What kind of people were the Christians of the first century? Were they "super-Christians," totally dedicated, so devoted to the Lord that they would put twentieth century Christians to shame? We tend to think so. And if we look only at the Christians of Jerusalem before the church was scattered, our conclusions will be well founded. But by the time Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, the churches of his day were much like those of our day. His description of those with whom he was associated is given in this verse: "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. 2:21).
There were notable exceptions, however, among Paul's associates, men and women whose devotion to the Lord and love for their brethren serve as wonderful examples. Paul himself was one: "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all" (Phil. 2:17). Timothy was another: "For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state" (Phil. 2:20). Epaphroditus was yet another: "Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me" (Phil. 2:30). Not regarding his life! There is the real test of brotherly love. This is the love manifested by Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. These did not regard their own lives when their brothers and sisters were in need. The love which they manifested is the love required of all: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn. 3:16).
The phrase, "Love . . . seeketh not her own" (1 Cor. 13:4,5), suddenly takes on new meaning. Love does not just send a card to the sick, or prepare a dish for the bereaved. Love does not just do repair work for a widow, or carry a fruit basket to the aged. These are all good works and are manifestations of love. We do not mean to minimize the value of such works. But real love, if the occasion arises, goes beyond such acts of service. Real love does not seek to preserve even her own life. Real love willingly lays down her life for the brethren. Love gives more than material things; love gives herself.
Few Christians of the first century had that kind of love. And when we observe the selfishness, the petty jealousy, the greed, the desire for pre-eminence, the gossip, the backbiting, feuding, and quarreling that are characteristic of brethren of our day, we are sure that few have that kind of love today. Aquila and Priscilla once "laid down their necks" for Paul (Rom. 16:3,4). Let the reader make a list of the Christians of his acquaintance for whom he would lay down his neck! It is easy to think that we would die for the Lord if our faith were so tested, but "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen" (1 Jn. 4:20)?
Doctrinal error that threatens the salvation of God's people must be fought. Sin must be corrected. But we have little doubt that many of the problems that trouble the church today result from our being like the "all" who "seek their own" rather than like those who "regard not their lives" for the sake of brethren.
How is this love developed? The same chapter of Philippians provides the answer: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). Here is the great goal of Christians -- becoming "conformed to the image of His Son." When we reach that goal, we will have found maturity in all aspects of Christianity, and we will have learned to love others as God would have us to love, even to willingness to die for them.
- by Bill Hall