17 Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models. 18 As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross. 19 Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. 20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.
These verses make me shudder.
Shudder because these are verses ripped from the context of the passage, and are used far too often as an excuse to be rude. Or unkind. Or sanctimoniously superior. The verses become words of self-satisfaction when there’s a bloated estimation of their personal holiness.
“people live as enemies of the cross…”
“their god is their stomach…”
“their thoughts focus on earthly things…”
Usually, these verses are taken and used to club people over the head who happen to look/dress/smell/love/pray/eat/drink differently that you or I do. It’s usually said with faux sorrow at their sinfulness. And yet, the person preaching has not looked in the mirror, or gazed into his/her own soul lately. It so much easier to point out the sins of others if you don’t take stock of your own…
It’s much easier to criticize than change yourself. At least, that’s what I’m thinking…
And then I read this…
31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 35 Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”
Here’s the scary part for me as I read these verses… The very people who are supposed to be caring for God’s people, teaching them and helping them grow in their love and knowledge for God — those are the people who have robbed the chicken coop and left it empty, all the while screeching that the fox is coming.
And THEY are the fox. Or should I say WE are…
We run from the welcoming embrace of God. We drive others away from God’s love and protection. We built huge fences of doctrine and fortresses of big theological words.
And God will have none of it.
What are we to do? Perhaps Paul’s words are a good reminder: “become imitators of me” (Phil 3:17) and live like my “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). To me, that takes a lot of the things that I think are OK to do and tosses them out the window. I just don’t think God will welcome citizens into heaven who have rude, self-righteous, angry words to say about their brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of where they worship on a Sunday morning.
Church, it’s time to get over yourself. The building is empty and the chicks are waiting, still sheltered by God, for you to come home to your roost, open the doors of the coop, and let them in…
Oh. In case you wondered, that includes me too.
Thanks be to God.