A friend of mine, Jewish by birth, told me he was off to visit family during Passover. Unsure if I knew the history of the holiday, he told me how the Jews were slaves of Pharaoh and was rescued by God via a bunch of miracles. Then he added, “it’s all lies, anyway. Holidays are just an excuse for families to see each other.”
It got me thinking about how people seriously misdiagnose the motivations of true Christianity.
An excuse for family get-togethers? A way for people to be good to each other? Just another religion on a spectrum of beliefs?
The Motivations of Historic Christianity
I can imagine a Christian telling Paul “Religion is just an excuse for family get-togethers” and him, not helping himself, bursting out laughing. Maybe that’s a Luther thing.
Historic Christianity doesn’t take either a c’est la vie (such is life) view nor a Gospel-on-the-sidelines mentality. Historic Christianity really worked to save infants that were left to die but it also worked hard to show that the city of men will fade away while the city of God remains forever.
Something is going on here.
The Complicated Christian
Paul is a complicated man who can take his life and rejoice as it’s being poured out for the sake of others. He calls it a drink offering (2:17). In the Old Testament, apparently with every offering that was laid on the altar, there was a libation, a bit of wine, that was poured on top. (Num 15:5,7,10). Paul saw his life as that last bit poured on top of the sacrifice of faith by the Philippians.
The man was in prison specifically because he had used his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid an immediate death penalty: he had appealed to Caesar.
Furthermore, others take the fact that he’s in prison as a sign of weakness. After all, there were prophecies that Paul shouldn’t go to Jerusalem because he’d be arrested (Acts 21:10-14) and the man refused to turn around. His own fault he was jailed. These guys get confident and start preaching out of selfish ambition and trying to cause trouble (1:15-16).
What does Paul do about these preachers? Well, he rejoices (1:18) because Christ is preached.
But, in the same exact book he sees people that are preaching a different message altogether and he flips: these people are enemies of the cross of Christ (3:18). These aren’t people who are preaching the Gospel clearly. These are people who are against the gospel and are outright enemies of Christ. Watch out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, and look out for those who cut up their flesh! Their theology is crap (Phil 3:2, 8)!
The Resurrection: True Christian Motivation
Listen to how Paul describes his, and countless other Christian’s, motivation in Philippians 3:10: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share in his sufferings becoming like Christ in his death.
There are a few ways to know a person. One way is the way I know people on facebook. Sure, some of them I’m friends with in real life, and if you ask me I do know them. I might even be able to tell you what they like based on their social media feed. Ask me how well do I know my wife, I’ll answer quite differently.
Paul wants to know Christ the latter way. He wants to know everything about Christ becoming like him in his sufferings.
In addition, Paul, with all true Christians, is also partially motivated by the death of a man.
Plenty of people are motivated by the death of men. Christianity is different.
In fact the inventor of dynamite, a Christian and a pacifist, was motivated by the death of a man. One day he opened the newspaper and saw an obituary of a man: himself! The inventor’s brother had died and the newspaper, thinking that he had died, ran his obituary with the headline: The Merchant of Death has Died! Going forward, he took his money, tied it up in a fund and later became known for peace. His name was Alfred Nobel.
It helps to be motivated by death when you have a life to actually propel you and that’s the amazing thing about Christianity. Yes, Paul was motivated by the death of Christ but that in conjunction with the “power of Christ’s resurrection”.
Christ is alive.
God has highly exalted Christ in that he physically rose from the dead on the third day victoriously. He rose, bodily, not as a ghost but the tombstone was actually rolled away so that people would know that the same body that went in was the same body that came out. This Jesus would be seen and handled by many infallible proofs, so much so that he could show his marks on his hands and side—but then he was eventually physically taken up into heaven (Acts 1) and he’s waiting, at the right hand of the Father, for his enemies to be made his footstool. And it’s going to happen. Every single knee that is in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth will bow and every single tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord—whether they want to or not.
This mind-set isn’t an empty hope on some long dead martyr. This mind-set is to emulate the leader who lives right now and is united with Christians via the Holy Spirit.
Jesus reigns right now, and Easter is properly celebrated every year—as well as every Sunday every week—looking forward to his return.
Motivated to Follow Paul’s Examples
So when Paul gives examples to follow: be it of himself, of Timothy, or Epaphroditus—it is always people who emulate Christ in some way but it looks differently for each of them. Timothy isn’t in prison (Paul is), and Paul doesn’t almost die from getting sick (Epaphroditus does) and yet they’re all emulating Christ and embracing the suffering and being exceedingly concerned with the work here and now.
These examples, I think, reveal to us that this mentality is part of Christianity’s DNA. Christianity isn’t some excuse for getting together. The Gospel really is our only hope and we cling to it with that earnest expectation of Christ’s return. Nor is this message a reason for Christians to bury heads in the sand. It actually propels Christians to action in the here and now for hope in the future because we really think Jesus rose from the grave.
Maybe that’s embarrassing to see written by a modern man, but there you have it. I’m not shying away from it.
Christ is raised, we believe it, and we live like it really happened even if we sometimes are inconsistent about that. Deal with that real motivation and then we’re actually conversing about the right subject. We’re not talking family get-togethers or a reason for being good. We’re talking about believing someone who died is really alive.