Monday, August 17, 2009

National Day (2009), The Day (Sometime In The Future), Philippians 4:2-9

Buah Keluak and Belachan Paste with Lobster Crackers
Buah keluak blechan and keropok-induced illness did little to dampen the enjoyment of Singapore's best National Day Parade in recent memory, thanks to the vision of BG Tan Chuan-Jin, creative direction of Ivan Heng, the oversight of Col Desmond Tan, the hard work of 7,000 other people, the birthday wishes from Red Dotters everywhere and the 8:22pm pledge mobs. Despite the usual Singaporean sneers (as Malaysians say, you're not Singaporean unless you complain about everything) at the "Come Together: Reaching Up, Reaching Out" theme, the parade demonstrated good reasons for the propaganda about national unity. Only guts gripped with some fear and uncertainty wrought by the simulated terrorist attacks (Chapter 2: Defending Our Homeland) would understand the need for defence spending, national service and a well-trained total defence force; and only the reminder of bad news upon bad news - financial crises, hijackings, plane crashes, pandemics, fiascos would bring a grudging appreciation of a strong government and those National Day Rally speeches (Chapter 6: We Will Survive). And for once, the Malay, Chinese, Indian and "Others" dance segments were meshed into a whole to represent the unity of races.

Medication for a Sore Throat and a Lost Voice
In sermons, we too hear the call to the unity of God's people. What is the point of this unity? Is it, just like the theory of national solidarity, that a bundle of sticks isn't easily broken?

It seems that in Philippians 4:2-9, Paul is less concerned about the damage to the drifting household of Christ per se (which is important and which he addresses in other letters) than the very minds of the disputing ladies, Euodia and Syntyche.

We can tell that their dispute isn't over a gospel issue essential to salvation (cf. Paul's admonition of false doctrine in Philippians 3:1). So apart from such issues, Paul isn't concerned with the merits of the case. Neither does he tell the women to list all the lovely things they can spot in each other and dwell on them. He is, instead, concerned about focusing them on the core of their beings - their minds.

We know that these ladies are professing Christians, who have laboured side by side with Paul in the gospel and their names, like the other fellow workers, are probably in the book of life (Philippians 4:2-3). But no Christian however true can have attained perfection in the here-and-now (cf. Philippians 3:12). So Paul pleads with them to "agree in the Lord" (Philippians 4:2), which in the Greek apparently reads to "have the same mind" (Philippians 2:2)..."in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5).

Whereas the minds of the evildoers, the worshippers of the flesh rather than God, are filled with earthly things (Philippians 3:2-4) and therefore their lives are obsessed with earthly gain, the worshippers of the one true God are to be filled with heavenly things and heavenly gain, for these are the only things that will endure. So "whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8) is to fill their minds and occupy their entire lives. In other words, the things of Christ, his work and ultimately things that will bring glory to God.

With their eyes fixed firmly on the glory of God and not their own dubious pirated glory, they would have the same mind, the mind of Christ that would been seen in an attitude of submission to God and service to others. They would do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, considering the other more significant than themselves (Philippians 2:1-8). There would be none of that nastiness that comes with caring and valuing the present too much and clinging on to earthly things too strongly.

But Satan is cunning and our hearts are deceitful above all things. It is too easy for the goal to slide from praising God to self-glorification and self-pride, from divine promotion to self-promotion: perhaps the rash of grateful people telling us how our talk or bible study really brought God's word home to them, or being mentioned in testimonies of the newly-baptised as the person who most impacted them for Christ, or just being generally known as the go-to godly person in church whose wise counsel can be trusted etc.

Perhaps it becomes most obvious to us where our hearts and minds lie when our emotions change wildly, in line with the changing whims and fancies of fellow humans, and with the vagaries of life.

When our minds are on the things of the flesh, we will not, unlike Paul though he was in prison and facing certain death, be able to remain in a constant state of rejoicing. We will not be able to rejoice that the gospel is being preached (Philippians 1:18) because, honestly, that isn't our real concern; we cannot rejoice all the time because we think it is by our efforts alone that God's work is done and measure the success of our ministry with human indicators rather than depend on God to do his work through us even as we work hard knowing that it will all be worthwhile in the end (Philippians 1:18-19, 2:17) because Jesus has been vindicated and will come again to rule the world visibly.

But we don't have to live this way. For we like Paul are already citizens of heaven. We too can absolutely certain of our future and look forward to it eagerly. And because our stability is based on eternal things, we can rejoice and respond to all situations in gentleness, graciousness, reasonableness (Philippians 4:5). We will not be temperamental. Many things will happen to us as we live out our heavenly citizenship on earth, but because our minds are filled daily with the knowledge that God works in us and will finish the good work he started, we can not be anxious but can be fully dependent on God by prayer. And the peace that is already ours (the objective peace between God and us giving birth to the subjective feeling of peace) will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). Total defence all rolled into One.

What is the first thing we think of when we wake up and the last thing we smile at /cry about as we drop off to sleep? What /who do we choose to occupy our idle thoughts as we wait for transportation or sit in a jam or nod as though we were giving the interminable work meeting our full attention? What is the first thing we decide to think of when a piece of good news surprises us or the first person we turn to when bad news hits? Mindful preparedness and prayer are an integral part of total defence.

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