The beginning of army service is called “basic training” – a time where the body and mind are both relentlessly pushed to shape a straggler into a soldier. We all understand that shaping a life is a process. For most of us, the important lessons we learned in life were learned young, and are now so basic we barely think about them. At the same time, they were vital lessons – even though they are ASSUMED. Think about learning to TIE YOUR SHOES. How important is that lesson for your personal safety? Think about LEARNING TO READ ROAD SIGNS. You cannot imagine how dangerous it would be if someone were driving down the road with you but knew nothing of the word “STOP” or what a red light meant. You don’t think about the BASIC RULES unless something goes wrong… and that is what I want to talk to you about in this lesson.
I mention these basic lessons because we have a problem in the foundational thinking of our modern church. Many leading in American Christianity have made a wrong turn, and masses are following. Many a ministry and many a Christian has lost their way in the process – mimicking the culture rather than being changed by the Spirit. They have overwritten some basic ideas of the Word that are adversely affecting everything from the true understanding of the Gospel, to the very intent of God in daily life. Some are teaching openly that Jesus came for our comfort, and God is deeply concerned about our sense of success and self-image. The truth is, many are being sucked in to a Gospel of self-interest and self-discovery – at the expense of the Gospel of the Word of God. Let me set up the problem for a moment…
Paul was nearing the end of five years under arrest, sitting by the Tiber River awaiting his trial before Emperor Nero. we can surmise a number of things about what he was going through:
• Progress was slowed. After traveling much of the 10,000 land miles that made up his journeys, Paul was stopped and held to a single house near the Tiber River. He couldn’t physically check on the churches, or practically show love to them.
• Attacks increased. Both existing churches and new believers were under attack, both in the public square and by sub groups within the church. Gentiles felt they were second class citizens of the Kingdom of God, while Judaizers moved about.
• Divisions began to show. Cracks in the church were evident. People who should have been mature were picking at each other and the harmony was being interrupted by dissonant notes.
The Apostle had every reason to be discouraged – but he wasn’t. He was energized and positive – because his heart was NOT HIS OWN. His surrender gave him his strength…
He gave his heart to the One who had given His life’s blood for Paul – the Savior. The key to Paul’s current JOY was found in his previous surrender – but it was a LONG and HARD battle for his heart, played out in stages – the most recent of which were inside imprisonment. Last time we saw that a surrendered heart allows God to reposition us in places we would not choose to go, but those places may be the most useful ones for God’s service. Because Paul surrendered to God’s hand, God used him to send a series of letters under the Spirit’s command. The one to the Philippians contains (by my reckoning) three essential thematic parts:
As we open what has become chapter two in the letter – we can see an important truth that is both SIMPLE and HARD…
Key Principle: Growing Christians are being transformed by God, often reshaped against the forces of their culture.
Today I want to see this is terms of two very important transformations that can be practically measured. This message isn’t difficult to understand – but it is incredibly difficult to DO.
Transformation #1: Get out of the center of the circle
The very first transformation that must happen smacks against every impulse we have from the message of this world. We were raised to believe we were at the center of the story, and that we were to be constantly encouraged to see ourselves as important. Here is the truth from God’s Word…Philippians 2:1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
There is no other way to read this and try to “soften” the words. They offend me. God has the audacity to simply state that I AM NOT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD. How rude! I mean, doesn’t He know what a treasure I am? Sure He does. But the plain fact is this:
I cannot be the center of my life if Christ truly is. He comes first, and others around me second… I am third.
• The passage opens with some statements that anticipate an affirmative response. The first one is: “if there is any consolation in Christ” – assuming there surely IS. What does that mean? The term “encouragement” is the Greek word paráklēsis – which is properly, a call (urging), done by someone standing “close beside” and is related to the legal term for your DEFENSE LAWYER in court – paráklētos (“legal advocate”). Paul anticipated that ALL BELIEVERS would immediately understand that in Christ we have a legal advocate that stands beside us. That is why he wrote to the Romans that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are IN Christ Jesus. The Law that required death as the penalty of sin has been satisfied in Him. A short way of saying the opening phrase then is this: “If we are free because our lawyer successfully advocates for us…” AND…
• “If there is any consolation of love” a combined Greek term paramýthion referes to a high level of comfort produced by using soothing words or actions. The second hrase could be said this way: “And if God’s love offers us real comfort..”
• “If there is any fellowship in the Spirit” is a translation of the term koinōnía which is properly, something that is shared in common as the basis of fellowship, partnership or community. This could be said this way: “If there is any real deep bond holding us together…”
• “If any affection and compassion” which contains two words – “affection” (splágxnon –the internal organs or figuratively a “gut-level compassion, sympathy, or empathy.) and “compassion” (oiktirmós, as in a type of compassion like pity, also used of the deep feelings God has for all of us). This could be said: “If there is any deep emotional bond of love from God to us…”
Paul is basically offering these three conditions: If Jesus is effectively standing beside us to free us of all condemning charged, and the love of God that is deep and rich is extending comfort to us, and we are truly bonded together… then I want to ask you to do something…fill up the completion of my joy by GETTING TOGETHER IN PURPOSE AND AGREEMENT to fulfill the work God wants to do through all of you. Put selfishness away. Stop concentrating on yourself, your needs, your desires, your fulfillment…and put the others around you before yourself.
“Other person centered living” was the standard modeled by our Savior, and the standard we are to learn to live.
Paul is calling for “BIBLICAL HUMILITY”. Humility is defined differently in our culture than in our Bible. In our culture it is “the quality of being modest, and respectful”, derived from the Latin word for “from the earth”, or “low” (derived from humus, or earth). It can be an “aw shuks” quality of feeling low or insignificant. Biblically speaking, it is something far from that. Humility in the Bible is OTHER PERSON CENTEREDNESS. It is that quality of losing one’s self in something greater than self-directed thought. It is thinking of another because they are more important than you – to you!
In the event that Christians some time in the future (read: NOW) begin to buy into the idea that they are the center of everything – we may start to see things like this in the body of Christ..
• I didn’t go to the service because there wasn’t something specifically “for me” that night.
• If they aren’t going to put more songs I know into the worship, I am just not going to go. It isn’t pleasant to try to learn new ones – I like the old ones!
• I don’t really feel led to support missionaries, I think we have a lot of issues right here at home that we should take care of first!
Paul made the definition of other person centeredness painfully clear. He carted out the best picture of this behavior EVER on the planet… the picture of what Jesus did for us… Philippians 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
No matter what one says of the historical picture of Jesus left by the evangelists of the first century, they are forced into understanding this: Jesus was HUMBLE. He didn’t think He was less than God said of Him. He wasn’t LOWLY in the sense of misunderstanding His own importance. He was OTHER PERSON CENTERED in His actions – therefore Biblically humble. Paul used that truth to reveal something that is only offered in a shadow elsewhere in Scripture: That Jesus consciously chose to come to die for us in a dialogue with the Father BEFORE He put on skin in the form of a baby. The clearest place to see this is the text of Philippians 2. Paul’s point was that they should : “Fill out the joy you have begun in me by becoming servants one of another. Look at Jesus’ model of emptying Himself and adopt His way of thinking about yourselves. In obedience, show His changes in your life reverently, knowing that God can change multiply your work and even change your heart.”
Paul argued that in light of God’s lifting, loving, bonding together of His people – believers should JOIN THEIR THINKING TOGETHER – BE OF ONE MIND. What did he mean? How would that unity look in a practical way? Would everyone like the same things, choose the same desserts and music? NO… but they would STOP BEING SELFISH. They would stop thinking that things should be done in the group that would make them happy, or they will fuss about it…. Why? Because the opposite of selfishness was Biblical humility. Obedient believers want to be like Jesus – and put the other people in their lives ahead of their own comfort, preferences and desires.
Selfishness is never seen more clearly than a spirit of entitlement. Fiona Smith, in her blog wrote these words in 2007: ”Although born in Britain, I lived for many years in South Africa, with all its massive social problems. So when I finally ‘came home’ a few years ago I had little patience with people who moaned and complained about poor housing, transport, policing, education and healthcare. When I pointed out that compared to many other parts of the world we have it good, I was told, bluntly, that in Britain ‘we deserve more.’ The American constitution defines certain ‘inalienable rights’, while the British social welfare system sets out to deliver them. We live in an age of entitlement. We demand and expect a certain standard of living: a good house, a decent education, an above-inflation salary, streets free of crime and grime, must-have appliances, designer décor, fashionable clothes, continental holidays… And why not? We’re British. We deserve it….Psychologists and sociologists are linking this sense of entitlement to the rise in violent crime and inappropriate social behavior. If we don’t get what we think we deserve – materially and emotionally – we are easily overcome by a sense of injustice. And this can bubble over into rage: date rage; road rage; sports rage; shopping rage; parking rage … spiritual rage? ….When I was at university a young man called Graeme was very active in our Christian Union. Like Jacob, he struggled with God, and I was drawn by his passion and refusal to let go until God blessed him. But one day he just gave up and pinned his reasons for doing so to the Christian Union notice board. I wish I’d kept a copy of his declaration of the death of God. But I remember the opening sentence: ‘This is why I no longer believe in God.’ Graeme went on to list a series of promises that God had made in His word, promises that Graeme held on to, believed in and prayed for, and how they failed to materialize in his life. ‘There are only two possible conclusions I can make,’ said Graeme (and I paraphrase), ‘either there’s something wrong with me or there’s something wrong with God. I know that I’ve done everything I can, so I’ve kept up my side of the bargain, but God has not come through on His. I can only conclude that God has lied, and seeing God can’t lie, this leads me to the inevitable conclusion that He cannot really exist.’ Graeme left soon after that, and I have no idea what happened to him. I can only pray that he realizes there was a third conclusion he didn’t consider: that his understanding of God’s promises might have been wrong.”
What Graeme didn’t understand was that he was not equal with God, and he was not ENTITLED to anything… but that is not our culture. We live in a culture where the soloist better be ME or I quit the church choral group. My child better be highlighted in the bulletin or I will let you know how deeply hurt I was.
Pastor Newland wrote these words, and I found them helpful: “Do you ever ask yourself on Sunday morning, “Why am I going to church? Am I going because I feel I owe a debt to God, so I’m trying to pay it back? Or because I’m carrying a heavy burden that I hope will be lifted? Or because I like the music and the fellowship and even the preaching? Why am I going?” Why should we go? Well, if we’re genuinely interested in others, the church becomes a training ground where we learn how to help one another. So when you come to church, be on the lookout. Over there is a mother with both hands full, trying to herd her kids through the door. Maybe she could use your help. Or you’re sitting near a guest, here for the first time – introduce yourself and encourage them by saying, “I’m glad you came.” And let them know that if we can help them in any way to grow in their faith, that’s why we’re here. Or when you look at the prayer list and learn of someone who is having a difficult time – get a card & write them a note, and let them know that you’ll be praying for them. Or if someone you know is struggling with a heavy burden of grief or loss, hold their hand, & maybe weep with them. Just let them know that you care.”
Paul didn’t make the Philippians WONDER about what humility looked like. He opened the door to show us a room that was long hidden by God… the room of the discussion between Jesus and His Heavenly Father before the Incarnation.
• Jesus had the conscious attitude of other person centeredness before He had a human body (2:5-6).
• Jesus existed in completion on the throne of God Most High and made a conscious choice (2:6).
• Jesus deliberately “emptied Himself” – a state of self-imposed limitation of comfort and control– to redeem us (2:7).
• His act of humility met the need for our salvation through His death (2:8)
After Paul assured his readers that God accepted and honored the sacrifice of Christ as the Preeminent One, he returned to his main point. They were to work out the salvation they received from God through accepting Jesus, by changing their behavior that was so naturally inclined to think of SELF FIRST.
A youth minister was attending a Special Olympics where handicapped children competed with tremendous dedication and enthusiasm. One event was the 220-yard dash. Contestants lined up at the starting line, and at the signal, started running as fast as they could. One boy by the name of Andrew quickly took the lead, and was soon about 50 yards ahead of everybody else. As he approached the final turn he looked back and saw that his best friend had fallen and hurt himself on the track. Andrew stopped and looked at the finish line. Then he looked back at his friend. People were hollering, “Run, Andrew, run!” But he didn’t. He went back and got his friend, helped him up, brushed off the cinders. And hand in hand, they crossed the finish line dead last. But as they did, the people cheered, because there are some things more important than finishing first.
That is a picture of what Jesus did. Though a VICTOR, He became a SERVANT. Though a SON, He became a SLAVE – and He did it because He had opportunity to please His Father, and to save His creation… As a result, Jesus gave God the Father a public opportunity to celebrate before all the cosmos the character of the Son, wrapped up in other person thinking and action. Do you see it?
Philippians 2:9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus obeyed His Father, laid aside His comfort and preferences, saw our need – and filled it at great personal expense to Himself. As a result, God used His testimony as the platform of celebration and adulation that will one day soon belong to the Savior.
The point is clear: Jesus was exalted by God by not exalting His own desires over the needs of others and the delight of His Father – and we must heed the pattern. Christianity is not about self-exaltation. Its point is not in MY SUCCESS or in MY COMFORT – it is about being transformed into a SERVANT. “Self-service Christianity” is a culturally created infantile and self-centered religion of self worship cloaked in “God words” to sound genuine. Jesus willingly laid down His life, His comforts, and His exalted status to be beaten by His own creation – because we needed a Savior. We are told to define our calling by the same standard. Christianity is about seeing the honor of my Father as much higher than my own. It is about seeing the broken and lost hearts of men as reason to lay aside comfort and self-exaltation – and become a friend to the friendless, and helper to the lonely, a comfort to the broken. As the winds of our culture begin to bite like frost against our faith – we will be tested on humility. A church suckled to believe that God exalts the SERVANT above THE MASTER is a church that will fall away in the face of such cold winds.
That sounds un-American, and is in some circles even un-Christian – but it is thoroughly Biblical. Paul didn’t suggest it – he COMMANDED IT:
Philippians 2:12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
We need to see our ability to lay aside our comfort and desire as a part of working out our relationship with God in a way that pleases Him. We need to remember that we will need HIM to help us to surrender at that level – and that is why Paul assured the people at Philippi that God is ON THEIR SIDE if they will work to yield.
Let me cut right through all the verbiage:
• I am not an obedient and mature believer if I make my choices chiefly based on what is most comfortable to me, what advances me, and what pleases me – rather than seek God and ask Him what He wants me to choose. That includes every area of life – home, work, school, relationships, careers, etc.
• I am not an obedient believer if I make up my schedule solely based on the work I MUST do to make a living, and fill in all the other slots with WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY – rather than deliberately factoring in the needs of others around me – and intentionally trying to help.
• I am not an obedient believer if my salvation is all about my FIRE ESCAPE from Hell and not about bringing delight to my Heavenly Father with my daily life and daily choices.
Transformation #2: Join the Team
Surrender has its own SOUND. It is distinct from the world…
Phil. 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.
The SOUND of surrender is never whiny. Our obedience and maturity is found in how we handle the pressures of daily life, and the stresses of interpersonal relationships one with another. Hold back your complaints over one another, and increase your prayers FOR one another.
• Someone has written: “On the seventh day God rested….and on the eighth day God started answering complaints.” Some days it feels like that may be true – even when you are serving God. It is easy to get negative, isn’t it?
• Someone astutely observed: Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
Many of us have developed the habit of WHINING AND COMPLAINING at the first sign of discomfort. Paul unfolded the simple truth: We need to work together without verbalizing all our selfish immaturity. We need to LIFT the discussion above whining – so that we can be SHINING EXAMPLES of what God wants to show. Let me offer this rule: “If you KNOW you are not an example of what God wants others to see, don’t verbally criticize others who are trying to be!”
There are three very practical tests I can use to see if I am walking in unity:
• The first was the CONCERN TEST:
Philippians 2:19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.
First, it was an effort for Paul to send Timothy, rather than have Timothy take care of things in Rome for Paul. Sending Tim was not simple – it was painful. Paul was more concerned about their growth than his comforts. Concern that is only talk is just a mental exercise. Do you find yourself doing that? Do you find yourself coming up with things you SHOULD do for others, but never seem to find the time?
The concern test is this: Am I deeply concerned for other believers in my service to the King?
• The second akin to it is the COOPERATION TEST:
2:21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.
The cooperation test is about the ability to practically serve one another. Those who serve their own interests were fickle when times were hard. They were at one time with the Apostle – and then defectors when self benefit ran its course. We must be ever so careful not to allow self interest to dictate our involvement. Where do you hear it? “I’m not going to that, because I don’t feel like it really touches me, or meets my need!” Could it be that it meets a need in someone else for you to be a part of it?
Note also that the work of Timothy was advancing the Gospel by serving the one that God called to lead him. He served Jesus by serving Paul. Cooperation, not an entrepreneurial self adventure, was the evidence of God’s building up of Timothy to a worthy help in the Kingdom. Tim bent his life around what God was doing in and through Paul – not expecting Paul to conform a program to himself. Those who desire to learn should work to change their lives to conform to the offerings of the trainer – launching out more slowly and helping with greater fervency.
The cooperation test is this: Am I willing to practically serve other believers who God has put before us to lead us to maturity?
• The third is the COMMITMENT TEST:
2:25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
We are living in a generation that hate responsibilities and ignore commitments. Say anything you want about Epaphroditus, you cannot argue that he was uncommitted to the work. Paul called him a BROTHER, a FELLOW LABORER, a FELLOW SOLDIER, a MESSENGER and a MINISTER. No wonder he almost died. The guy had so many jobs in the ministry, he couldn’t fit them on his Latin business card. Saving Epaphroditus’ life was a genuine prize to Paul who was worried he would be buried in administration and service if his companion died! Paul would have lost a right arm in ministry, and been sorrowful and weighted down. Paul sent him (presumably with the letter we are now studying) to assure people their prayers were answered for his restoration to health.
The commitment test is simple: “Will they miss me if I am gone?” If there would be no functional change in the body of believers because of your absence, something is desperately wrong with your commitment – and that is burning a wound in the unity of the body.
Chuck Swindoll wrote these words: “Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and the other trusted employees, “Look, I’m going to leave. And while I’m gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I’m away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip.” Everyone agrees. He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess–weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, “What happened? Didn’t you get my letters?” You say, “Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We’ve even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have ‘letter study’ every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters.” I think the president would then ask, “But what did you do about my instructions?” And, no doubt the employees would respond, “Do? Well, nothing. But we read every one!” – Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p. 242.