So we return to the text from Philippians, which I’ll paraphrase as “not being conceited, but treating other people with deference, looking out for their interests as you do your own.”
Reading this passage in context with all of Philippians 2, you’ll see how Paul constructs an imperative for unity within the church. From other passages we also know that unsaved people should know we believe in Christ because of how we care for each other (John 13:35), and that we are to serve each other out of love (Galatians 5:13).
Do you wince when you read those passages, like I do? I know I don’t love my fellow believers – at least, not like that. Sure, I have my social circles within which I express care and concern for the people I know, and I try to be polite to everybody, but I don’t go out of my way to look after the interests of others in the same way I do my own.
Our Church Culture Can Be Surprising Unhelpful
As I look around me at the vast evangelical sub-culture, I see books and trinkets, conferences and seminars, well-groomed pastors pitching teaching series, and a plethora of other Christian self-help paraphernalia to help us become more spiritual.
Yet believers in other countries have neither these resources nor, in many cases, the sheer freedom to obtain them even if they were available. And reportedly, communities of faith across the globe are flourishing, while the American church has ossified into just another marketing enterprise and political faction. It seems to me as though our mentality of consumerism has saturated our faith to the point where we assume that the act of buying stuff can itself instigate change, or sitting under the right celebrity preacher's teaching. Yet the explosive growth of Christianity in places like China proves we don't need anything but a desire for the Holy Spirit to work His will within us.
I can’t preach the virtues of Christ-like charity because I don’t display much of it in my own life. So please don’t think I’m trying to put you on a guilt trip while I’m sailing down the freeway of joyous morality.
Instead, consider this your invitation to take the initiative with me.
Don’t wait for your pastor to start modeling Christ-like charity. They’re as fallen as we are.
Don’t wait for some conservative political leader to craft Biblical social policy. Economics, not ethics, powers Washington, and the Gospel is not a political movement.
Each of us believers is called to take up our own cross and follow Christ. I think that means that ultimately, if anything is going to change for the better in our North American evangelical culture, it’s not going to start in the pulpit.
Until you and I are humiliated before Christ by our own conceit, the unity we profess to love as Americans won’t even be present in our churches.