Critical Moments

Fragile.

Vulnerable.

And, threatened!

The precious young church in Philippi was fragile, vulnerable and threatened. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche, had been essential in evangelizing and leading many of their new believers to Jesus.

Now, however, they were at odds. The stain and strain of their disagreement was permeating the life of the whole church. Their fractious influence now threatened the body of Christ. Things were so bad that Paul had to call them out publicly in his letter to the whole church (Philippians 4:2-3). Their minds were “set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19). Rather than being focused on maintaining unity in love with humility, “selfish ambition and vain conceit” were threatening the vitality of the whole church. Unfortunately, these women and their allies focused on their “own interests” and not the needs and interests of others” (Philippians 2:2-4). These women and this church desperately needed to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2) “in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).

Fragile.

Vulnerable.

And, threatened.

The apostle Paul was imprisoned for his faith (Philippians 1:12-18). He deeply loved the people in the Lord’s family in Philippi (Philippians 1:8). He wasn’t sure he would ever see them again because he was facing possible execution (Philippians 1:19-21). What could Paul do? What could the apostle say to call his beloved brothers and sisters back to a life centered in the example and love of Jesus? What influence did he have that he could leverage to snap them out of their divisiveness threatening the life of this new body of believers?

Earthshaking Power

I looked over at Ron during our worship in song. He had big tears rolling down his cheeks. “Ever since singing this at your dad’s funeral,” he said, “I cry every time I try to sing this song.”

I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I responded, “I can’t sing it without crying either.”

To this day, now well over thirty-five years later, when I sing “It is well, it is well, with my soul!” tears moisten my cheeks. With deep emotion, I recall the faith of my father in the face of suffering and death.

Songs can have great power. Their music and words can evoke deep emotion, help our minds recall specific events, and motivate us to action and perseverance.

Jesus relied on the power of a familiar Jewish song as he faced the humiliation and torture of the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?

(Psalm 22:1).

Jesus felt alone and abandoned by his closest friends and even by his father in heaven. But as this psalm goes on to declare, the Lord Jesus placed his faith in the Father and trusted that the Father would never abandon him, but would bring him through the awful challenges he faced to bring victory and a bright future out of his personal horror (Psalm 22:19-28).

Songs can have great power. Their music and words can evoke deep emotion, help our minds recall specific events, and motivate us to action and perseverance.

When Paul and Silas had first been in Philippi, they were severely beaten, thrown into the innermost part of the prison, and placed in stocks because they had proclaimed Jesus (Acts 16:23-24). Rather than feel sorry for themselves, they “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Suddenly, the Lord sent an earthquake that freed them, opened the heart of their jailer, and led to the conversion of a whole family to Christ (Acts 16:26-34).

Songs can have great power. Their music and words can evoke deep emotion, help our minds recall specific events, and motivate us to action and perseverance.

Redemptive Influence:

Paul challenged his beloved friends in Philippi to love each other, to be humble and forgiving and kind, by reminding them of a song they sang. Today, it is sometimes called “The Christ Hymn” or The Jesus Song:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2:6-8).

To apply the song to the problems in Philippi, Paul prefaced it with his emotional plea that they remember who they were, what they had in Jesus, and what they needed to do to live up to Jesus’ example (Philippians 2:1-4). He added emotion to this plea by reminding them what the Father had done and would do to honor the Son for his life of selfless service (Philippians 2:9-11).

While we can’t know for sure, The Jesus Song may have been one of the songs Paul and Silas had sung while beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. We do know this was the song Paul used to remind his beloved friends of their need to be like Jesus and heal their schism. The familiar words and tune were his call for them to mend their hearts and abandon their feud as they sought to be like the Jesus they worshiped in song.

Songs can have great power. Their music and words can evoke deep emotion, help our minds recall specific events, and motivate us to action and perseverance. Paul sought to leverage every bit of influence in The Jesus Song to change their hearts and heal their souls.

Healing Hurts and Giving Hope:

Fragile.

Vulnerable.

And, threatened!

Congregations in transition can be fragile, vulnerable, and threatened. But, they also have a great opportunity to return to the core of what they claim to believe: Jesus gave his life to call us to follow him in selfless service and mission to the world captured by sin.

When a minister leaves and a congregation enters the interim season, Paul’s example and teaching are important reminders. Worshipping together through beloved hymns and songs of emotional significance opens hearts. Music touches us in ways that words of preaching and teaching can’t. The words that we sing and the times that we’ve shared around those songs call us back to our deeper purposes, our holy mission, and our shared life of faith. Singing familiar songs that stir our deepest emotions brings us back to our reasons for being family, loving each other, and our need for humility, love, and service.

During the interim season, our worship and the songs that we sing must be prayerfully and strategically chosen. Singing songs together should be moments that challenge us to our mission, focus us on our purpose, call us to be like Jesus, and challenge us to humility as we pledge our lives together in love.

Connecting those songs with biblical truth that emphasize the sacrificial love of Jesus is essential. We must remember what Jesus did to make us his family, heal our brokenness, and save us from our sins. Paul used The Jesus Song to heal a divided church and to remind new believers of their shared life. In Jesus’ family, importance is found in being a servant and not being first. In a family where Jesus is Lord, humility and sacrificial service are more precious than winning arguments and getting our way. This way of life is foreign to our fleshliness. This way of life runs counter to our culture. In a world of competition and seeking status, we must be reminded of God’s purposes for us and the price Jesus paid for our redemption. And, these reminders must come with powerful emotion and deep conviction.

Songs can have great power. Their music and words can evoke deep emotion, help our minds recall specific events, and motivate us to action and perseverance.

Let’s learn to sing and live The Jesus Song.