An Omen For DestructionFr. Barnabas Powell
My grandmother use to say “Your actions are so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.” When I was small, I didn’t understand what she was trying to teach me, but as I got older I began to realize that she was trying to tell me that my actions were a more trustworthy insight into my true beliefs than my words.
And even after all these years, I still struggle with the implications of this wisdom.
But I guess we all eventually confront the inconvenient truth that our words and our actions can sometimes not match at all. But when they do, Oh Boy…
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 1:27-30; 2:1-4:
Brethren, let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine. So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.
St. Paul is writing to his beloved Phillipian Church and his words ring so loudly, we are still hearing them today! What an amazing passage! But make no mistake, St. Paul is both warning and instructing the Philippians and us as well.
First, the Instruction: Live your life worthy of the Gospel! Stand firm in one spirit! Have one mind as you “strive” (I love that word. It’s a war word.) side by side with each other. Never be afraid of your Opponents! Paul means these Philippians to be Orthodox on Purpose, to allow the message of the Resurrected Jesus to actually change their lives AND unify them even in the face of opposition. He tells them that living in the way of Christ is going to accomplish two very different outcomes. First, this purposeful living the message of the Faith, allowing the wisdom of the Faith to actually change your mind, actions, and perspectives, will unite you to each other! But, this lifestyle will also stir up opposition from the kingdom of darkness because your living as a faithful community will be seen as an “omen to them of their destruction.”
Next, the Warning: Yes, those who reject the wisdom of the Faith will treat you as crazy, as backward, as socially unacceptable, because your living this Faith will be such a contrast to their blind selfishness that they will naturally perceive your life in Christ as a foretaste of their judgment! No wonder the kingdom of darkness screams when Christians stand for morality and truth. No wonder they hate us. I’d hate us too if every time I came in contact with someone they reminded me by their loving and humble life that I am headed for a fall! A consistent Christian life is hated by others because it reminds the darkness of how empty it really is!
Paul finishes up his wisdom to us today by reminding us that the path of this Christian life creates such a sense of humility and love that we always “count others better than” ourselves. And it drives us to think of others as much or more than we think of what we need for ourselves. What a contrast to the mentality of “he who dies with the most toys wins” or “always look out for number 1” or “I have to demand my rights.” This dark and dead-end mentality of selfish living will always be less than what a true believer experiences in living for others instead of himself. That means lovingly warning others that their lifestyle is destructive and offering them the loving home of the Church to join with the rest of us in being healed by God’s grace through the sacramental life of the Faith.
Today, are you experiencing the life-changing effects of the wisdom of the Life of Jesus? Is this changed life deepening the unity you are experiencing with the people of your parish? And are you seeing how those who reject the Faith see you as an “omen” of their destruction? Know this, being Orthodox on Purpose produces this kind of life.
P.S. Dear Lord, please forgive me for my short-sighted self-centered living. This broken way of living only produces division and isolation. I wasn’t created to live this way, Lord, and You have come to undo this spiritual slavery in my life and the lives of those around me. Help me today to see my own life becoming more like You and draw together us all in our local communities so that we can be the “city set on a hill that cannot be hid.” Amen.