“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:1-8
I included verses one through eight here more for context than anything, as I want to focus on the first two today.
In Sweden, more than any other place I have lived, the idea of a personal spirituality, if any exists at all, dominates religious conversation. But this concept is not secluded to Scandinavia. Culture demands that religious expression, more than ever, must remain enclosed, tucked away from view, and hidden.
But we see in Jesus’ words and the entirety of the Gospel that this is impossible, for we are “a city on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). In order for Paul to complete his joy, he needs for the church in Philippi to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Part of his joy is conditional upon his relationship to the church.
Apart from the church, we, like Paul, may indeed have joy, but where we lack in relationship, so we will lack in joy. I want to clarify that I am not saying that the Gospel in and of itself fails to fill us with joy, because it does and it should. But, rather, relationship is the completion, the crowning consummation of joy. The Gospel is a great feast, but it is best to enjoy such a feast with equally great company. The food of the Gospel will sustain us, energize us, and fill us, but the seasoning of relationship will cause us to enjoy and savor it all the more. Relationship, then, is the key that unlocks the door to joy.
And without relationship, without the church, we cannot obey God. It is impossible. We cannot give “encouragement in Christ,” or “comfort from love” or “affection or sympathy” (Philippians 2:1-2) without others around us. And the supreme commandments of Scripture demand that we send the Truth to the world, rather than keep Him for ourselves (1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 28:18-20).
A personal religion, then, blocks us not only from obedience, but also from a complete joy. And though I am often alone throughout most of my day, I find that home is in the Church. So let us seek first the Kingdom, knowing that when we seek him, we will find him, and when we find him, we will have joy. And when we have joy in him and in the Gospel, relationship will complete it.