In May 2009 Ben Southall got a new job as a caretaker. There were a few perks though as well as a unusually generous salary of over £70,000 Ben would be given a three bedroom beach home, a swimming pool and golf cart to use as he looked after Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef,Australia.
Like the two policemen who stand on the edge of centre court atWimbledonthere are some jobs that have pretty attractive side benefits to them. Here in Philippians 2 Paul is going to give the Philippians a job with benefits. He's going to tell them to pursue unity by living for others. He says that by doing so they will gain joy - a type of happiness which isn't vulnerable to circumstance and which brings deep and satisfying pleasure.
In doing this Paul is returning to his main point, to the reason why he thinks God is preventing him from going to be with Jesus. Chapter 1.26 says that this is so that the Philippians' 'joy in Christ Jesus would overflow'. Paul is concerned with the Philippians joy he wants them to have more of it, to be free from the sin that robs them of it and by God's grace these are words are here for our joy that we might have more of it and praise God because of it.
Over the next chapter Paul will show us four examples of people who live other-centeredly; himself, Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Rich will be looking at the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus next week. Tonight we'll see Paul introducing this principle of: increasing our joy by choosing to live with others in mind, we'll see him suggesting grace as the motivation to want to live this way and see him exalting Jesus as the ultimate example for us to follow.
1. Grace enables us to live other-centered lives which bring us joy, v1-4
2. Jesus shows us how to lose our lives for others leading to glory, v5-11
1. Grace enables us to live other-centered lives which bring us joy, v1-4
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Verses 1-4 are one sentence in the Greek which centers on the plea in v2 that the Philippians 'make Paul's joy complete' by being united. It seems that though the Philippians have got many things right; they love the Scriptures and they're generous with their material possessions for example. They are in danger of being pulled apart by internal divisions. Paul is desperate for them to be united, to have '... the same love, being one in spirit and purpose'. He wants them to have the same joyful affection for each other as he has for them and which he wrote about in 1.7,8:
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Paul goes on to say that this type of unity will only happen by the Philippians choosing to look away from their own interests and to the interests of others. However, before Paul gets to his instructions he gives the Philippians and us four motivations towards unity and other-centered living; the 'if any' statements in v1, he says:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,
If there is any benefit, any enjoyment from having being rescued from darkness and called a child of God, a co-heir of glory, with Jesus.
if any comfort from his love,
If you have known and taken any pleasure or hope from God's unconditional and self-sacrificial love for you.
if any fellowship with the Spirit,
If you've experienced God's Spirit at work in your heart, changing you and if you have seen that same Spirit at work in your brothers and sisters knitting you together, calling you into a new family.
if any tenderness and compassion,
If you have any empathy with your fellow Christians.
then make my joy completeby...
Paul's 'if any' s are rhetorical there's no doubt here. Paul is saying there is; so much encouragement from being united with Christ, so much comfort from knowing his love for us, so much delight in having his Spirit live among and inside us that this multi-faceted grace from God should overflow into our relationships with others, especially those who share this grace with us. In fact there are two things happening here as Paul reminds the Philippians of what they already have in Jesus.
First, Paul is reminding us of just how good it is to have experienced God's love to know Jesus and to have him live in our hearts. In fact it's so good that we shouldn't be physically capable of keeping it to ourselves, it should pour out of us. There something about this inexpressible joy that we have through knowing Jesus that we want to continually, well, express.
Secondly, Paul is reminding the Philippians that whether they are experiencing division or harmony at the present, ultimately they are one in Christ. Christians are united, we do have fellowship with the Spirit and through that with one another. We have been adopted into God's family, we have been marked out as a holy nation, a royal priesthood. We should have tenderness and compassion for our brothers and sisters because we are one body.
Our own experience of the Gospel is the motivation for us to live for others, if you like; grace is the fuel which powers this type of living. Now Paul could have said to the Philippians, very reasonably, you're a great church, you've got so much going for you can't you just get along with each other. But he doesn't, instead he reminds them of the gospel because he knows that we can't consistently live truly other-centered lives by trying hard. We might be able to look to others interests for a while but eventually we'll either give up or become self-righteous about our service of others.
It's a little like teaching a child to share. We want our children to share because it is socially acceptable and will help them to get on in life and if we're honest sometimes we'd just like to avoid a few of those tantrums in front of other parents which embarrass us. But more than that, what I think we really want is for our children to be kind-hearted, to be generous to want to share and to take pleasure from sharing.
Paul wants the Philippians to remember the grace that God has shown them and to pass that same grace to others by putting their interests first. Paul wants the Gospel to grow, to so take hold of the Philippians that they cannot help but be united because of their love for one another.
This is quite remarkable when you think about it; Paul is asking us to live for others, which will in turn bring us joy and he says that the reason we should live like this is because we've already tasted its goodness in the way God has treated us.
So what is this other-centered living that Paul is trying to motivate the Philippians to live? In verses 3 and 4 Paul tells the Philippians to:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
This is the same phrase used by Paul in 1.17 of those who were preaching Christ from false motives. Paul wants the Philippians to be motivated by the transforming effect of the Gospel not simply by what they can get out of it.
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
There's a deliberate choice here. We should 'consider', place others in front of ourselves. Last Sunday Andy Murray had to humbly concede that Roger Federer was a better player than him. But that's not what Paul means. In humility means that we should always choose to think of anyone else being above ourselves no matter what our position is. So it's more like Roger Federer the champion choosing to carryMurray's bags or staying behind to help the ball boys and girls clear up. As a result of this shift in thinking, this deliberate positioning of others ahead of yourself...
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Interests I'm told here is a generic term. So this could read; Each of you should look not to your own finances, careers, families, homes, relationships or preferences but to the finances, careers, families, homes, relationships or preferences of others.
So Paul says stop thinking about your ambition, your self-interest. Trust that living this life of grace will be more beautiful, more full of joy than your own plans. (If you struggle to do that then v1 instructs us to remember the grace which you have already been the beneficiary of in Jesus and let that spill out of you into the lives of others.) Choose to think of others as superior to yourself and put their lives ahead of your own, invite them to cut in front of you.
In practice this could look like exchanging a quiet, restful night in front of the TV for having that new couple over for dinner. You choose to put welcoming them above your relaxation, above the cost of the food you'll share with them. Or perhaps you would consider the children at HTG better than yourself and forgo your Sunday morning lie in so you can help teach them about Jesus. Maybe you'd give up your financial security and work less hours so you've got more time to serve others here.
Paul says that as we do this there is a peculiar happiness attached to it, that doesn't mean that it isn't hard sometimes, that we don't sacrifice real things that will cost us but it does mean increased joy, it does mean living in line with the grace that has been shown to us.
But let's remember that this isn't a call to victorian philanthropy, we're not to serve others interests to make a name for ourselves to have hospitals or churches named after us. No 'Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility...' This other-centeredness must ironically come from inside us, it must be a result of the Gospel of grace changing us. So as v1 told us we must start this task of choosing to live for others interests by remembering that God has already looked away from his own interest in order to serve ours. That's exactly what Paul does in v5-11 as he reflects on the attitude of our Saviour; Jesus Christ. That's our second point...
2. Jesus shows us how to lose our lives for others leading to glory, v5-11
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Paul takes the Philippians to Jesus and show them how his life and death is the ultimate example of a life lived and then laid down for others. He reminds us that too that as well as being the example par excellence he is to be our pattern, v5; Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. So whilst we cannot do everything that Christ has done; we cannot give up the heaven which was never ours, we can and we ought to have the same attitude as Jesus.
The same attitude as Jesus who deliberately chose not to hold on to what was rightfully his - the glory and praise of all creation, his perfect relationship with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus gave up those things willingly to take on the position of a servant. To in humility step on to the earth in the form of a man. To allow him through whom and for whose sake all things were made and given life, to die. And not only to die but to be murdered by his own creation, to be hung on a cursed tree. Why? Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 53 tells us:
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was piercedfor our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
He did it for us. He thought of us, on the cross those who would know him. He chose to look to our interests, to the punishment that rightfully hung over us. He thought of the shame that condemns us and that we cannot not wash clean. He thought of our sin; of our willful selfishness, our ungrateful betrayal, of our unfaithfulness. He thought of us and chose to consider us, to consider you better than he, the Lord of all the universe, the one for whom all creation lies pregnant with praise for.
And so Paul goes on in v9:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 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.
Precisely because Jesus gave up the glory, the honour which was due to him and exchanged those things, willingly, for death on a cross so that you and I could have eternal life instead of eternal death. Because of this God the Father has glorified Jesus. He has lifted his name up such that on one day every knee will bow before his authority and every tongue will loudly proclaim that Jesus, the suffering servant is king. Jesus gave up what he had every right to demand, to look to our interests and suffer for them. Because of this God has glorified him, he has made the universe look at him.
So it's as if Paul is saying to the Philippians; living for others is living like Jesus and look at him! If there was any possibility that you could be anything like him then surely you would want that, wouldn't you, don't you, don't we?
If that wasn't enough there's that pattern again; suffering which leads to glory. Paul says therefore, because of Jesus' cosmic other-centeredness he has been glorified. That same pattern is given to those who follow Jesus.
So Matthew 23.12 says:
12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
And 1 Peter 5.5 encourages:
5... All of you, clothe yourselves with humilitytoward one another, because,"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
God will give grace to and lift up those who, like his son, willingly humble themselves for the sake of others.
So if we are to fight against sin and fight for our joy then we must:
- Pursue unity, desiring to be of one spirit and one mind.
We do that by:
1. Remembering the grace which we have already received.
2. Abandoning our own self-interested ambition.
3. Choosing to think of everyone else here as being more valuable than ourselves.
4. Looking to each others interests.
As we do so we will:
1. Work hard even suffer to some degree.
2. Experience increased joy.
3. Be given grace by God.
How can we do that at HTG? Well we need to remember that living for others needs to be a function of the grace we experience. So we need to individually and corporately remind ourselves of the grace which we already possess. I think that means:
- Talking about what God has done for us and what he is doing in us now, often.
- Keeping meeting together - be there at your Home Group, at Summer Series, at the prayer meeting, on a Sunday for the sake of others as much as yourself.
- Think about and meditate on and talk about and sing about Jesus.
Everyday choosing to believe that joy comes from serving others not ourselves. Just do it even when you don't feel like it, do it when other people aren't doing it to you because we can't expect 200 odd sinners to suddenly get it right at the same time. Do it because God says he will give grace to the humble. But most of all do it because Jesus already did it for you and because you love him for it.