Life of Church in and from Christ–Philippians 2:1-11

So far in Philippians, we’ve seen how Paul sees every situation as an opportunity to advance the gospel.  We’ve seen how he maintains and shows joy in every situation including persecution, by treasuring Christ.  We’ve examined Paul’s radical statement “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  And we’ve seen how our primary goal for our brothers and sisters in Christ is for their love for Christ to increase as they grow in sanctification.

Today, we’ll begin looking at chapter 2.  Paul starts the second chapter with a hymn, a hymn that for us lays out qualities of a biblical church, qualities that we receive from Christ and see in Christ.

Let’s take a look.

“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.  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.”–Verses 1-4.

These are to characterize our lives and our churches.  It’s important to note that these aren’t qualities that are just to be seen in individual Christians, but in the church as a whole.  Being encouraging, loving, driven by the Spirit and joyful isn’t just the pastor’s job.  It’s the job and description of everyone, from the senior pastor to the smallest child.

Building off of Philippians 1, it’s also clear that these are qualities seen in churches that treasure Christ.  For churches that truly believe that to “live is Christ and die is gain,” and for churches that treasure Christ above the things of this world, these qualities and fruits are being shown day in and day out.  It is impossible to show this kind of humility and character if we are focused on our needs and the things of this world–that, in itself, is against humility.  Worldly churches that focus and treasure on worldly things will never fulfill the call of Philippians 2.  We must first forsake all else and cling to Jesus as everything.

It’s also important to note that Paul doesn’t say these things because Christ is lacking them.  The “if” used in verse one is there to drive the Philippians to examine whether or not they are present in their church.  There is indeed encouragement in Christ, comfort from love and, in Christ, participation in the Spirit.  But is it present in the church?  If we are “in Christ,” we have these attributes.  They are a part of our new nature.  But are we walking in them?  Does becoming this kind of church member take priority over our job?  Do we actively seek to do these things as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling?”  We know that God works in and through us, to bring us to completion.  Does His faithfulness drive us to holiness?  If you are a Christian, there is nothing stopping you from fulfilling Philippians 2.  God is faithful.  Do it.

Let’s examine some of these phrases individually.  We can clearly understand, I hope, what Paul means when he says “encouragement in Christ, comfort from love” and “affection and sympathy.”  These are not just surface level emotions that sway with the wind, but deep, God-given affections that flow from our hearts, filled with God’s love for us in Christ, out to our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

But what does Paul mean when he says “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind?”  Why would his joy be dependent on the church having the same mind and love and being in full accord?  It seems that Paul is expressing his, and God’s, desire that the church be united, not divided.  Jesus prayed that the church would be one, and Paul does as well. 

United, not uniform

So what about denominations?  Are they biblical?  I could write a entirely separate post on this issue.  For now, let me offer this.  The theology of Christ’s church should be the same in its primary essentials, that is, issues such as justification by faith alone, the full atonement of Christ, the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, the Trinity (God in three persons), the inerrancy of Scripture, the return of Christ, and the Lordship of Christ. That is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully provides clarity on what I mean by primary essentials….issues that would make the difference between being a Christian and not being a Christian.  But there are secondary issues that are important, but not essential to being a Christian.  Things like how you baptize, church structure and the role of women in the church are most certainly important, but there are different ways of seeing these issues, and there are Christians on both sides.

The methodology of the Church is also united, yet different.  We have the same “mind.”  We all are concerned with the glory of God through the spreading of the gospel of Christ.  We have the same mission–make disciples to the glory of God.  We have the same “love.”  We love Christ, we love His church.  But we won’t all do it the same way.  There are many things to be done for the kingdom of God, and God has sovereignly gifted and directed many churches to do specific tasks.  Don’t envy other churches because God has given them a different specific task.  He knows what He’s doing.

Paul is telling the church at Philippi to be one.  Churches shouldn’t be splitting and losing members over things that don’t eternally matter.  His vision is of a church that is united in thought, doctrine and love, using everyone’s individual, different gifts and personalities to build up the body.  We are united under Christ, but we are not uniform.  We don’t all look the same.  We have different gifts, talents, personalities, backgrounds, jobs, etc…and all these things should be used to build up the body of Christ.

We’re called to be humble, as well.  We don’t envy or rival other Christians…we support and pray for them.  We put others first, thinking nothing of ourselves.  That’s challenging for me to think about, much less do.  But in Christ, we can and must do it.  Think about how you can do that this week.

We have the ability to do this because we are in Christ.  We also have Christ as our model, someone to look to and follow.  Obviously, for us, Jesus isn’t just a role model…He’s our Lord and Savior.  I don’t want to diminish Jesus to a good role model.  In fact, if we seriously looked at Christ’s life, I doubt anyone in the world would call Him a good role model.  He made a lot of people angry, claimed to be God, told people to drop everything they had and follow Him, and then died on a cross.  Not exactly what Forbes is looking for on their cover of “Forbes Top 100.”  But for us who surrender to Jesus as Lord, the model of His life is one to embrace, love and mimic as we grow in Christlikeness.

We think humility is being nice and sweet to those around us and not tweeting too much about ourselves and keeping ourselves from bragging.  While humility certainly isn’t less than that, and those are all good things, it comes nowhere close to Christlike humility.  Check out verses 6-8:

“Who, though he (Jesus) 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.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Humility goes to the cross.  Humility leaves eternal glory and a rightful throne over all the universe to come and serve and save sinners who hate Him.  Humility isn’t the attitude you have at the checkout line at the grocery store.  Humility is Jesus. 

And in Christ, we are expected and able to exhibit this humility.  We’ll never go to the cross to save people, because we can’t.  We can’t leave eternal glory or give up a heavenly throne to come be born as a baby. 

But we can leave our houses to go help someone with their groceries.  We can leave our desks to go comfort a coworker.  We can leave our country to go to a dangerous part of the world and share the gospel.  We can die to ourselves and say “Today, it doesn’t matter what happens to me or if I’m treated fairly…other people’s eternal salvation is more important.”  We don’t work just for other people’s welfare…doing good deeds for anything other than the spread of the gospel is eternally worthless.  But we do those good deeds to open up doors for the spread of the gospel.  We give up our lives, comforts, money, time, possessions and worldly status for the sake of others, for the sake of the gospel.

And in doing so, we become great.  Not popular.  Not wealthy.  But great, in the kingdom of God.  Jesus says if we want to be first in the kingdom of God, we must be last.  I want to be great.  Not popular, not wealthy, not the guy with the most Twitter followers, but great in the sense of being effective and faithful for God and His kingdom.  I want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  And in Christ, I can be.  It will never be a substitute for Christ’s righteousness, for I will fail, numerous times.  I will always need Him to stand for me.  But as I progress, and as you progress, I hope that this is your desire…to see Christ glorified by your humility and love for Him and others.

I confess I don’t know where to start showing the kind of humility Christ showed.  But God can and will show me.  And He’ll do the same for you.  Start looking at your life in Christ as an opportunity not to live for you, but as an opportunity each day to live for Christ and make Him known.

Lastly, verses 9-11 tell us that Jesus, the ultimate servant, receives His reward.  While we don’t earn this kind of reward by our imitation of His humility, we get to hear God say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  And we get to praise the One who showed us the way.  Our imitation is imperfect, but His humility was perfect, and for that, He receives this:

“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.”

Jesus is Lord.  He’s not just your personal Lord.  He is Lord of all the universe, whether you submit to Him or not.  Better to surrender to Him now and know the joy of life in Him then fearfully confess on the last day, knowing you rejected Him here.  Christ’s humility and sacrifice for us make Him eternally worthy of our praise.  You won’t be praised here for your humility.  But God notices.  And God is pleased and glorified when His church walks in the ways set out in Philippians 2.  Christ is pleased and glorified when His bride walks worthy of her groom.  Let’s do it.

Lord Jesus, may we praise you for your humility and sacrifice.  May we not forget what you did to purchase our salvation.  May we always trust in you alone, not our works or our imperfect obedience.  May we thank you that we do have obedience, however imperfect it may be.  The ability to follow you at all is a gift from God.  May we walk worthy of the gospel, not so that we may gain salvation, but to show the world where salvation comes from.  May you be glorified in all we do.  Amen.

God bless,

Neal E.

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