In a few days, I will be basking in the island life. Well, not really. I’ll be sweaty, dirty, and sore from helping to build a church in the Dominican Republic.
As I prepare to leave I am confronted with this verse, the same verse I studied along side my teammates who traveled with me to Kenya ten years ago to serve the orphans, the disabled, and AIDS patients.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Philippians 2:1-5
A decade ago this verse guided me to work well with my American team, to work towards unity, and to consider their interests over mine. Now, I look again at this verse and see how it leads me to consider a team larger than the ten people with whom I am traveling, but also the Dominican church with which we will carry large cinder blocks to construct a church building.
Paul of Tarsus (a city in Turkey) wrote a letter to a church in another country, Macedonia, to a people of a different culture and different religious background. Do you know how he opened the letter to the Philippians?
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Philippians 1:3-5
Do you see how Paul views his relationship with the people of the Philippian church? Partners. Partners in the Gospel. And he is thankful to be sharing in this mission with them.
As I travel to the DR I need Paul's perspective. We all do. We are in partnership with churches all over the world to share the truth about Christ's love for all people.
In a way I am not sure why our team is going. I know our task is construction. But really? The church needs eleven Americans with minimal experience to come and accomplish this task? It probably would have been easier and more cost effective to just send the money and hire local Dominicans to do the job.
But maybe there is a greater purpose in our going? Isn't there usually with God? Perhaps he is uniting his people and building partnerships?
The church we are partnering with is a healthy, growing body of believers. They have started five new churches and currently have 250 people crowded in a small building, hence the need for a new one. What do we have to offer besides financial support? Our church has not planted new churches and we did not labor in constructing our own building since we hired professionals. Maybe it is our partnership? And partners get together. Partners work side by side. Partners enjoy meals together, to use a church word, they fellowship. Sharing life together is awfully hard to do with people you have never met, nor spoken to, or even know they exist.
So maybe, God's greater purpose isn't about the building but about growing the body, the body he calls the church. Just as the bricks will be touching one another as the walls are raised, so will Christ's church grow as we touch one another.
Isn't this what Jesus prayed for in John 17?
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that ALL of them may be ONE, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus' prayer for all the believers is for unity, partnership, and oneness. Why? So the world will know about Jesus and His father's great love for every person.
This is why Paul tells the church if you know Christ and his love, if you fellowship with him then be like-minded, have the same love, be one in spirit and of one mind.
Are we task-oriented or relationship-oriented? With mission trips I often think we lean more to the task-oriented side. We have a purpose and a goal that we must accomplish. We have something to offer the people we are going to help. But what if the task is the means by which to orient us to relationships. The "job" enables new relationships to form. In a way isn't this what the greatest Missionary ever did? Jesus left his home to live in a new land to accomplish the task set before him. His mission was to do his father's will, which included death on a cross. And in so doing, relationships were formed. Jesus opened the door to an eternal relationship with him for you and for me. Therefore we are now united with Christ.
Relationships are costly. Ask any man who pursues a woman or buys that engagement ring. This trip, this sending of eleven ambassadors, costs. And perhaps we can be a bit like Judas, who didn't like the how Mary chose to use her expensive perfume when she poured it out on Jesus' feet, and argue that the money used to send all of us could have been used to feed more of the poor. But what if this is about more than feeding and building, but relationship and unity? God spared no expense to have relationship with us. He gave all he had. He gave his son's life.
And so may we continue to see Jesus' prayer answered and be brought to complete unity to let the world know that God sent him and He loves all people as much as he loves his son.