion of what God has provided for our growth and we will soon recognize that God's plans are squelched. We need to see that in following Christ, the difference we realize between the starting and ending point is found in the companions we choose to relate to along the way!