As you examine your life would you say that you are becoming more like Jesus? If you are here this morning and you are a Christian, then you should really be able to say "yes" in answer to that question. If you are here and you are not yet a Christian, then I would suggest that you also need to listen to what Paul has to say in our passage this morning. Because one of the implications of accepting Christ as our saviour and Lord is that we commit to the process of becoming Christ-like.
That is Paul's basic point in Philippians chapter 2. He tells us that our attitude is to be the same as that of Christ Jesus (2:5). For Christians, for people who have been saved through Christ's death on the cross, it is not enough to be in the "Christian club". Instead we are commanded to go on to maturity in Christ. We are to love one another more, we are to be united in spirit and purpose, we are to be humble, and we are to look out for the interests of others. In short we are to live increasingly Christ-like lives.
Christ-likeness is the direction Paul points us. So please turn with me to our passage. Philippians chapter 2 verse 5.
I would like to look at what Paul says under two main sections. First "Christ our Example", and then "Christ our Lord". Christ our Example, and Christ our Lord. And under each of those main sections I am going to have three points.
1) CHRIST OUR EXAMPLE
So our first main section then "Christ our Example". Paul tells us that if we are to be Christ-like we need to look to Christ as our example. Have a look at verse 5. Paul writes,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! (2:5-8).
Paul in these verses points his readers to Christ, our perfect example. Paul wants the Philippians to be godly in the way they interact with each other. He wants them to be holy in the way they live as humans. So he points them to Jesus, the perfect example of being truly human. The perfect example of a human being reflecting God's character and glory.
It is a little bit like looking to Christ as the perfect instruction manual for how to live as a human being. If you are anything like me you probably aren't very good at reading instruction manuals. Instruction manuals tend to be the last resort, when you have tried all you can think of and still can't get the thing to work. Maybe you are trying to program your video recorder or get your car radio to work.
When I finally in exasperation turn to the instruction manual I invariable find out how to do all sorts of things that I never even knew were possible. When I turn to the manual what I find is a complete and perfect example of how to use the appliance. I discover how the video player is supposed to work, how it is made to be used.
When we look to Christ we discover how we are to live as a Christian. We discover how we were created to be. Christ is our perfect example of how to live a God honouring life. And Paul in these verses directs us in particular to two aspects of Christ's example. He highlights Christ's humility and Christ's service. Those are the first two points that I would like us to consider under our main heading "Christ our example".
a) His Humility
Point one then, his humility. If you have a look you can see that Paul tells us in verse 6 that Christ Jesus was "in very nature God" (2:6). He was and always has been fully God. In other words Jesus existed before Christmas. Before being born as a baby he existed as God.
We have a tendency to think of the message of Christmas as cute. We tend to think of a new baby born into the world. But the great message and mystery of Christmas is not that of the new life of a baby. Rather it the mystery of the eternal God choosing to step into our world. One who was without limits, limited himself to human form. The greatest being in existence set aside the glory and might that was rightfully his and took on the weakness of a physical body.
That is what we see Paul saying in verse 6. He says that Christ Jesus, who was equal with God in his being, his power and his glory, did not cling or grasp onto that glory, but chose to make "… himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (2:7). Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, stepped into our world at Christmas as a tiny helpless baby. Such humility! For the greatest being to choose to become the least. For the creator to become the creature.
As you know very well, a baby is completely helpless and totally dependent on others for its care. Babies dribble. They have little control of their bodily functions. They are one of the weakest, neediest forms of human life. And that is how the almighty God chose to enter our world. The great mystery of Christmas is that God has humbled himself and become human. He was willing to become one of us. And we are to learn from that example of humility.
b) His Service
But Christ didn't stop with the humiliation of being born as a human being. He went even further than that. He chose to walk the path of service. That is the second point that we need to consider as we look to Christ as our example. We need to think about his service. Jesus entered our world in humility and then went on, in obedience to the will of God the Father, to die on a cross.
That is what Paul points the Philippians to in verse 8. Have a look at this verse with me. Paul says
… being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! (2:8)
Not just any death, but the pain and humiliation of dying on a cross. Being hung naked on a wooden frame and left to die slowly as his enemies stood by mocking him. And as he died there he performed the ultimate service to us, by dying in our place, for our sin.
Throughout his human life Christ demonstrated a servant attitude. He constantly looked to the interests of others not just his own interests. He fed hungry people, he healed the sick. Even when his free time was disturbed he gave generously. He washed his disciples' feet even though he was their Lord and master. Jesus lived a life of humility and service, but his greatest act of service was his death on the cross.
Jesus didn't have to come. Christmas need never have happened. He chose to come. He stepped into our world knowing that he would die on a cross. He served us at the greatest possible expense to himself. He served us by laying down his life for us so that we might go free.
Christ is our perfect example of service to others. We need to learn from his service.
c) Our Attitude
So Paul has pointed us to the example of Christ's humility and Christ's service. Paul has done so because Jesus is the perfect example. The question for us therefore becomes "what are we going to do about that example?"
Paul wants the Philippians to change their attitude and behaviour. And if we are going to take this passage seriously this morning you and I need to examine our attitudes. That is the third point under this section - "Our attitude". Christ's humility, Christ's service, our attitude.
I suppose the question that might come first to your mind is how far is it actually possible for us to model Christ's attitude? I suppose that is a valid question, but let me point out in response, that if an example to imitate is to be a good example, then the person we are imitating needs to be better than we are.
If for example you want to learn to play football you look to someone like David Beckham. If you have any sense you don't look to me to learn how to play football. I would be an appalling example.
If you want to learn to paint you need to look to an artist, you don't look to your 2 year old child to give you painting tips. Although depending how bad you are at painting you might resort to that!
If we want to learn how to live a godly life we are to look to Christ as our example of humility and service. And that is why Paul points us to him. He wants you and me, in our interactions with each other, to demonstrate Christ-like qualities and attitudes. He points us to an example that is better than we are. He points us to someone who we can learn from.
It is important to remember though that we are not on our own in this process. As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit is already at work in us so that we are becoming increasingly Christ-like. And part of being a Christian, part of our ongoing discipleship, should be an increasing submission to the work of the Holy Spirit, and a daily improvement in our Christ-likeness, through God's strength.
You and I are on a journey towards holiness, and Christ-likeness is the goal. Yes we do sin and muck up, and as Christians we fail to consistently live in a way that pleases God. And yes God does continue to forgive us. But his desire is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus in our attitude and behaviour.
Have a look for a moment at verses 2 to 4 of Philippians chapter 2. Paul paints a word picture here of what Christ-likeness looks like in practice. He tells us that as Christian believers we are to be like-minded, "… having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose". We are to
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility [we are to] consider others better than [ourselves]."
We are to
"… look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil 2:2-4).
The question for us really becomes are you and I committed to becoming increasingly Christ-like? Are you striving with God's help to live a life of humility and service? I am not talking about putting yourself down or becoming a carpet for people to walk over. But are you and I putting to death selfish ambition and vain conceit? In the way we relate to other Christians in this church are we loving? Do we as believers at Jesmond Parish Church have the same spirit and purpose?
Maybe you could take just one of those aspects from verses 2 to 4 and meditate on it, or commit yourself to improving in that area in this coming year. Pray that God would make you more loving, or less selfish, or whatever it is that is needed in your life.
Think about your attitude for instance when you attend home group or a church event. Surely Christ-likeness means that you and I should be looking out for the needs of others on such occasions. We are not there just to meet our own needs. Instead we ask other people about the issues they are facing and we offer to help. We offer to make a meal, or lend someone a car, or listen to their concerns, or whatever it is that is needed.
I have a friend who found it helpful when he attended a church event to have foremost in his mind the question "How can I serve in this situation?" What about in your family relationships or in your relationships to the people with whom you share accommodation? Are you and I committed to becoming increasingly Christ-like in our interactions with the people we live with?
In whatever situation we find ourselves it is of course the selfish and proud attitudes within us that come into conflict with godly living. We are to seek transformation and we are to look to Christ as our example. We are to remember his humility and his service and we are to strive with God's help for transformation of our attitude.
2) CHRIST OUR LORD
But why should we bother? Why would we want to be humble? Why would we want to look out for the needs of others? Well I think the answer that Paul gives is that Christ is not only our example, but he is also our Lord. That is our second main section this morning. Christ our Lord.
Again I would like to break this section into three, and have us consider Christ's exaltation, his judgement and our decision. His exaltation, His judgement and Our decision. Three aspects of what it means for Christ to be our Lord.
a) His Exaltation
First then his exaltation. If you look with me at verse 9 we see that Paul tells us that because Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death
… God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every 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. (2:9-11).
Paul is making it clear that God the Father has exalted Christ to the highest place. It is God the Father who has done the exalting. The Father has vindicated Christ's claims about himself. Jesus rising from the dead proves that he is God and that he lived a sinless and godly life.
If someone came up to you and claimed to be able to run 100 metres in 5 seconds it would be very easy for you to test that claim. You would measure 100 metres, get out a stop watch and time the runner.
If you want to test the claim that Christ is the perfect example of how to live a godly life, you want some evidence that he was fully God and fully man, you want some evidence that he succeeded in living a holy, sinless life. Well that is what Paul gives us. He points us to the evidence that Christ is our perfect example of godly living. He points to his exaltation.
He makes it clear that Christ has been exalted. Death could not hold him down. He was sinless and could not be held by death. He was fully God as well as being fully man, and he has now received back all the glory that belongs to him. He was perfectly obedient to the Father in his humility and service and he has been rewarded with the ultimate reward of the highest place and the name that is above every name.
And because Jesus is now exalted, and is our Lord and God, he is worthy of our worship and obedience. Pleasing him, pleasing our exalted lord and master should be a key motivation for living a life of humility and service. A key motivation for following Christ's example, and living with him as our lord, is his exaltation.
b) His Judgement
But Paul reminds us that not only is Christ exalted, he is also coming as judge. And we need to consider his judgement in the context of thinking of him as our Lord. That is the second point under this section. His judgement.
As Paul makes clear in verse 10, a day is coming when every knee is going to 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 (2:10-11).
Jesus Christ is Lord. He is fully God, and every nation, every family, every individual is accountable to him for their actions. There will come a day when God will judge the world. That is what our reading this morning in Isaiah reminded us. God speaking through his prophet declared long ago,
Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. (Is 45:23)
God was promising that one day he would fully and finally establish his rule in this world. And our passage in Philippians makes it clear that it is Christ Jesus who will execute that rule and judgement.
Those who have accepted Christ as their saviour and are seeking to submit their life to his lordship, following his example of humility and service, they are promised reward. Those who have rejected Christ and the salvation that he offers will face punishment.
There are only two options. Either we live for Christ or against him. Jesus is exalted, he is coming to judge.
c) Our Decision
The question we are left with in the light of Christ's exaltation and coming judgement is, "Are we going to live for God?" That is our decision. Are we going to accept Christ as our saviour and choose to live under his lordship for the rest of our life, or are we going to continue to reject Christ, live our own way, with our own attitudes, and ultimately face Christ's judgement. That is the decision you are faced with today.
Christ died on a Roman cross to reconcile us to God. If we accept his death on our behalf we become a new creation in him. Our old life of sin is dealt a decisive and final blow. Christ becomes our Lord and we seek to follow his example. That is what it means to be a Christian, a Christ follower.
But the warning is clear in this passage. We can either bow willing under Christ lordship or we can do so unwillingly. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. There will be no exceptions. We are all accountable to God for our actions in this world. We can either accept his lordship now, or we can find ourselves unwillingly confessing that he is God, when we come face to face with his glory on judgement day.
If you are not yet a Christian please do not delay bowing your knee any longer. The consequences of delaying too long will be awful. It will be too late on judgement day to rely on Christ for salvation and forgiveness. Those who have rejected his lordship of their life will be confirmed in that choice on judgement day. There will be no opportunity to change your mind. You will face punishment. Please don't let that happen.
If you are already a Christian then don't just rest secure in your salvation through Christ. Instead seek increasingly to submit to his lordship. Christ is Lord, he has been exalted, he is coming in judgement. Are you increasingly submitting to his lordship in your life? Are you and I seeking by the help and transforming power of the Holy Spirit to live a humble life of service?
I don't want to give the impression that this is easy. I think that in some ways this is harder, or at least as hard, as the decision to become a Christian. It is difficult for us to live godly and Christ-like lives as Christians. We are constantly in need of turning to God and asking for forgiveness. But being committed to the process of transformation, and striving to become more Christ-like, is what we sign up for when we decide to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.
If you are feeling this morning that you are not going anywhere as a Christian, if you feel that you are not becoming more Christ-like, that you still struggle with selfishness and pride, that you are still failing to live in a way that pleases God, then I want to give you some words of encouragement and of warning.
God promises in Jude 24 to present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. We are told in Galatians (5:22-23) of the fruit that the Holy Spirit is producing in us. These are God's promises and we know that he is faithful to his promises. So that leaves us with a number of possibilities. It is possible that you are growing more Christ-like but that you just can't see it.
Maybe you are becoming more conscious of sin the more-Christ like you become. Or it is possible that the situations you are facing are just getting more challenging so it is becoming harder to be godly. Be encouraged if you are in either of those situations. God is at work in your life.
But if you know that there is an area of your life in which you are refusing to submit to Christ's lordship then take warning, because he is coming in judgement. Repent over your selfishness or pride or whatever it is, and submit to the work of the Holy Spirit.
You and I need to decide today whether we are going to live for our exalted Lord, or refuse to follow him and his example. What are you going to decide?
Paul in this passage points the Philippians and us to Christ as our example and to Christ as our Lord. He reminds us of Christ's humility, and his service. He tells us of Christ's exaltation and reminds us of Christ's coming judgement.
So what about your attitudes in relation to other Christians in this church, in your families, and in the wider world? What is your decision going to be? Are you going to accept Christ as Lord and be increasingly transformed into his likeness by the power of the Holy Spirit, or are you going to continue to reject his right to rule in your life?
Christ is our example. Christ is our Lord.