Calling out the church’s gross self-interest.
I am already reaping incredible benefit from the latest new-to-me commentary on Philippians I bought recently, which was John Henry Jowett’s The High Calling. These brief meditations on St. Paul’s words to the church at Philippi are brimming with redolent truth. It is uncanny to me how resonant the words of an early 20th century minister are, as they still ring as clear and true as when he first delivered them. Indeed, considering all the brouhaha swirling in and around evangelicalism in 2021 (and, well, for the last several decades, actually), we’d do well to pause and consider a preacher’s words from 1909. Listen:
Many men are passionately devoted to party who care nothing at all about truth. It is so in political strife. Men become feverish in controversy, passionate in declamation; they labour night and day for a triumph, and when the triumph has been won they relapse into lethargy, and the sacred cause of the kingdom is forgotten and ignored. They are not chivalrous knights in a great crusade; they are small squabblers in a petty campaign. They fume for a trifle; they are cold to the august. They fight to conquer an enemy, not to emphasise a truth. And so it is in the Christian Church.
Our sectarianisms often eclipse our Christianity. The shrine is valued more than the faith, the letter more than the spirit, the man-made more than the God-born. Even while we serve, our eyes are not upon our Master that we may reflect His beauty; they are rather upon another company of believers, that by our competition we may trouble their progress. Yea, and many things are “done through faction.” And equally true is it that many things are done through “vainglory.” The applause of men is more pleasant and welcome than the presence of God. We appropriate to ourselves the glory which alone belongs to Him. We become termini rather than thoroughfares, ends in ourselves rather than ministers of God. Half tremblingly I write the words — we sit in the place of God, and “deck ourselves in majesty,” and take His dues. It is a transient sovereignty and as shallow as it is brief.
Let us humbly seek the good Spirit of God that He may deliver us from both fatalities — from the destructive fear of faction, and from the diseased conceit of vanity.1
I pray, with all that’s in me, that the church wakes up to its gross self-interest and negligence of the truth. That those who’ve been bought by the precious blood of the Lamb remember that it is their chief joy and glory to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). The church’s charge isn’t to wrestle for their own cause but for Christ’s cause. He’s the lone banner under which the church stands. I pray we find that to be true once again.
More thoughts to come soon on this theme.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
John Henry Jowett, The High Calling: Meditations on St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New York: Revell, 1909), 64–65.