Attentiveness: Both/And, Part 2
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
Zoroastrianism best describes the spirit of our age. It is a cosmic vision of creation where all is created by one of two gods: EITHER by the evil god Ahriman, OR by the good god Ahura Mazda. All of the world, and every part of creation is either good or evil.
I believe that today, our politics and even our churches reflect too much of this dualistic consciousness. Everything is either/or. We push ideas, people, and institutions into extreme categories creating unnecessary tensions and divisions. The result is divisions in institutions, in churches, and in families. We have all experienced this, and it is not Christian.
Scripture tells a completely different story. Everything is created good, and everything is tainted by sin. Reformed theologians are a helpful guide here in talking about total depravity: every single facet of our humanity is fallen, though created good. Our emotions (so don’t trust them), our bodies (so take care of them), our minds (so study the Bible to correct them), et cetera. All is created good, and all is fallen. We need to remind ourselves over and over again that all has been created good by God…
The past few days I have been reading through Nehemiah, Ecclesiastes, and Philippians. It has been a remarkable time reflecting on these three together. However, what has brought me back to a healthy both/and theology is Philippians.
I believe the first two chapters of Philippians are like a lighthouse on a dark and foggy night. Jesus is the meaning, the model, and the might (or power) for our lives in community. The driving concept in keeping everything together is Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection is the good news (the Gospel). Jesus or Gospel is mentioned or alluded to twenty-eight times in the first chapter. He is both our grace, and our righteousness; both our peace and our power; both our deliverance and our duty. Jesus is Lord.
And, Jesus is our life. He is our identity. The more we live into Him, the more we become fully human. And (here is the difficult part), living fully for him may cost us imprisonment or even death. Jesus (who conquered death), is worth giving the ultimate sacrifice.
Therefore, the ultimate irony is that the supreme identifying virtue of Jesus (the Creator God) is humility. So, Jesus is both powerful and humble. And, we are invited to be fully ourselves and to be identified with Jesus through humility. “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, and sharing in the Spirit…be of the same mind.” (Phil 2:1)
And then there is more “both/and.” The Philippians are to obey Christ both in Paul’s presence and in his absence (2:12). God is at work in them both to will and to work out their salvation (2:13).
One element, however, is not a both/and characteristic and that is the supreme virtue mentioned above: humility. Since it is supreme, it is absolute. We are not to be both humble and protective of our reputation. Neither are we to be both humble and “safe.” Humility means always counting others and their welfare first. Humility means serving others even at the cost of my own comfort, my own safety, my own reputation, and even my own life.
This kind of absolute humility (described in chapter two) only makes sense because of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ (chapter one). Therefore, as Paul says:
“It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you…” (2:16, 17)
Lord, grant us the grace to see Jesus and then, in complete humility, to lay all our treasures, hopes, and dreams at his feet as we, in imitation of Christ, live our lives for others.
Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.