May 3, 2015
In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was a widely held belief in this country. It was the belief that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the whole continent. In 1803 came the Louisiana Purchase. Under President Polk in the 1840s, Texas and much of the Southwest was added to the Union. And it wasn’t long before we occupied all the land out to the Pacific Ocean This country maximized its impact on the continent of North America. For awhile there was even a push to claim Canada.
Paul’s letter to the Philippian believers was designed to help that church maximize its impact upon Philippi for the gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus told us to be salt and light in the world. The purpose of the church has always centered on exalting Jesus and the gospel in the world. We are to be about the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ by proclaiming the good news of life with Christ in God’s kingdom. This is why we exist. Our mission is to glorify God; encouraging everyone to know and follow Jesus. So let me ask you, “Are you committed to maximize our church’s impact in the world?”
I. EMBRACE THE CHURCH COMMUNITY. 2:1-2
In 1:27-30 Paul urges the church in Philippi to live in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. The way we live as believers effects the way the world views the gospel. In 2:1-2 Paul identifies what it means to be part of a church community.
Look at what we have in common as Christians. For one thing every Christian has God living inside of him or her because of Jesus. And when God lives in us we have divine resources that are not available to anyone else. Paul speaks of encouragement in Christ. O my, the Lord Jesus knows all about life in this world. He knows all about the temptations we face. He knows all about the heartaches and troubles we experience. He died a horrible death and defeated death by rising from the dead. Jesus is someone who can encourage us deeply from the inside. No one else can do that.
Then Paul says that we enjoy the love of God. Years ago the popular song said, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” I don’t know what your experience of love in this world has been. Maybe your love tank has cruised on empty for a long time. What I do know is that the love we experience in the world is diminished by our own sinfulness. But those who know Christ have the love of God filling their hearts because God himself has made his home in us. He’s moved in to stay. He knows everything about you and still loves you. And as we dwell in and soak up his love we are strengthened and motivated to love others, even our enemies.
Then Paul says we share the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God strengthens us in our living and serving others. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to Christ, gives us new life in Christ and provides all that is needed for our life with Christ. What is more, we all have the same Holy Spirit in us. We share the same life of Jesus.
In a family everyone shares the same life, at least for awhile. Husband and wife establish a home. The children are raised in that home. There is a common life. But our expectation is that the children will grow up and leave the home to establish their own homes. It is the opposite in the church. Ideally the church is regularly seeing new believers coming into the family. And the family continually grows closer together in unity of life and that closeness continues for eternity. We join God’s family forever.
In v.2 Paul points out that as Christians we share a common mindset, a common approach to life. He’s not saying that we all think exactly alike. He’s not saying that we all have exactly the same opinions about things. But we do share a common approach for how we are going to live and serve. We embrace a common purpose. That purpose is to live in and with Christ in the world as we promote and proclaim the gospel to the world.
Think about being on a team. On a football team every member of the team has a significant role to play. Of course, each person on the team is unique. Each one has their own interests, opinions, favorite foods and music. Each one has a life away from the team, but each one lives life as part of the team. So even when they are away from the team, being part of the team shapes how they conduct themselves. They must stay in game shape.
When the team has a game to play, every member of the team comes together and puts forth their best effort to win the game. Does the center know how to throw the football? Sure, but not like the quarterback. Does the kicker know how to tackle? Sure, but not like the guy playing the tackle position. Each player has strengths and weaknesses and they play to each other’s strengths and help with each other’s weaknesses. What holds them together, at least during the season, is more important than their own individual lives.
Of course, sometimes there is great dissention on the football team and the locker room becomes a place filled with anger and criticism and downright dislike for one another. Usually those teams struggle to win.
Well, in many ways the church is like a team. Each of us has a significant role to play. Each of us is unique. We have our own interest, opinions, favorite foods and music. Each of us has a life away from the church and yet the way we live our life outside of the church is deeply shaped by the church. We need to keep up our spiritual conditioning when away from the church. Whenever we gather together as the church we all put forth our best effort to maximize our impact. We worship together. We serve together. We encourage each other. We commit ourselves to live and talk the gospel in the world.
But like the church in Philippi, sometimes there is dissention and criticism in the church. We don’t agree with each other and we can’t seem to get over it, to let it go. How many churches are in this kind of trouble. For the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the church Paul tells us to commit ourselves to share the same mindset, the same approach for living our lives together.
The question is, are you on the team? Are you a part of the church? Have you embraced Christ as your Savior, Lord and King? Are you part of a local church that lives and preaches the gospel? This is important.
II. CULTIVATE HUMILITY. 2:3-4
In Paul’s day and culture, humility was not considered to be a virtue. John Dickson, founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity writes that, “the word meant something like ‘crushed’ or ‘debased.’ It was associated with failure and shame. Modesty, living a life of dignified restraint was valued, but humility was a shameful lowering.” It was important to embrace honor and valor. But here is Paul urging humility on the part of the Christians in Philippi.
Because each of us are naturally prone to put ourselves first, selfish ambition, self promotion, and self fulfillment are the default setting of our lives. We naturally gravitate to whatever is going to serve ourselves. And of course we all eventually learn that some of our desires are more important than others. For example I might want to punch the rude customer in the face, but I don’t yield to that desire because I have a greater desire to make money. So I restrain myself, but it is still all about my desires, my goals, and my ambition. In fact, many times, the good that people do is done for selfish motives.
Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.” He says, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, forget about yourself. In a sense that is what humility is all about. Humility is not demeaning myself. On Tuesdays I play hockey with a group of guys over 60. One guy in his upper 70s, who is pretty good, took a fall and I heard him say, “What an idiot,” referring to himself. That’s not humility. Humility is having a realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, while not making too much of either one. In other words you are not all about yourself.
When you come to the worship service, you are not concerned about whether others are watching you when you raise your hands in worship. You are not concerned about what others think about you when you grab the mop to clean up a spill or when you openly weep. It is not beneath you to work with the children or to embrace the direction of the church leaders. You don’t care about who gets the credit, even when you ought to get the credit. You are not offended when your recommendation is not embraced. Yes, you take care of your obligations in life but you are also concerned and interested in the welfare of others. This is humility.
Now there are many professing Christians in churches all around the world who have no involvement in the church because they have no particular investment in the church. And I want to point out that an unwillingness to be involved is actually a form of self fulfillment. Maybe they were hurt by the church in previous years, or they found that church politics was aggravating, so it is just easier to not be involved. I’m better off. They don’t need my imput. That is not humility. That is really an expression of selfishness. As Christians who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the church of Jesus Christ, how can we not participate and serve together?
This is not easy. It is not easy to be humble. Clearly Paul had to say these things to the church in Philippi because some were acting out of selfish ambition and conceit. They were counting themselves as being more significant than others in the church. In 2:14, Paul mentions grumbling and disputing. We learn a bit more about it in chapter 4. It’s not easy to be humble. So how do we cultivate this significant Christian virtue? Well, we must...
III. FOLLOW JESUS. 2:5-11
So many books have been written about these verses. There are deep things here, but some scholars have made these vrs far more complicated than they are. Paul wasn’t writing to scholars. He was writing to people like you and me. Essentially Paul makes it very clear that Jesus, the Son of God was and is fully God. Verse 6 makes it clear that Jesus has always existed not in bodily form but as God. He is fully equal with God and this equality has always been his. But the profound thing is that the Son of God did not view his equality with God as something to be seized upon to his own advantage. In other words, for God, it is not Godlike to dwell on, protect and selfishly use his Godness. What is Godlike is to lovingly, and freely, pour himself out, to empty himself to rescue men and women who have rejected his love and his good commands and have chosen to usurp God by choosing to be their own god. The God of all glory did something that most would consider to be inglorious. He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Where is the honor; where is the dignity in this? There is none. You and I would never do this.
Not only did Jesus take the role of a slave, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross. It was God the Father’s will for Jesus the Son, to die on the cross. Jesus fully obeyed. This is what God is like. Here was the Lord of all, Jesus Christ, surrendering himself to be crucified, dying the death of a criminal. The one who is worthy of the highest place embraces the lowest place on earth so that you and I can be delivered from the guilt of our sin against God and the eternal death resulting from our guilt.
In v.9-11 we see that God vindicated Jesus by highly exalting him and bestowing on him “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Now let’s not miss Paul’s point. In v.5 he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” What does that mean? It means that Paul is telling us to adopt the attitude and behavior that we see in Jesus. Do you remember why Adam and Eve sinned against God? They believed the lie of Satan that they would be like God. Mankind desired to overreach, to become like God in the flesh. They wanted to seize the opportunity to be god. But God is nothing like that. To be like God is to empty oneself in behalf of others.
This is why it is vital that we immerse ourselves in the person of Jesus, thinking about Jesus, surrendering ourselves to Jesus. Being humble is not easy, but if we look to Jesus and seek to follow in his steps, we will find ourselves becoming humble.
Clearly, humility involves dying. We die to ourselves. We die to our selfish ambitions and conceits. We pour ourselves out for others and for the gospel. Jesus’ entire life and death was an emptying of himself. And we are to be like Jesus.
When the football team wins the championship, it is because every member of the team emptied himself. They let go of their own desire for glory so that the team might be victorious together. That’s how team unity is developed. That’s how they maximize their impact. And when they win, they all glory in the championship together.
Let me ask you: Do you view yourself as an integral part of the body of Christ or are you content to rest on the fringe? When it comes to the church, are you full of yourself or are you emptying yourself? Are you emptying yourself in love for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you emptying yourself of selfish ambition and conceit? Unity in the church cannot be forced. Unity is the result of Christ like humility. And when we are unified through humble service and love, our impact in the world for the gospel’s sake will be maximized. Amen