Bible Studies for Life
Philippians 2:1-5; 13-15
On U.S. highways, an upside red triangle signifies the submissive action of yielding to another traffic flow. The signs are placed strategically by highway architects to make the roads safer to travel. In a sense, that’s what the cross does in our Christian relationships: it alters the flow of traffic.
Architecture of submission
One architectural feat where I-285 and I-85 join in Atlanta in a cloverleaf design has been named America’s number one highway bottleneck. The fascinating feature of this “Spaghetti Junction” is that there are so many inroads and offramps into one intersection.
Our relationships can sometimes feel like a spaghetti junction of sorts. In their letter to the Philippi Church, Paul and Timothy pleaded with them to yield like Jesus in their interpersonal relationships. The inroads to godly relationships are evident:
- any of Christ’s encouragement
- any of love’s consolation
- any of the Spirit’s fellowship, and
- any affection and compassion (Phil 2:1).
And any of these inroads would bring great traffic to any one of four outlets, which are:
- the same mind (mental off-ramp)
- the same love (emotional off-ramp)
- a united spirit (spiritual off-ramp), and
- one purpose (volitional off-ramp) (2:2).
Paul didn’t mind this complicated cloverleaf of relationships, because any merging traffic could lead to “complete joy” (2:1) and exit in the right direction for the church. No matter how complicated our relationships are, mutual submission is a reflection on the Grand Architect.
Attitude of submission
This submissive attitude in Jesus runs counter to our popular culture of self-help, self-esteem, and self-improvement. And sometimes, we let our current “all-about-me” culture define us more than Gospel submission.
Paul and Timothy, the missionary team, told the Philippi Church that whereas they had been looking out for themselves, they should now think about others even more (Phil 2:3-4). For a Christian to experience the kind of joy amidst trial of which they spoke, he has to empty himself of selfishness – actually “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (2:3).
Gospel submission, being like Jesus, mandates that our interest in others has a greater importance (2:4-5). Unfortunately, modern churches still argue over preferences of style, colors, and temperature. People still fight about their own likes and dislikes, and they demand preaching/teaching that caters to their perceived whims. Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not what I want, but Your will be done, Father” (Luke 22:42).
I’m glad He thought of us when He went to the cross. What would be more truly Christ-like would be to think in terms of someone beside yourself.
Action of submission
Our carnal nature will never generate submissive behavior. On the contrary, it is God Who is “at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
Paul and Timothy told the Philippi Church to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). They were to use their relationships to exercise their faith. They weren’t telling them to worry about losing their salvation, nor doubt its existence, nor think they could do anything to acquire it. But they were telling them that their faith would grow stronger with each Gospel application to their behaviors. The act of submitting would exercise their faith.
Submission can be enhanced by praise or marred by grumbling and arguments (2:14). The Philippians’ internal attitude would be proven by their actions based on the divine architecture of the Gospel. And that would be a witness within the perverse corruption of their generation (2:15). According to Paul and Timothy, our expressions should be that of humility as indicators of the Gospel’s traffic flow, a yield sign that defines the church’s connection to the cross, a moment to slow down the vehicle of our personal agenda, and yield to the Lord’s design.