My text this evening is Philippians 2:19-24
For present purposes I am going to use the N.I.V. translation: “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interest, not those of Jesus Christ.”
Before I get into this, however, I need to share what I saw Friday morning. Let’s call it “One eyed Jacks”. Actually it came even clearer in conversation with a friend yesterday.
By the time I got off the phone I was ready to write something under the subject head of “Streets, ditches, and parking lots.” I don’t know if that is going to get written in the process of writing what I want to say here, but perhaps.
What I saw, is that there are many who read the Bible with only one eye. Often they have already been told what it all means, and sure enough, that’s all they can see there. This is basic to the stability of most denominations, and “church institutions,” even the “non-denominational” ones. Even “house church” isn’t exempt.
Experience tells me that by looking at things with only one eye, we lose “depth perception.” It takes two eyes to see into anything with any depth. Perhaps by now you have already noticed that the Bible is pretty deep, in fact deep beyond any likelihood of human understanding -at least, on this side of Jesus’ second coming.
Reading with two eyes can mean many things, but for the present I would like to examine one aspect of two-eyed reading and understanding. What I want to say here is that we need to read about God with both eyes, one focused on His Word, as revealed in the Bible, and the other, focused on His Word as revealed in the things created, Romans 1:19, 20.
If we go through life with only one eye open, we are clueless about the creation. If we read the Bible with only one eye open, we are bound to be religious. Jesus came that we might have life.
So here’s the deal: Jesus said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” (speaking of the Pharisees, Jesus went on:) Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Matthew 15:13,14
Apparently there are people trying to get somewhere. And the way we normally get somewhere is a “street.” Even then, right next to streets are “ditches.” So the problem is, when you are trying to get somewhere with a blind leader, you wind up in the “ditch.” So for now, it is enough to see that a “ditch” is one bad, but close alternative to a “street.” We will take a little better look at a “street” in a moment, but first, I would like to bring this into the twenty first Century by saying a word about parking lots. Parking lots are also a close alternative to a “street.” Where a blind guide is likely to lead you into a ditch, a “one- eyed jack” can see just well enough to get you into a parking lot. In either case, “ditch” or “parking lot,” you’re not getting anywhere once you get there. So if you want to get somewhere, it is a street that you are looking for, and should be on. And it’s best if you have both eyes open when you are on the way. (Did I mention that Jesus is “the Way…”?)
At first glance it may look like a “one-eyed jack” is a better guide than one that is blind. Problem is, you really can’t get anywhere with either. Maybe that’s why “church” buildings need to be next to parking lots.
Jesus has opened up to us a new creation, and a new kind of a city, a spiritual city, and the “streets” of this spiritual city are “…pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” Revelation 21:21b
Keep in mind that a street is a way of getting somewhere. Even in a spiritual city, we need to get somewhere. In God’s spiritual city, “The New Jerusalem,” the way we get somewhere is love. You can see this better in the Greek than you can in English, because in The Greek, Christ is “Christos”, and gold is “Chrusos” As I have already mentioned, they both derive their functional definition from the Greek word “Chraomai,” i.e. “to furnish what is needed.” In this case, it’s “what is needed” to get somewhere. The bottom line is, without love we are not going anywhere.
“Blind guides”, and “one-eyed jacks” are suffering from a love deficit. Even before Jesus went to the cross, there were to many lawyers. He died to put the lawyers out of business. Not only was the law nailed to the tree the day he said He loves us, but He died to make us into lovers, not lawyers. The golden “street” is love. This is why it is important to be lovers, because the “ditches” and the parking lots are full of lawyers. Don’t go there. Not only did Jesus say, “Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers… Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” Luke 11:46, 52, but Paul went on to say: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong?” 1 Corinthians 6:7 (I like the N.I.V on this one)
So you see, no matter how you look at it, we aren’t getting anywhere with lawyers, except, “parking lots” outside their places of religious business, or ditches due to taking their advice.
So much for “Streets, ditches, and parking lots.” Now with both eyes open, let’s see if we can get somewhere with our text from Philippians.
“I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interest, not those of Jesus Christ.”
To begin with, I think we should narrow the subject matter to make this a little more hopeful. I wouldn’t want to be accused of making too broad an application here. Let’s suppose that Paul only has those that “he has,”or that “I have.” That way, the “everyone” he is referring to is limited to those Paul has.” That makes this a little more optimistic than it would be if we read him as talking about “everyone” in the whole world.
So let’s just say that there are those who Paul “has,” and they are the ones that Paul is speaking about here. That wouldn’t be too far out, would it?
So let’s say that there is Timothy, and then there is “everyone” else, just so were clear on who Paul might be talking about here. In reading over the “New Testament” we can get an idea of who might be understood to be among those that Paul “has.” For instance, Paul “had” Titus even before he “had” Timothy. Then there were those who Paul didn’t “have,” John Mark, for instance, who was a son to Peter, 1 Peter 5:13. Paul never claimed him as also his son. Then there are the Corinthians. Paul said that he had become a kind of father to them, 1 Corinthians 4:14, even called then “his dear children.” Paul said even more emphatic things to the Philippians. (Philippians 4:1, Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20) And of course there were others that Paul speaks of as ministering with him, those he had discipled in apostleship. And even elders, like the ones at Ephesus that had more than likely been set in place under Paul’s apostolic oversight. So we don’t have to go beyond what is written to appreciate that there was a rather substantial “everyone” group in Paul’s life, ministry and experience.
Having established the “who” part, let’s now take a look at the “difference” part. On the one hand there was Timothy, apparently standing alone, with his single-hearted interest in the welfare of others, and then there was the rest, i.e. the “everyone,” who looks out for their own interest apart from, or over and against, the interests of Jesus Christ.
In the King James version, the word used in place of “looks out for” is “seeks.” It’s interesting, because in the original there seems to be a sense of something hidden, or a plot – as distinct from simply seeking information, for instance. So I would like to go out on a limb and paraphrase our passage this way: “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for what’s in it for them, and not the interests of Jesus Christ.”
So here’s the problem as I see it, if we just take this statement at face value….
In our relationships with others, we can be God’s kind of lovers, i.e. those who are armed with a love that is good for enemies. Or in our relationships with others, we can be all about what’s in it for us. These latter relationships, even on their best day, are armed with a love that is only good for friends.
A person who relates to you because of what’s in it for them, is like a relational merchant. There is a hidden “deal” in it. Like someone once said, “Merchants will go only just so far, but lovers will go all the way.” Jesus went all the way. As I understand it, He fixed it so that we could go all the way too.
Let’s give Paul’s “everyone” the benefit of the doubt, and say he didn’t really mean “everyone,” but perhaps only some of the “everyone.”
Perhaps this was some kind of inspired exaggeration where the “everyone” is concerned. I’m not really sure I believe in “spiritual exaggeration,” but there are Scripture passages that would be easier for us, if we just cut the Holy Spirit a little slack. It’s not really a place that I want to go, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say it might be possible. Ok, so we allow for a little exaggeration on the “everyone” side of the ledger, but how about the reference to Timothy, saying, “no one else is like him?” Surely you must be exaggerating here, Paul. You forgot about Titus and your other fellow workers who were yours, didn’t you? “Only one?” Wow!!
Exaggerating on the “only one” side, and exaggerating on the “everyone” side, we have to wonder how much if anything we can take seriously here.
Perhaps we could come at this from a different direction. Remember, we are trying to look at this with both eyes open. Suppose we look at is from the vantage point of our experience in our present day. This is trying to understand it by looking at the created things. Right away, it is easier to believe that Paul wasn’t exaggerating on the everyone side. In fact as we look around at what is calling itself “church,” we are hard pressed to make out any Timothys. Rather it seems like everyone has got some kind of hidden agenda! And some not so hidden. In any case, it’s amazing how many varieties of merchants there are. And I’m already really happy to know that someday they won’t be allowed in God’s house, Zechariah 14:21. In John’s Gospel, Jesus seems to have made it the first order of business to get them out of the house, John 2:13-17.
Actually, armed with present experience, if we take a closer look at what was going on in the church, even before the canon of Scripture was closed, we can see that the religious multi-level marketers were already poised to start building their own “downline” as soon as the opportunity presented itself, Acts 20: 29-31. There are a lot of other places we could see the evidence of what was coming, if only we looked with both eyes open.
So perhaps Paul wasn’t exaggerating after all. Perhaps there really was only one who loved like Timothy. Matthew 24:12 warns us that the “love of most will grow cold,” so maybe it’s not so hard to believe that there were already quite a few even back then who were trying to get by on the wrong kind of love.
In fact, the more we think about it, the more amazing it becomes that God was able to get the Bible through all those hidden agendas all the way down to where we, when we read it with both eyes open, are still able to comprehend the “love that surpasses knowledge.” One has to wonder how God managed to get it past all those “peddling the Word of God for profit?” 2 Cor. 2:17
Looking at this with both eyes open, you really have to ask the question, “How did God do it? How did He get the Bible to us?” It seems to me, that things being as they are, a multiple-choice possibility presents itself. Although does a two choice question still qualify as multiple-choice? I’m not sure, but I find myself wondering if the churches managed to save it for us, or did Timothy save it for us?
After all, he did receive or carry quite a few of the letters.
It wouldn’t be completely without Biblical precedent for something a precious as the Word of God to be passed down to us through only one man. It’s all about a single Seed, Galatians 3:16, and all the promises were through this single Seed. Once “it” (the Seed) was completely in the person of Abraham, the “it” was then in Isaac. Seems to me this was pretty risky. It wouldn’t be the first time that God was willing to stake the “sand of the sea, and the stars of the sky” on only one man.
It’s something to think about. Suppose Paul wasn’t exaggerating about Timothy after all. Suppose that Paul really did have only one like him, who loved with his whole heart. That is what Jesus prayed and died to make us after all. That was to be the evidence of His reality even in us who say we believe. Is it possible that a lover like Timothy could really be that influential?
Might be worth finding out. Looks to me like the world around us could use some better influence about now.
By Jay Ferris, originally published February 13, 2012
For more reading, see: One-Eyed Jacks