In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul expressed the idea that Jesus Christ had “interests” and that these interests might come into conflict with the self-interest of some in the Body. In this article, we will seek to learn what some of Lord’s “interests” might be, and how we might accommodate them.
The Philippians congregation had been particularly zealous about partnering with Paul in his work (Philippians 1:3-5). Paul, though in a Roman prison at the time of writing (1:7), was deeply concerned about the welfare of the Christians in Philippi. Since he could not personally visit them, Paul sought to send someone who could minister to their spiritual needs. His young colleague Timothy seemed the ideal candidate.
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you” (Philippians 2:19). What was so special about Timothy that Paul wanted to gift the Philippians congregation with his presence? Paul answers: “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” (verse 20). The King James translation renders it: “…who will naturally care for your state.”
Timothy was a rare bird in that he, unlike so many others, naturally, or genuinely, cared for the general state of a particular congregation. Others, who ought to have been more spiritually mature, were still intent on pursuing their own interests: “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Jesus’ interests apparently lie in the general welfare of his Body, which is his instrumentation in the world. A crippled, spiritually dysfunctional Body cannot do His work well. The health, or ill-health, of a congregation often reflects the concerns of its leadership. Timothy had worked closely with Paul, and the young man was a known quantity to him. In the Lord, they had had a father/son relationship (verse 22). Paul knew Timothy’s heart. He knew that his care for the people was genuine and not motivated out of self-interest.
When Jesus was a child of twelve, he said to his parents: “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49, KJV). Already, Jesus was more concerned with what his Father wanted him to do than with anything else. At age 12, he had entered into a time of preparation for the work he would begin to do at age 30. He learned all that he could from the top Jewish scholars of his day (Luke 2:46), and everything he learned was to prepare him to serve His Father’s interests.
A person who is serving God’s interests seeks to produce fruit for the Kingdom. Merely performing religious acts doesn’t qualify. One can dress in elaborate, ornamental garments, perform impressive ritualistic acts, and quote Scripture passages ad nauseum and yet still fail to produce any real fruit for God. Jesus taught that the difference between a true prophet and a false one was the quality of fruit they bore (Matthew 7:15-20), not the display of outward religiosity.
It is one thing to proclaim one’s Christian faith, and it quite another to live it. A real Christian lives to serve the interests of God and Christ: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus’ interests were those of his Father. It was Jesus’ most ardent desire that the will of his Father should be done on the earth. He said that we should pray for that very thing (Matthew 6:10). To do the will of God is to “be” kingdom!
We cannot necessarily rely on ostentatious religious works to earn points with God. It is possible to serve as a “powerful” preacher, speaking forth dramatically on behalf of God, casting out demons, and even performing miracles, and still be a phony as far as God is concerned. If we do evil, even while performing dramatic works of spiritual exhibitionism, God may reject us. Read closely Matthew 7:21-23. How we live, and the kind of fruit we bear, are important to God. We represent Him on the earth. Whatever we do, or fail to do, as Christians, will reflect well or otherwise on Christ. If we do our own will rather than God’s, we will be discredited. If we do publicly religious acts while living in, or committing sin, we are disqualified. Jesus did his Father’s will, and we must serve Jesus’ interests.
The pastor, who cares nothing for the spiritual welfare of his congregation, while at the same time building ecclesiastical empires to aggrandize his own image, wealth and power, is merely a user. His congregation is a means to his own ends. He is looking out for No. 1. He is preoccupied with bringing in the bucks, building monuments to himself, schmoozing with people of stature in the world, and surrounding himself with the best possible material accoutrements, and perhaps becoming a prominent media personage. Such people are usually numbers oriented. They want big buildings, mega-churches, big planes, big coffers and big followings. But are they operating in Christ’s interests or their own?
Some time ago, a cherished neighbor of ours lost her husband of more than 50 years. On their 50th anniversary, their church had held a special mass for them to commemorate the occasion. I attended it. It was a magisterial event, full of pageantry and symbolism. Some months after the husband’s death, I asked the lady if her priest had ever stopped by to visit her. Had any of the nuns dropped by? She said no, they hadn’t. How about anyone from the congregation? Same answer. At a terrible time in her life, this dear lady needed comforting and support. It should have come from the congregation of which she was a long time member. It didn’t.
What are the interests of God and Christ in a case like this? James, Jesus’ half-brother, expressed them clearly when he wrote: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27 NIV). Note closely the term: “in their distress.” This is the time when people are not always at their best, but when they most need comforting and support. All too often, when we face personal crises, the people who could be most helpful distance themselves from us. Sometimes all it takes is a “big ear” – someone who will listen while the distressed person vents. A few comforting words, an intercessory prayer, or a simple hug or hand-holding can make all the difference in the world. When we are in crisis, the worst thing we can experience is the feeling of being all alone and unsupported in our trial. God says of man, “It is not good that man should be alone…” (Genesis 2:18). Even though God was at this time with Adam, God viewed the man without human companionship as “alone.” Had you ever thought of that before? I learned it from Dennis Prager who learned it from a Protestant minister. We were not meant to be wholly autonomous. We need each other.
A word from Solomon
I love the Book of Ecclesiastes. It is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is so honest, so pithy, and so deliciously cynical. I believe the book was written by Solomon, toward the end of his long and very eventful life. In one place he writes:
“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
“There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless – a miserable business!
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12).
Let’s analyze these remarkably meaningful words. First, what does Solomon intend by “meaningless”? The King James Version renders “vanity” where the NIV uses “meaningless.” The Hebrew word translated both ways is hevel. It can mean a variety of things: “meaningless,” “vapor,” “breath,” “empty,” “insubstantial” or “vaporous.” The Jewish translation renders hevel “futility.” In verse 7 above, it reads “another futility and pursuit of wind!”
Sometimes people work fanatically at making money because they are addicted to the process. Accumulating wealth is what they live for – even if there’s no one to share it with or to whom to pass it on. Living life only for one’s self is emptiness. Living to make money merely to sit on it is an exercise in futility. We were created in God’s image to glorify God, not ourselves. Life in Christ isn’t about self-glorification. When Jesus taught us to pray, he instructed us to put God’s interests ahead of our own: Matthew 6:10. In his own prayer just prior to the horror of the Crucifixion, Jesus put his Father’s interests ahead of his own. He prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
In the end, Jesus’ will was his Father’s will. Jesus lived, and died, to serve his Father’s interests. Because we are bought with the price of his blood (I Corinthians 6:19-20), we as Christians ought to live to serve the interests of Christ, as did Paul’s protégé, Timothy. Are we willing servants of the Lord, or do we yet serve self-interests? Do we truly understand the implications of being “bought with a price”?