By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 27, 2020
Philippians 2:1–13 (ESV)
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Paul is often given a hard time in today’s American Church. Many see him as being a little bit mean spirited. I think he is misunderstood. His words are very often taken out of context and misquoted to be used to support things that were often never intended. Some scholars have even gone so far as saying that there were two churches in those ancient days, the Pauline church and the church of the apostles. I think this is ridiculous mainly because when we take the time to study the words of Paul, we will find that he loves Christ. He loves Christ enough that he was willing to endure death for his Lord and God.
Paul begins this week’s passage, if there is any encouragement in Christ… be in full accord and of one mind. Paul does not point us to himself, but he encourages us to look to Christ and Him alone. To join Jesus’s life and lifestyle, whole heartedly. So, why then does he get such a bad reputation? I think this is simply because of who he is speaking too. The letters we attribute to Paul were written to specific people and often concern specific things that are occurring at that time in the Church. He is referred to as the apostle to the Gentiles, and these Gentile believers are worshiping beside those of Jewish heritage living in dispersia. These Gentile believers were often not fully aware of the teachings of the Jewish faith and because of this they were attempting struggling to fully understand what life with Jesus really meant. They often struggled with things that those of Jewish heritage did not because they did not grow up in a monotheistic worldview. And often there were clashes between those that had knowledge of the historic faith of the Hebrews and these new converts.
I do not think we fully apricate the struggle of those first Gentile believers. Many of us grew up within a Judeo-Christian worldview, and even if we did not grow up in the church we were exposed to Christian concepts. We know the basics; I can strike up a conversation with almost anyone and they can tell me something about Christianity to some degree. They may not have a full understanding, but many know some of the teachings of Jesus.
Imagine going into a culture where no one knew a single teaching of Jesus. Imagine going to a place where the very idea of a single God was foreign. Imagine attempting to teach those with no knowledge the truth revealed in scripture when they had nothing to refer it too. Many of Paul’s letters are taken out of context because we fail to recognize that he is writing to people that did not have two thousand years of monotheistic teachings based around honoring the One True God.
If there is any encouragement in Christ, be in full accord and of one mind, he says. I want us to think about what that statement is saying. I usually speak out of the Gospel passages. Very rarely do I use the epistles when giving a sermon, because of this statement. If there is any encouragement in Christ, then let us be joined with that. I am not saying that there is not value in the epistles, I love the letters that the apostles wrote, because they teach us something about conflict resolution, encouragement, and how to live life with Christ. They have value for us because they were written by those saints of old, out of their deep devotion to their God. They were written by people that loved others to such a great degree that they were compelled by the Spirit to speak up and encourage even if the issues at hand were difficult. They were compelled to write because their hearts were filled with such joy that they had to share it. They wrote because someone needed encouragement or counsel from a trusted friend. And those that received the letters kept them and shared them. We benefit from these letters. The letters show us how difficult walking with Christ really is, and they encourage us to look back to the gospel and the teachings of Christ to direct our paths.
We need to approach the epistles with careful thought, because we are basically ease dropping on an intimate conversation. For example, the letter to the Philippians was written mainly as a thank you note. Paul wrote to thank them for their gift, but as he expresses his thanks, he also lets them know how he is doing and encourages them in their current circumstances. What theological understanding can we glean from what is basically a thank you note? We get a glimpse at the heart. But what happens when there are verses in the epistles that seem odd or contradictory? Those instances are often situational and temporal. We can learn from the counsel but, those are often suggestions on what the leaders should try, and in many of the cases they are words for the actual leader and should not be applied to everyone. There is a great deal of counsel in the epistles, but all that counsel should be approached through the teachings of Christ.
Which brings us to what Paul is encouraging in the Church of Philippi. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” If there is any encouragement. The word encouragement is a powerful word. It conveys comfort as well as strength. When we encourage someone, we are affirming who they are at that moment and expressing our acceptance of them for who they are, while at the same time empowering them to strive for something greater. Paul is telling these people of Philippi that if they recognize anything in Christ that brings them both comfort and strength then focus on that. What about Jesus drew you to him? What about Jesus compelled you to turn from the life you once were living and embrace the lifestyle of Christ? Paul wants us to examine why we are in this place at this time. With the same words he is also challenging us to examine if our expression is true and if there could be improvement in our expression of our faith.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition 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.”
When Paul encourages the church to be in full accord and of one mind, he is encouraging us to live the lifestyle of Christ. Jesus came to live among humanity, even though he was equal to or of the same substance as God. He came in a manner that was completely unassuming, he came as a baby, and not as a fully grown divine manifestation. That is what is meant in verse six when Paul tells us that Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Jesus came to experience the complete human life, but he also came so that we would have to struggle with that complete life. Is it possible that our faith is completely misplaced, and that Jesus was just a normal baby? Sure, but there is something more. There is something about Jesus that is greater than humanity, the disciples saw that, even the religious leaders in the first century Israel saw there was something more. They questioned and challenged Jesus, they listened to his teachings and they watched his actions. And there was only one question that remained: Who is Jesus? Is he God or is he man? It is something that we cannot fully grasp. We wonder and question and that is ok. But once we move one way or the other things begin to change.
When we, like Peter, say that Jesus is the son of the living God, the one that provides the wisdom of God, we have begun to commit ourselves to a journey toward the kingdom. Paul says to us, if there is any encouragement in Christ then we should be of the same mind, meaning we should walk as Jesus walked. Jesus emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. If Christ did that, then that very action is what he is calling us too as well.
This again is a place we must grasp the reality of Jesus. Jesus is king, yet he was born to a family of common laborers. Jesus is the conduit of God’s wisdom, yet he did not have rabbinical training because we know that at the age of majority, he joined the family business instead of staying with the rabbis at the temple. Paul wants us to look at our faith, look at what we believe and come to some understanding. He is God, yet he is a servant. He is a king, yet he is a peasant. He is wisdom, yet he is common.
It is difficult to grasp an understanding of God. We struggle because often we see things from a human perspective. We see hierarchy, we see dominion, we see power and force. When we think of God we often think of the ultimate king, or we might think of God as a power or force that must be handled carefully, like electricity. We see God through human understanding. Over the course of human history these concepts of God grew and took shape, even within the Hebrew faith concepts surrounding the human understanding of God changed over time. We struggle because we are human. Struggle is part of our life since sin’s fall. When Jesus came to live among us, he came to restore and reconcile humanity with God. He came as God with us. God always wanted to be with humanity, we see that in the story of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. God had a desire to create and walk with his creation in the cool of the evening. But we as humans became suspicious and turned from God. We began to believe that God may have been with us, but God was not for us. We began to think that God was withholding something greater from us.
This relationship between humanity and God soon became strained. We began to bargain with God to make our lives better. And then humans began to bargain with aspects of God and personifying aspects of God to secure blessing in those areas, we did this to the point we could no longer distinguish the true God and we created a pantheon of idols based on our desires. These idols became cults of fertility, death, war, and pretty much every aspect of life we can think of. Humanity would go to these cults seeking personal gain. They family desired a child they would make a sacrifice to the fertility god. They wanted crops so they sacrificed to the lord of the fields.
God called out to Abraham, a man of Ur who according to Jewish tradition was the son of an artist that manufactured statues of idolatry. God called Abraham to leave Ur and to go to a place that he would lead him, and if Abraham did God would create a nation through him. A nation that would become the light to the nations and God would be their one true God. As Israel grew into a nation God called another man from within them and through this man, he gave the law. The interesting thing about the law is that it is communal. It is community oriented.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit. But in humility consider others more significant than yourself. This verse has been counsel that has struck me. It often seems as if it is contrary to human reason. If we do not benefit from our labors and application of knowledge, what benefit is gained?
This requires deeper thought and context. To begin what is humility? We often regard humility from a faulty origin. We regard humility as looking down upon or not allowing ourselves to do our best. We approach it in this way because we have the false notion that being recognized for ability unrighteous. I want us to stop thinking that right now. Did Jesus ever say he was less than he was, or not do something out of a desire to look humble? No, Jesus lived his life in open honesty. And that is true humility. To humble ourselves, is to live honestly. Honest with others as well as honest with ourselves. Not thinking too highly nor too lowly of who we really are. And if we are to live in humility regarding ourselves, we should extend that to others too. We should regard them honestly. To regard others in humility we accept them for who they are and encourage them to greater things. We often look at this passage and get the idea that we should let people take advantage of us, but that is not the case. We should recognize who has the greater ability and who has the greatest need, and in our analysis, we make a decision that will benefit both equally.
I have worked a few years in the same position. I know how to do my job, and honestly, I am good at my job. Occasionally others have been brought to me for training, the counsel from Paul works well in this example, because in humility I can say that I am better than those I train in my position but if I am going to be honest in the relationship I must step back and allow them to do part of the work so that they can learn and improve. By letting them do some of the task I am in humility counting others more significant than myself. By letting them participate in the work, together we will eventually accomplish more so our gain is greater.
This is what Jesus did and does. He humbled himself, living with us. By doing so he lifts us up to a greater place, and together we expand the kingdom exponentially. This is the encouragement we find in Christ, the very encouragement that Paul urges us to incorporate in our lives. Living lives of humility. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. And there is true profit in that life and lifestyle. When we join in that life, we release ourselves and those around us from the bonds of unforgiven sins, and we free ourselves to live life more abundantly. And that abundant life Christ is calling us to is not bound in human understanding of success, but on God’s. God so loved the world that he sent his son not to condemn the world but to save it. Let us encourage those around us to embrace that life, and most of all let us embrace that life, because we cannot offer what we do not have.