Monday, August 6

Where Would We Be Without Each Other?

There are so many stories that captivate us during the Olympics, but this one stood out to me: "Friendship leads to 1-2 finish in Olympic 10,000 meters".  It's the story of Mo Farah (a Somali running for Great Britain) and Galen Rupp (from the USA).  They train together and share the same coach.  They've become friends that are more like brothers.  Even during the race when Rupp was tempted to break from his plan and race after the leaders, it was Farah who calmed him down.  Said Rupp, "(Farah) kind of tapped me on the shoulder, like 'just relax, everything's fine.  We've just got to play it cool right now and save everything for the finish.'"

It was a historic night for two close friends.  As they stood on the podium wearing their gold and silver medals, one couldn't help but wonder where would they be without each other?

Read: Philippians 1:1-2
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We often gloss quickly over Paul's greetings in his letters.  But often there are clues in these words as to what Paul is wanting to drive home.  I think this is especially true in the book of Philippians.  

Paul wrote the book of Philippians from a Roman prison to a church he dearly loved.  Philippi was a leading city of Macedonia.  Lydia had come to faith there (Acts 16:11-15) after Paul had received his "Macedonian call".  This was a church that had partnered with him financially (Philippians 4:15-16) and had sent Epaphroditus to help care for Paul's needs while in prison (Phil. 4:10; 18).  

But as Paul sits in prison, he recognizes that he may not survive.  He writes this letter knowing it could be his last chance to impart truth to them.  Epaphroditus, apparently, has brought news to him from the church and it has raised concerns.  There seem to be divisions and fighting (Phil. 4:2-3) and perhaps those who thought they were better than others (Phil. 2:1-4).  

I think this last issue was especially concerning to Paul.  As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no hierarchy.  While we have different roles and different gifts, we stand on level ground before the cross.  No one believer has a special place over and above the rest.  As was the case for Farah and Rupp, we need each other.  Where would we be without the encouragement and the help of brothers and sisters in the faith.

To drive this home from the very beginning of his letter, Paul does something he did not do in any of his other epistles.  He shared writes, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus..." In all his letters Paul identifies himself.  Sometimes he says he is an apostle; sometimes he says he is a servant.  Often he identifies someone who is with him when he writes - Timothy or Silas or Sosthenes.  When he includes another person in his greeting, he does it in a way that sets the person apart from himself.  Where he shares his introduction with another, he calls the person "our brother" (1 and 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1).

But not in Philippians 1:1.  Here alone Paul shares his identity with another, with Timothy.  Paul is an apostle.  Paul is Timothy's spiritual father.  But, Paul is Timothy's equal before Christ.  They are both servants.  They have both surrendered to Jesus.  Their callings and gifting are unique, but their value in God's sight is the same.  They are partners in the ministry.  They need one another.

Even the way Paul addresses the church shows how crucial it is to see that we need one another.  There is no such thing as a first class versus second class Christian.  Paul writes to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.  He starts with "all the saints" - the rank and file believers who make up that local Philippian church.  He greets them first, then he greets the leaders of the body, the overseers and deacons.  

In a culture where one normally would list the most important people first and then work down to the less important, Paul does two startling things.  He shares his place with Timothy and he makes all the believers equal with those who lead the church. 

At the very beginning of a letter that comes, possibly, at the end of his life, Paul makes it very clear: We all stand as equals at the foot of the cross.  If we read further into the letter, we will see this again and again.  Paul knew and he wants us to understand: We need one another in our journey of faith.  Where would we be without each other?

David Benner writes, "If you are making significant progress on the transformational journey of Christian spirituality, you have one or more friendships that support that journey.  If you do not, you are not.  It is that simple."  

Do you have friends who are walking with you in your faith journey?  Who are your "fellow servants" your spiritual Farahs and Rupps who will tap you on the shoulder when you're tempted to run off and the moment calls for patience? 

Who are the people in your life you can be completely honest with - people who will hear our confessions and struggles without judgment and will encourage, pray or just "be with" you in the midst of what you're going through.  

If you have those kinds of friends, give thanks to and for them!  Think of ways to cultivate and deepen those connections.  Ask God if there are others you He might be calling you to walk with in your journey.

If you don't have those kind of friends, ask God to give you some.  Make time to get together with someone for a cup of coffee; to go for a walk; to have lunch...but make it an intentional time.  Don't just talk sports or movies or whatever...go deeper.  Ask good questions.  Listen well.  Give the other person space to share deeply and be themselves.  Don't judge when they share struggles or hurts.  Don't feel like you have to solve their problems.  Be present to them.  

It may be that you need to be vulnerable first.  You may need to open up and take the first risk by sharing something from deep within you.  Be willing to take that chance.

Deep friendships like this take time and intention.  But, they make all the difference in the world.  In time you may wonder, where in the world would we be without each other?

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