Fall is a difficult season of the year. It is definitely not summer any more, but it really isn’t winter either. It is a season in between. Living “in between” can be a challenge. Every snow storm reminds us that we have to learn to drive with winter driving skills. Then the snow goes away and we resume our summer driving habits only to have to learn winter driving skills again. We wear our summer jackets until it gets too cold and then we finally get out our winter jackets only to have a few days when it is so warm that they are totally out of place.
Another “in between” place exists for a person with dual citizenship. I don’t know what it would be like to be a dual citizen of Canada and some other country. Are there times when you would have a longing for the country you are not living in? Are there times when you don’t know which political system to watch or where to vote? Perhaps you have to decide which passport to give when you cross the border into a different country?
I don’t know much about that kind of dual citizenship, but I do know that being a citizen of this earth and a citizen of heaven has a lot of challenges to it. This morning, I would like to think with you about living in this between space of being citizen’s of earth and citizen’s of heaven. The text which will give us some guidance is Philippians 4:4-9. The concept flows quite naturally in this text. Last week when we looked at Philippians 3:15-4:3, we noted that some people are enemies of the cross of Christ, but that we are citizens of heaven. We looked at one aspect of that dual citizenship as we were directed to live with a passion for Jesus. In the last part of the message, we began to think about some of the practical aspects of such a life. Gordon Fee says, “devotion and ethics for Paul are inseparable responses to grace.” The truly godly person longs for God’s presence and also lives in God’s presence by “doing” the righteousness of God. Such practical aspects of living in the spaces in between are described in the text we will look at today.
It Isn’t Always A Happy Place
The space between is not always a happy space. There is the uncomfortable uncertainty when one foot is on the dock and the other on the boat and you have not committed to either. There is the fear when surgery is scheduled, but you have not had it yet or the moment when the needle goes in but the freezing hasn’t taken hold yet. We are not usually smiling and happy at those times.
The space between heaven and earth is not always a happy space either. There is the danger of persecution, the reality that we will be misunderstood and the ever present challenges of life on earth like illness and accidents.
Yet in that potentially unhappy place, we are called to be marked by joy. Paul says in 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Our past experience of salvation in Christ assures us of acceptance with God, our present is lived with our hand in the hand of a loving Father and our future is secured as an experience of eternal blessing. We have every reason to live in the in between with joy. One writer says, Joy is not “a Christian option, but an imperative.” If you want to know more about the joy we can have as Christians, I would refer you to the message I preached on joy a month ago.
Some People Are Difficult
As we live in this “in between” space, it is also a challenge to relate to the people we meet. As long as we are in between, we are not yet perfect and our brothers and sisters are not yet perfect and are sometimes difficult to get along with. We also need to relate to people who aren’t even Christians and we don’t always know how to relate to them.
To that “in between” challenge, Paul says in verse 5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” The NIV translates this word as “gentleness,” but as the wide variety of translations indicate, it isn’t clear exactly what this word means. (NAS - forbearing spirit; ESV – reasonableness; TEV – gentle attitude; KJV – moderation; Message – “make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side.”) My sense of all these different translations is that this is a call to be those who extend grace.
This is one of the most difficult things about the in between life we live. What is our attitude towards others? We are most often gracious and gentle towards those who are our friends. We give them the benefit of the doubt. We trust them. We encourage them and we love them. But the text does not say “be evident to your friends.” It says to all! What is our attitude towards those with whom we don’t agree? How do we treat those we don’t get along with? Do we look at them with disgust? Do we gossip about them? Do we avoid them? Do we harbour bitter and angry thoughts about them? I have often said that the reason Paul says in Colossians 3:13, “bear with one another” is because there is often something in us and in others that we have to bear. We are not perfect, but we are not to use that imperfection as a weapon. We are to treat each other with gentleness and forbearance, always extending grace.
This is a matter that becomes even more important in our relationship with those who are outside of the circle of faith in Christ. What is our attitude towards unbelievers? As followers of Christ, we have “come out from among them.” I fear that that direction in our life has sometimes caused us to adopt negative attitudes towards unbelievers. Do we care about them, do we love them, do we trust them, or do we treat them with contempt or fear? Are we judgemental towards them? How do Dave & Judy minister care to AIDS patients when some of them are there because of a sinful lifestyle? How do Kent Dueck and his staff at Inner City Youth Alive care for people who are drug users or gang members? They will never be successful if they are judgemental or manifest fear or even hatred. How did Jesus treat those who lived in sin? What was his attitude towards the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who broke the jar of ointment and poured it on his feet? It is always amazing to me that he was so involved with those who were sinners and cared for them so much that it says about him in Luke 7:34, “‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” He was willing to forego a good reputation with the Pharisees in order to have a reputation of grace towards sinners. Oh that we had a reputation, like Jesus, as those who are grace extending in all of our relationships.
It Is A Scary Place
There are some “in between” spaces which are quite scary. The space between being on the floor and being on the escalator is an uncomfortable place. If you stay on the floor, you will never get to the second floor, but this thing is moving and if you step wrong, you could fall. What scares you about having dual citizenship?
To those fears, Paul says in verse 5, “The Lord is near.”
Which sense of “near” is intended? Does the writer mean that God is present with us at all times or that the coming of the Lord is very close? Both concepts are encouraging and perhaps we shouldn’t try to decide, but be encouraged by both.
On the one hand, God’s nearness reminds us that no matter what challenge we are facing in life or what fear presents itself because we are living in a hostile world, God’s presence protects, guides and comforts us. Like it says in Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
On the other hand, the thought of the nearness of the Lord’s coming can also keep us walking with joy and grace. When Jesus comes back again, we will be taken up into heaven and all of the troubles and trials of living “in between” will be over. Like the song says, “soon and very soon we are going to see the King.” While we live in between, we do so with the knowledge of the hope of what is coming
What About The Things In The World?
A number of years ago, I was at the Assiniboine Park and saw a group of young people from an identifiable conservative Mennonite group enjoying themselves on roller blades. I was surprised that they were doing this. Why? What was I thinking? I was thinking that these people have a reputation for what they don’t do and here they were doing something. Have you ever wrestled with similar things in your own life? Have you ever felt guilty about enjoying a vacation or a good movie on TV or a secular concert? How can we live in this world? Can we embrace the good things in the world? How can we embrace them in a way that is consistent with our heavenly citizenship?
Paul’s answer is found in Philippians 4:8 when he says, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
Value The Valuable
What is interesting about the list of virtues in this verse is that it is not distinctively Christian. The things listed here are values and principles which we find in the New Testament, in the Old Testament and even among people of Greco Roman background. The Philippians who read this would have recognized all of these principles from the stories which they had heard growing up.
It is like what Robert Fulghum, in his book, “Everything I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” writes about the basic good things he learned in kindergarten. He writes, “These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
So Paul directs our attention to such basic “kindergarten” truths. He speaks of truth – which is that which is not concealed or falsified. It suggests integrity. He speaks of that which is noble. Homer first uses this term for “to shrink from.” The idea of shrinking from the gods leads to the sense of awe or reverence, first in the general form of respect, then in the more specifically religious form of veneration. What is “right” refers to that which observes legal norms, so when we fulfill obligations and keep promises we are doing what is right. The original meaning of purity is “what awakens awe” but in the New Testament it speaks of moral purity, of innocence, of that which is not tainted in any way. The words “lovely” and “admirable” invite us to those actions and attitudes which are acceptable and pleasing and which are a good thing.
In mid sentence, Paul all of a sudden stops and adds the proviso that if these things are excellent and praiseworthy, they should be practiced. It is almost as if he realizes that there is nothing specifically Christian about these things, but that they are good things to do. Nevertheless, he seems to be adding that for those who are followers of Christ, even these things must be raised to a higher level of practice. So he adds, if they are excellent, that is if they are the best, if they are eminent and contain virtue filled with Christian content then they are worthy of heavenly citizens. He adds also if they are worthy of praise, that is if they are in keeping with God’s own righteousness, then we should “think about such things.”
But what does it mean to “think about such things?” The word used for “think about” is an interesting word. It means more than just to day dream it means “consider.” What Paul is saying is that there are some good things in this world and we should have no hesitation about embracing those good things, but we need to do so with discernment. Such discernment means that we don’t just accept what everyone else in society does. On the other hand, it also means that we don’t just construct a fence of legalistic rules which are never evaluated and considered. Rather, we need to be willing to ask the hard questions. What is good here? What can I embrace and affirm? What can I do to add the distinctively Christian element to this way of living or acting.
A few weeks ago in the C&C SS, we were discussing racism. We talked about aboriginal culture and recognized that from the time that Europeans came to Canada, we have judged aboriginal culture and have even forced aboriginal people to reject their own culture in order to become Canadian or to become Christian. We have been judges of their culture. Yet in all that time, have we ever really evaluated our culture? Have we critiqued our European culture to discern which of our values are truly Biblical values? Is democracy a Biblical value? Is the free market system a Biblical value? Is consumerism and materialism a value that comes from the way in which God does things? To consider these things means that we will be willing to lay our cultural assumptions next to the Word of God, next to these verses and critique our cultural assumptions so that we can truly begin to understand and embrace what is “excellent and praiseworthy.”
As we wrestle with our place in the world, it has been our temptation to reject the world and to separate ourselves from it. This verse, as it uses standard values that are common in the world, acknowledges that not everything which belongs to our culture is wrong or evil. There are many good things in culture – sports, music, beauty, truth, science - and as we encounter these things, instead of being suspicious of them, we should discern and ask, “are they true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable.” We are then encouraged not to reject, but to accept and affirm those things that are good in the world. So, for example, participation in sports or school musicals are good things because team building, exercise, skill development, are all things that are good. Of course, we also need to transform these good things and raise them to a higher level so that they are infused not only with what is noble, but also with what is excellent and praiseworthy. So when we are participating in hockey, we affirm the good things, but we also provide a model for how those good things can be excellent – so that competition can be affirmed as it challenges people to rise to a higher level of excellence, but which also acknowledges that competition is not everything. I appreciated Milt Stegall’s testimony when the Bombers lost the Eastern semi-final. It was obvious that he was deeply disappointed, so much so that he even covered the camera lens when they tried to film him in his disappointment. But the next day when he was interviewed, he had a good perspective. He said, “it’s only football.” I think in that example, we saw the actions of a Christian who embraced the good of the things of the world, but lived at a higher level as a Christian.
I appreciate Gordon Fees comment that we “approach the marketplace, the arts, the media, the university, looking for what is ‘true’ and ‘uplifting’ and ‘admirable’ but that we do so with a discriminating eye and heart, for which the Crucified One serves as the template.”
It Can Get Confusing
Living in between is not always an easy way to live. It can be confusing. It isn’t going to be black and white. How can we live effectively?
Paul directs the Philippians and says to them in verse 9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul was the model for the Philippians. He showed them how to react to suffering when he spoke about being in chains, but encouraged them not to be frightened in 1:28. He demonstrated his passion for Christ when he said, “I want to know Christ” and he told them his testimony regarding his determination not to put “confidence in the flesh.”
Ultimately, his example was valuable as he modeled his life after Jesus. In I Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
If we want to live in this difficult in between space, it will be helpful if we find models to follow who are clearly following Christ.
I think we have had a very good model placed before our eyes this week. Harry Lehotsky’s funeral was this week. He preached the gospel and he loved people. He was involved in the city in such a way that even politicians attended his funeral. In his compassion for Christ and his love for people, we have seen a good model and we should follow it.
Is it always going to be comfortable to stand in the in between? No, it is not.
Yet, we have no choice. We must stand there and live there. How will we do it?