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The Cross of Fellowship

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

– Philippians 2:1-8

For all of the celebration of friendship and togetherness that we see in our culture – is it an accident that one of the most popular shows of the last 20 years was called “Friends”? – abiding in the spirit of Babylon leads inevitably to a sense of isolation.

This should not surprise us. Indeed, how could it do otherwise, when the watchword of Babylon is It’s All About Me? As a result, supervisors use up their underpaid workers, then toss them aside when they cease to produce. We see generally intelligent people arguing that expecting obedience from children is oppressive. We have otherwise reputable newspapers celebrating the “love story ” of a man whose happily-ever-after happened when he abandoned his wife and children. Reneging on promises and failing to meet commitments is so common, it’s hard to even get hurt or offended when it happens, knowing as we do that we regularly do the same and worse to others.

This focus on self – my wealth (versus my duty to employees), my fulfillment (versus my duty to family), my appetites (versus my prior commitments) – makes true fellowship impossible. When I know that others are unreliable – because I myself am unreliable – I can’t afford trust. When I know that others will take advantage of me – because I myself stand poised to take advantage of others – I can’t afford vulnerability. When I know that others feel no duty to me – because I feel no duty to others – I can’t afford obedience. I can’t afford these things, that is, as long as I, too, am focusing on myself and my sense of security.

Jesus shows us another way: instead  of focusing on himself, he focused on God. To obey God’s will, Jesus abandoned divinity – the ultimate bling – for a smelly sweaty human body. He abandoned his throne for slavery. He was willingly tortured and killed. This is the faithfulness to which Paul encourages the church. This is the degree of sacrifice required for true gospel fellowship.

The only way to stand as the Body of Christ in a culture that is unparalleled in its narcissism is to throw away the playbook that says, “My wants, my needs, my comfort,” and take up the one that says,” Not my will, but yours, Lord.” When faced with our real flawed brothers  and sisters who hurt us – usually accidentally, but sometimes on purpose – the world says,”I deserve better,” but the follower of Christ says, “As I forgive, so will I be forgiven.” When faced with a decision that vexes us, the world says, “I’ll find a better church, one that does what I want,” but the follower of Christ says, “I am more concerned with our unity in Christ than with having my own way.”

It is a hard thing to willingly suffer for the sake of God and imperfect men and women. Yet this willingness to empty ourselves for the love of God and neighbor makes of us a sacrifice fit for our king. We must be willing to take up the cross of fellowship, which spells death for the ego and suffering for the will, if we would be friends of Jesus – or of each other.

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