Today’s Chocolate: Madécasse 92% Cocoa Pure Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Philippians 1
Welcome to a new letter from Paul. He wrote this one to the church at Philippi while he was imprisoned at Rome. As I read through the first chapter, I found myself asking: how am I gonna talk about this one? Paul’s all over the place! One moment he’s expressing his gratitude for the Philippian church, then he’s talking about preaching the gospel to his captors while he’s imprisoned, then he’s talking about how some people are preaching the gospel out of selfish motives but he doesn’t care because people are still hearing the truth about Jesus Christ. And that’s not the half of it–he’s got more to say about suffering and sacrificing and how faith manifests itself in action, to the point where I ask myself, what’s the theme here? Is there a theme? What ties it all together?
Then it hits me: the theme is Jesus Christ himself.
Look, I’m wary of over-focusing on a single thing. Without getting too far into the weeds, I think plenty of Christians drag the faith through the mud with their zeal for controversial political causes and vehement, vitriolic attacks on their opponents. And I think it’s even possible to get over-zealous for ostensibly good things like prayer, praise music, even Bible reading. Moderation in all things, right? Don’t get too religious, don’t go crazy with it. But here’s the catch: all these things are not worth throwing yourself headlong into because if you do, they will get in the way of your pursuit of something–someone–that’s actually worth pursuing, namely Jesus Christ.
You think about Peter walking out toward Jesus on the water in the middle of the storm, sinking when he takes his eyes off Jesus, in Matthew 14:22-33. Troubles have a way of arresting our attention, but imagine if Peter had walked out toward Jesus on a clear day and got distracted by the beautiful weather, the other disciples watching him in awe from the boat, or the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Even in that scenario, I can easily picture him sinking when he takes his eyes off the person enabling him to walk on water: Jesus Christ. Misapplied zeal is a horrible thing, but you could say the same thing of no zeal at all.
Don’t throw all your vigor into a useless pursuit, but don’t pursue moderation for its own sake either. There’s a verse from Proverbs: “Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:27). In my interpretation, the whole reason you shouldn’t turn to the right or left is so that you can go straight up the center unobstructed. It’s not going to be easy. Paul tells his readers, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (29). But the point remains: don’t waste steps chasing after things that don’t matter. They only serve to distract you from what does.
And that’s where Paul is as he begins this letter. In one of his most famous verses, he writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (21). Paul aims to make Jesus Christ–his gospel, his sacrifice, his salvation–the whole point of his own life. Even anticipating his death, he looks forward to being with the savior he’s followed on earth. He’s not about to deify good standing or moral behavior or religiosity. The only thing worth deifying is the actual Deity: the crucified and resurrected Messiah, Jesus Christ.