Our Guiding Principle | Philippians 2:1-11
Topic: New Testament Passage: Philippians 2:1–2:11
OUR GUIDING PRINCIPLE | Philippians 2.1-11
Good Morning, it is my great pleasure to be with you this morning. This is a bit of a homecoming for me, though unlike all of your teenage kids, I didn't spend any extra time on my hair this morning getting ready for my homecoming.
Damascus Road is the place where the gospel took root and flipped my life over. In my 5 years here, I went from being a content, somewhat risk-adverse architect to a person who took a small group of people, moved to Mount Vernon to start a new church. This change did not happen like the flip of a switch; it was God showing Himself over and over and over again: through people changed, through encouragement, through conviction...all of this in community.
The one story that sums up my time here best is the first sermon I ever preached, which happened right here, at this pulpit. My whole life I have not been someone who feels comfortable speaking in front of people. I don't just mean that it wasn't my strength. I mean that I got physically ill, stuttered, and forgot how to speak. When I was in 5th grade I was asked to do a presentation and I remember feeling dizzy, seeing spots, and I didn't give up until I couldn't see anything but white...I was on the verge of passing out. This didn't get better with age.
When I became a pastor at DR, I did it under the condition that I would never be forced to preach (true story). I told Sam that I would do anything the church needed, I would even write a sermon, but I would not stand up in front of a group of people and look stupid. I don't remember what actually got me to the point where I said I would, but I do know that I set the date out 6 months, so it didn't seem real. The problem is that no matter how far out you put something like that, time keeps moving, and eventually I was preaching next week. I am not sure if you have ever been in this position: where you feel trapped by a situation, are imagining all o the ways it go wrong and how you may be able to get out of it...this was basically the week before I preached. I did everything I could to prepare. I even came in here on a day in the middle of the week and preached the whole thing to an empty building, which went really well until someone walked in to pick something up and walked in at me yelling at empty chairs.
Sunday came. I prepared myself for the flood of nervous and nauseousness...the strange thing is: they never came. I stood up in front of a group of people and declared God's Word and I didn't pass out. This was a turning point for me, because up to that point I succeeded and failed in this life based on my own skill and ability. I pressed into my own strengths, avoided where I as weak and generally felt like I kept things under control. One moment, God revealed to me His presence and His ability to use us if we just stop focusing on ourselves. What God can do if we get out of the way.
That was what I actually preached that first sermon on. I took my favorite passage in the Bible, Philippians 2.1-11, and we looked at what the example of Jesus reveals to us. We are going to do the same today. I get a do-over. Please grab your Bibles and open them up to Philippians 2.
We are going to focus today of the guiding principle for our life. What I mean by that is: what is the principle that we should allow to take precedence. When we talk about being gospel-centered, or Christ focused, what is the essence of what that means. That is what Philippians 2 is about. Paul begins this section, by stating the identity that the Christian finds in God, v.1:
IF THERE IS ANY...
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.
This is how Paul synthesizes the Christian life. It is not a set of rules, rituals, or prayer that needs to be recited. It is sacrificing our life to take on His. In the preceding chapter, Paul lays out the famous line ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain.’ In this, he is encouraging the Philippians that the temporary struggles they are experiencing are just that TEMPORARY. Temporary things must yield to that which is eternal. He doesn’t even worry about petty things like DEATH. He finds his encouragement in what Christ has done, comfort from His love, purpose in life from the direction of the Spirit, and our peace from His affection. This is what allows him to get up off the ground after being beaten to near death, walk back into the city and preach the word of God.
This is what allows him to tell the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (22-24)
Let me read that first part again: not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
The only assurances he has are that there WILL BE imprisonment and affliction. But Paul had long before given his life over to Jesus, and with it he took on a new identity, one with the goal of glorifying God in all aspects. His desire is not for status, respect, or name, but that he will simply finish his course. He is not concerned with some idea of what his life should look like...he strives to do what Jesus has called him to. Now I am not implying that being beaten to death and imprisoned is the calling for all of us...but it may be for some of us. The question is, if God called you to that, would you be willing to follow? If your encouragement and comfort flow forth from God, than His will for your life will always take precedence over your own plans...even when the lead to a less than desirous life.
Now, thanks be to God He doesn’t call us all to get beaten within an inch of our life, imprisoned for our faith, and beheaded. Thank God for the fact that we live in a country where we can meet together to praise God as a community without fear...but realize that that comes at a price. We don’t have to fear, but we also don’t have to identify with Him. In a state of persecution, choosing God comes with a price. For a first century Christian, simply getting together with other believers was taking life into your own hands. For us, it is quite common to claim Christ, while also keeping our own individualized identity in place. Our faith is too easily blended with our desires to create a Frankenstein Christianity.
Which is why Paul reminds us that changing our desires is the foundation of our faith: if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit...this means that we deny, ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him, as Jesus commanded his disciples to do. We must lay our lives aside if we wish to take on His. We must allow our identity in Jesus to press out our former selves.
To give up our identity does not mean that as Christians we all become clones. We are all different people with different talents. Giving up our identity does not mean giving up our distinction. You are all very different. It does mean that we do not find our value in our distinction; we boast in Christ not in our specialness.
Which leads us into the next few verses. We started out with an if, we now get the then; meaning that if the condition of identifying ourselves with Christ is present, then the conclusion in the following verses should also be present.
COMPLETE MY JOY
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
And so Paul calls us to find our identity in that which unifies us rather than that which divides us. We must first find our individual identity in Christ, so that we can also be unified as a community.
The thing about communities is that they are always built around something. There is always glue that is holding the people together. Sometimes it is as simple as location, more often it is a shared ideology, or similar interests. You have clubs and groups meeting all over the place that organize people who think the same, like the same things, or want to do something together. The church is no different. We are also organized around something. Often, though, our community seems to be organized around the same thing as worldly communities. We are gathered around events, location, and similar interests.
We change churches because we don’t like the music, or because someone hurt us, or we just don’t find people who are like us, the church doesn’t do things the way we would, or we just aren’t really into it. And trust me, I know. I have gone into many churches with my critical glasses on, ready to find all the reasons I could never go there. But in the end, our inability to find gospel community might reflect more on us, then it does on the community itself. Community is not something outside of us that we need to be sold on. When you come in here on a Sunday you shouldn't come for the church to prove to you that it is valuable. If you do, you will do nothing but destroy community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:
Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church.
In other words, to have this high ideal of what Christian community is SUPPOSED to be, kills it. It turns you into a person who gives off this attitude that no one is good enough (insulting to them), while distancing yourself from them (prevents you from having any community). Your whole entire church experience is this cycle of people succeeding at being the failures you always knew they were.
Gospel community is people who have committed themselves to Christ, coming together to give glory to Him. We are united so that we are forced to find value in places that we would otherwise dismiss. Church community forces us to stick with people who are different than us long enough to find the good in them. The process of having the same mind, is not becoming the same, but learning to love people who aren't like you.
I'll give you an example. I can not think of a person who is more different than me in personality than your pastor Chris. When I first met him, I quickly identified him as the kind of guy I don't hang out with (I am pretty sure he felt the same way about me). We don't think the same, we don't share the same likes/dislikes; some of our conversations early on required a translator. Over the years, time and time again, this guy surprised me. Through years of life together, Chris and I became close friends. I will never go running with him, I don't care if the Huskies win or lose, and my idea of a good time does not include a boat...but none of those things matter. I know who to call when I need a faithful brother who loves me and my family. We are of the same mind on what matters and it makes everything else fade to the background.
This is what Paul calls the Philippians to (ONE MIND), but Paul does more than simply give a command...he gives an example. He gives us THE example. As we look at the unifying factors that Paul calls us to, we will look at them through the lens of the gospel hymn that he ends this section with, v.5:
MADE HIMSELF NOTHING
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
This is the example of identity that we are given. Christ, though He was the perfectly justified in staying in heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father, gave up His rightful place in order to save broken people. He was in perfect community with the Father, yet did not find it necessary to stay there when the possibility to bring glory to the Father arose. Jesus gave up the glory of His heavenly position, to come down and live as a nobody in a world of sinners. Because we have not experienced the fullness of the glory of God, we cannot really understand how big of a step this is. But with the glimpses of God’s glory that have been revealed to us, we can get a sense of how huge this is. If heaven is the full presence of God, and Hell is the absence of God, then we know that Jesus gave up absolute peace and beauty, in order that we might eventually see it.
God came to earth... but let’s not forget what He gave up in order to become man. To be clear, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Yet he gave up His position. His identity was the at the focal point of all praise in heaven (read Revelation), and He set this aside to come down to earth and be treated horribly, by His own creation...by those He came to save. This is the mind that Paul says Christians must share. A mind that cares for the glory of God through the restoration of this broken world.
Paul goes on:
OBEDIENCE TO DEATH
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
So Christ not only gave up his position in heaven, but His humility while he lived on earth was also evident. And I am not talking about the fact that his family was poor and He was born in a manger. The humility of Christ is seen in His submission to God’s will; in the fact that He lived a life that had a distinctly different aim. It must have been pretty obvious to his parents that he was a different kid...that he had other goals. When the family visited the temple when He was 12, Jesus stayed behind to chat with the religious teachers. When his parents finally found him, His response was:
Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s House? (Luke 2.49)
His entire life was lived with the objective of fulfilling the mission He was sent to earth for. He did not take Satan up on his offer for earthly glory, He did not revel in the earthly praise showered on Him for his miraculous works, and He did not defend his rightful place before Pilate. Jesus denied Himself, in order that God would be glorified through His life. This is seen most evidently in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prays to God knowing what the next day would bring:
My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26.39)
In this verse, Jesus is overwhelmed with the weight of what He is about to endure. He knows that taking on the sin of the world will require God to turn His face away, but He is willing to go through it if because this is the plan for restoration. He submits his will to the will of the Father. This is the love that we must share; a love that focuses on restoration through submission to God. Christ makes God’s glory His identity. And in the end He shares in that glory.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed 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.
This is the reality. He HAS been exalted, every knee WILL bow, every tongue WILL confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Eventually, either in this life or after we die, we will know that Jesus Christ is king. When Paul calls us be in full accord, he speaks of a common purpose and spirit .This purpose is the glorification of our Lord; the worship of Him who sits on the throne.
And he offers us THIS identity. This is what we get to share as we give up our life for His. The more we dwell on Christ: His birth, death, burial and resurrection, the more we see how pathetic we actually are. More than just passive recipients of Jesus Christ, we are the sinners who made His death necessary. Our unwillingness to deny ourselves and serve God is what led to the shame of the cross. How undeserving are we that we make our God go through what we are unwilling to?
And yet, while we were still sinners Christ died for us. He did not use our sin as an excuse to stay in heaven where He rightfully belonged. He gave up the glory for us. So how does this translate to the way that we treat others?
In this vein, Paul offers up his final word the Philippians. In verses 3-4 he says:
A LIFE OF HUMILITY
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
As we give up ourselves to share in identity with Christ, we become image bearers of Christ here on earth. And God gives us community as a place where we can live out this new identity with others. These interactions are to be based on the identity which we claim in Christ. We view the others through the gospel. What does this look like?
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonehoffer describes it like this:
Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what He is and what he should become. It takes the life of the other person in its own hands. Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ; the image that Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men.
In other words, as we look at others through the lens of the gospel, we get to see the aspects of Christ’s likeness that have been instilled in other people, and we GET to draw this out and help them become more like Christ. We get to walk side by side with others through the process of sanctification. In order to do this, we need to take hold of the guiding principle of humility.
What is interesting about this section of Scripture is that it tells us to follow the example of Jesus, then it lists a bunch of things Jesus did that we never could:
- Give up the glory of heaven
- die as a sacrifice for the sin of the world
- be raised and exalted to rightful place as the focus of worship
For all of the: Be like Jesus rhetoric, a lot of who Jesus was and what He did, we simply cannot ever replicate. So Paul makes it clear what part of Jesus' life and character is ours to live out. HUMILITY:
count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
If we are ever going to treat people with any level of Christian love, we must first be able to see and hear them. To be able to see the interests of another person does not mean that we walk a mile in their moccasins or truly understand where they are coming from, we often just need to get ourselves out of the way. It is not our part to construct an idea of what someone should be, or what the community should be, but to see people for what they are and to find God's grace and glory in them. Our part is to want what is best for them, seek it with them. This is hard for us to do. Let me describe to you what it looks like if we don't.
To live in community without humility is one where everyone exists to serve you. The barista: coffee machine. the church: spiritual fill up station. Other people in traffic: something to dodge as you swerve in and out. The value of other people is based on what they offer you. In a community like that you will use others, complain about others...you will say things like: I needed someone and you weren't there for me...you don't give me what I need. You will spend all of your time developing a reason why you are justified in being frustrated with everyone you. As I said before, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: you will be as depressed and lonely as you have decided you should be. The community will be evil, uninviting, and never good enough for you.
Sadly, this is how too many Christians function. Looking for what they get from others in community. Think about this, what Paul is calling us to, in acting like Jesus, is to always be looking for how you can serve. This begins in this community, the church. Here, we all have the same call to humility. Which means, as we set aside our own interests for the sake of someone else, someone is going to pick up our needs and serve us...everyone's needs are met, not because we are self-sufficient and don't need one another, but because we are dependant on others and on Christ. When you come here Sunday and when you interact with this family, take every moment to ask yourself: how can I serve others today? Even when you are struggling and in need, you come into this community others-focused. What you will find, is that when you act less for your own interests, you are actually far more content in community. You give, and you actually want to give more...it doesn't make sense, but its true. You develop a posture of humility that lives on outside of these walls.
This posture, Paul says, is what we exemplify as Christians. As we act with this humility in life, people will see a contrast to how they experience everything else. In our culture, caring about the interest of another, sacrificing for them, and living with integrity, in other words following the example of Jesus, is the best option we have to move the needle of society in a positive direction. In the first century, we saw the Way, the people of Jesus shift the entire culture through humble service. Today, as we look around and we feel hostility and fear, aren't sure how we are supposed to live in post-Christian culture, we must lean into humility. Not as a copout, but truly believing that God can use us most effectively when we submit to Him and serve others. This is bold humility which isn't afraid to lose for the sake of Christ's gain. That isn't afraid to lose personal credibility to boast Christ. That isn't afraid to give up your own rights to serve. Thus bold humility is what the church needs today. In this community, as you gather together regularly. In your witness, as you proclaim Christ through your lives. Get yourself out of the way and let God use you in His great plan of redemption. In the end, because of the work of Jesus, we get the victory, we get the inheritance, we live forever in His glory...we don't need to fight for these things now. Instead, lets follow the example of Christ and let God use our humility for His glory.
As we finish today, we are going to pray, sing, take Communion, all things given to us by God to get us past our task oriented mindset and into a recognition of our spiritual connection to Him and to these people. As you come forward for Communion today, use it as an opportunity for humility. See the gift of Jesus as more than a benefit for you to add to your life, but as the recognition of Jesus' bold humility that unifies you to Him and to others. Ask Him to build this bold humility in you, so that you may be of the same mind.