Today we continue through our four-part series on the book of Philippians. Last week we looked at Paul’s joy that the gospel was being preached, even by those who were doing it out of selfish ambition or out of wrong motives. We saw that it didn’t matter to Paul one bit, why people preached the gospel, as long as they did it and presented the correct message or correct doctrine. Some were trying to discourage Paul; some were trying to mock Paul’s ministry; and others were preaching purely for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. None of this mattered to Paul. We saw that, for Paul, preaching the gospel was first and foremost. He also desired to preach, to glorify, to honor, to worship Christ, no matter what and no matter what the cost. Jesus was to be the very center of everything he did, whether in life or in death. He also encouraged the church to live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Christ was the center of everything for Paul.
So, why was Paul able to do this? Why was Paul able to make Christ the center of everything he was? Can we make Christ the center of everything we are? Is it important to make Christ the center of everything we are? These are the questions we want to answer as we turn to God’s Word this morning. We’ve already read part of this morning’s scripture responsively. We are in Philippians 2:1-13.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
And gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee shall 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.
Last week, as we concluded our service, we sung a simple chorus that echoes the words of this scripture. Scholars tell us that verse 5 through 11 are probably part of an ancient hymn. I remember that when I was in high school that we even sang the text of this as part of choir selection.
So what is the source of Paul’s joy? Why could Paul, see all of this going around – all this puffed up preaching – and still have joy? Let’s look what Paul says. Remember that when Paul wrote this, he wrote it as a letter to the church that existed in Philippi. It was a missionary letter and it was written while on house arrest. Like we said last week, Paul had in effect, an ankle bracelet that if he left his house, he would immediately be arrested. But even in that, he used that to his advantage to preach the gospel.
Paul asks the Philippians a series of questions. You could almost say that they were rhetorical in nature. They weren’t supposed to be answered. There are four questions:
1. Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ?
2. Is there any comfort from his love?
3. Is there any fellowship together in the Spirit?
4. Are your hearts tender and compassionate?
I believe that Paul already knew the answer to these questions. Especially since he had planted the church in Philippi and this was an update letter for them. We could take these for questions and make them a statement of the church at Philippi:
1. Since there is encouragement from belonging to Christ
2. Since there is comfort in Christ’s love.
3. Since there is fellowship in the Spirit.
4. Since your hearts are tender and compassionate
What – What does Paul want the church to do? Paul response to this statement is – make me truly happy by agreeing with each other, loving one another, and working together, with one mind and purpose. Wow! Paul wants the Philippian church to be the church and to do what Christ commanded the church to do. What he is asking the church to do is not so much to do what the church is suppose to do, but to be the church. There is a great black eye on the church today because we do not act like the church. Our name is Christian, but do we really reflect Christ in everything we do and say? Love and working together is the key to what Paul wants the Philippian church to do for the cause of Christ. He gives us some practical examples of how that is played out. Paul says, don’t be selfish. Don’t try to impress others. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I try to do that, I usually end up eating humble pie. Which takes us to the next tip. Be humble (Remember the old song, “It’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way?”) It’s hard to be humble when you think you’ve got everything all figured out. It’s hard to be humble when you are out to impress others. It’s much easier to be humble when we seek out the interests of others, before we seek out our own interests. David Duncan, a Christian comedian, and ordained pastor in the Wesleyan Church, holds up a bottle of dish detergent (Joy to be exact) and reminds us; Jesus first, Others second, You last. J.O.Y. So many times we get it all mixed up, but when we get it mixed up, we are mixed up. Not only should we think of others before ourselves, but we need to take an interest in others as well. Guess what, sometimes that will make us uncomfortable. John Wesley was quoted when asked about the job of a preacher, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The Christian life is not a life of comfort – no matter how much people say it is. All we have to do is take the ultimate example – that of Jesus Christ. Paul says we must have the same attitude that Jesus had. What kind of attitude is that, you ask. This is where we get into the ancient hymn I mentioned earlier.
Take a look at verse five – even though Jesus was God. Jesus was fully God – 100% pure God. By the way, God is the only thing that is 100% pure. Even though Jesus was God – even though Jesus was in the same position of God – he did not think that it was his right to retain that position. Paul goes on to tell us that instead of clinging to his rights, he gave up his divine right – his divine privilege and took the humble position of a slave. Whoa! Hold on there. We often say that Christ is our example in speech and conduct. Did you check out what the scriptures said? Christ gave up every right and privilege he had as God – he gave it up willingly. How many times do we go around asserting our “God given rights?” I’m asking a question that scares me to death. What if to be truly Christ-like meant to give up our rights for the benefit of others? Wow! What would the church be like then? Believe me, I’m stepping on my own toes here as well. Here in America, we are used to asserting our rights. We’ve heard it and I’m sure we’ve said it, “I’ve got my rights.” But Jesus did not use them. How might that apply to us? I want you to think about it.
So Jesus gives up his divine right of being God and comes to earth as a human – talk about a big downgrade. (Yes, I know we are created in God’s image, but there’s a big difference between being human and being God.) Christ gave up everything to become a human and not just a human as we are told in the scriptures. He became the lowest form of a human – a slave. In other versions it says that He emptied himself. He threw off everything that made him God and made himself a slave. Think about what it means to be a slave. They certainly don’t have any rights and yet our Jesus – our Savior – came as a slave — came willingly in obedience to God. The scriptures tell us that Christ humbled himself. Not only did Christ give up his divine rights. Not only did Christ humble himself to become a human, but he also became the lowest form of a human. Not only was he obedient to God, but he died a criminal’s death – the worst kind of death devised by man – crucifixion on a Roman cross. Christ became the lowest of the low. Talk about a humbling experience. I’ve mentioned the humiliation that occurred on a Roman cross before. Let’s just say that a criminal crucified on a cross was stripped of any dignity they might have. It was a humiliating experience. Not only did Jesus subject himself to God, but in the end, on a Roman cross, he subjected himself to his own creation. The very people, God and Jesus created in the beginning. The very people whom God and Jesus loved, now rejected him and killed him in the least humane way possible. The creator crucified by his creation.
You know if the story ended there, it would truly be a tragedy. But the story doesn’t end there. Because Jesus humbled himself to the lowest of the low — because Jesus was obedient to the Father — because Jesus was obedient even to the point of death — because Jesus emptied himself – what happened?
Verse 9 tells us, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other name, 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.”
On Sunday nights, we have been studying the Beatitudes and we’ve been finding out, just how backward the Kingdom of God seems to our human minds. Here we have the ultimate in role reversals. Jesus who humbled himself, was then exalted by God. Jesus is our supreme example. If Jesus, who is our example could humble himself in such a way, how can we not do the same thing?
God calls on us to empty ourselves of our wishes, wants, and desires. God calls on us to humble ourselves – to deny ourselves – to take up the cross. When we do that God will get the glory – and when we give him the glory, we receive the glory. Not only did Jesus receive the glory of the Father, but he is now seated at the highest place and has been given the highest name. You know sometimes that will never happen in our lifetime. For some of us, we will always have to wait for the future glory. But that is not for us to determine. God is sovereign, he will determine. It is our job to be humble and do the work God has called us to do and to follow the example of Jesus.
Diagram courtesy of Rev. Pat Bennett, pastor of Westview Community Church, Manhattan, KS. Pat was one of my FLAME professors
Paul finishes up this section with more words of encouragement to the congregation to follow Christ.
Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Being a Christ-follower involves hard work. We must do our part, so that God can do his part. Doing our part, means putting Christ in the very center of our lives. Doing our part, means obey God. Doing our part means, living in reverence and in awe (or fear) of him. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to come into our lives so that we can live with Jesus in the very center of our lives. When we put Jesus at the center, we will desire to please Christ and we will have the power to live lives that please him.