DAY 18 | PHILIPPIANS 4:1-3
Hey readers, I’m delighted to introduce another guest writer to you. This is Jessica Avery, a staff member at CSF. Jessica worked at Asbury Theological Seminary before working at CSF and she’s just completed her Doctorate of Ministry where she studied faith and college students. I can’t wait to read this alongside you!
This mug traveled in my carry-on luggage (along with a set of antique china) when I moved back from Scotland after living there 2012-14. Some of the sweetest times I’ve ever spent with Jesus occurred while drinking tea from this set of mugs. This mug reminds me of God’s nearness.
My fuse seems just a little shorter these days. Things that normally would not bother me are grating on my nerves. Partly that is because all of my interactions are mediated by technology while I’m #HealthyAtHome. Those little delays during Zoom conversations mean that people frequently often talk over one another. Tone is harder to interpret over text, making banal messages sound sharp. Relationships shed too much of their playfulness through the screens. It’s so much easier to believe the worst about others when you’re not in the same room.
Paul wrote the book of Philippians from prison, which is not unlike how I think of my home during this lockdown. Paul closes this letter by pleading with Euodia and Syntyche, to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (NIV), or to “agree in the Lord” (ESV).
What we know about Euodia and Syntyche is that they are two women who worked alongside Paul in sharing the gospel. We have to assume their relationship had a serious amount of conflict, or else Paul would not mention it here. These two probably had a pretty short fuse in dealing with one another.
Paul begs for Euodia and Syntyche to agree “in the Lord.” Being united in Christ means putting the preferences of others above our own and putting what Jesus wants above anything else. Culture says self-denial is damaging, but the truth is that Jesus has promised life to those to deny themselves, take up a cross, and follow him (Matt 16:24-25).
Christian maturity always includes maturing in friendship. Loving Christ involves loving people. In his book, Invitation to a Journey, Robert Mulholland emphasizes that holistic spiritual growth for the Christian is not exclusively about relationship with Jesus.
For most people spiritual life and growth toward wholeness in Christ have their focus in God and self. A focus on others is rarely at the same level. Relationships with others are often seen as secondary and tangential to the primary relationship with God. Holistic spiritual growth moves against that grain. The primary focus must be trinitarian—God, self, others—if we are to grow holistically into the image of Christ. Every relationship has the potential of becoming the place of transforming encounter with God, and every advantage in the spiritual life has its necessary and immediate corollary in the transformation of our relationships with others.
Relationships can feel like the place where our discipleship falters, but Mulholland reminds us that relationships (especially harder ones) are ripe with opportunity to become more like Jesus. Personalities that bring out the worst in us actually provide a path to transformation for the willing.
I love a good personality test. Strengths-Finder, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, DISC, “What Kind of Cheese Are You?” I like them all. Personality inventories lead us to understand ourselves better. But we have to be careful that these tools help us to grow, instead of simply giving us permission to behave badly because “Two’s just need to be appreciated or we are total monsters.” We can’t excuse immaturity because of how we are typed.
Being “of one mind in Christ” means that we have to bring all the beauty and all of the shadow of our personalities under submission to Jesus. This was true for the church in Phillipi, and it remains true for the church during the coronavirus. The frustration of tech-mediated relationships can become for us a place of transformation as we are refined into being united in Jesus.