Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication and Media Ecology
Palm Beach Atlantic University
“. . . that I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Philipians 3:9).
Just like everyone else in the world, contemporary Christians all over the globe are navigating the rough waters of the pandemic. Some have lost friends and family members, others have lost work, their lives upended. The vast majority, however, are dealing with the emotional sludge of screen fatigue and a “Groundhog Day” monotony. These losses and discomforts are not the torture of a “crown of thorns,” nor are they a grisly death on a cross, but they do constitute suffering. The suffering is real and cannot be glossed over by quoting a verse or ignoring the pain. How then does one deal with the massive upheaval, ever-increasing social unrest, and daily inconveniences of life in isolation? How might the Gospel be communicated in such a time as this? The Apostle Paul provides a path for those in Philippi’s first century, and it remains to this day the road out of the woods.
There, in the midst of chapter 3, Paul cautions the young gathering of believers against the “evil workers,” referring to them as the ones who would try to add a rite, ritual, or some other manner of formulaic action to their thinking about righteousness. He sums up the importance of self-surrender by saying, “that I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;” (3:9). It is clear his words were written not to establish a new religion, nor to create a rule for the young believers to follow, but to encourage and uplift them, always pointing to knowing Christ.
Some may call up other words in this letter like the admonitions, and exhortations to “walk worthy” (1:27). Indeed, let us do so. Paul qualifies these statements immediately however, saying: “Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (3:16). There is no judgement coming from Paul’s pen. He encourages steadfastness among these believers according to the degree that they have already walked in faithfulness. And, what is the rule? The rule is love (2:1-2).
Paul’s next breath may be the most explicit: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings . . .”. And here, in the midst of all the encouraging, uplifting and “pressing on” discussed later in the chapter, the strongest statement underpins all the rest. It is the importance of knowing Christ. Yes, the simplicity and foundational honesty of knowing Him; that is Paul’s point. It is where the power resides—the power of the resurrection. We may sermonize about this glorious fact of the faith, but words are never enough. Words do not equal convincement. The power of the Gospel must be communicated through lives shared with one another according to the rule of love. In fact, this Gospel of love is communicated non-verbally, perhaps even more than with our words. Non-verbal communication accounts for up to 93% of all daily communication. The hours we spend preparing, speaking, or listening to Gospel messages are important, but how is the power communicated? As powerful as they are, words come second. First is living with others by the rule of love, which is more significant than the most brilliant message we might craft. That is the power of the Gospel, and that’s where true communication happens.
Reflection: What communication practices help you to stretch beyond your own daily challenges to consider the needs of others? Ask yourself: When is the last time I saw the face of Christ in another?
Today’s Challenge: As we consider our circle of friends and family, is there someone who might be encouraged by a text, a phone call, a kind word or a smile? Consider communicating affirmation and encouragement non-verbally, someone with whom you do not necessarily have daily interaction. Let Christ’s light shine through us this way today.