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.

“To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain”–Philippians 1:19-30

I don’t do anything on time, it seems.  This post was supposed to be released last Sunday, then on Wednesday, then yesterday.  I’m finally writing it, though, and that’s what matters, right?

We’re finishing up Philippians 1 today.  In these next few verses, we have one of the most well-known and quoted statements regarding the Christian faith: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  We’ll examine what that means and looks like in the rest of this post.  But let’s start with verse 19.

Paul is in prison, and as we saw last time, he sees every situation, even prison, as an opportunity to advance the gospel.  He considers himself nothing, only that the gospel goes forth from his life.  So he starts in verse 19:

“For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.”  What does Paul mean by deliverance?  Some would argue that he’s talking about being delivered from prison, and others say he’s talking about final deliverance from this life, and into the presence of God.  He left some ambiguity here, intentionally, most likely.  While Paul clearly wants to be delivered from prison, as he talks about seeing the church again and encouraging them and having “fruitful labor” for Christ.  But more than he wants temporary deliverance, he wants eternal deliverance–“My desire is to depart and be with Christ.”

Paul’s desire to be with Christ and depart from this world leads us to verse 20: “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Paul’s goal, whether he lives or dies, is to honor his Lord and Savior.  He counts himself as nothing (Acts 20:24), and wants to honor Jesus by the way he lives and by the way he dies.

From his self-denial and exalting of Christ, we get the famous verse 21:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  To live is Christ, to die is gain.  Let that sink in for a moment.  What does Paul mean by this?  The quick, Sunday-school-answer, is to say “We live for Jesus and when we die we get to be with Him.”  And that’s absolutely true.  But can we honestly say we know what it means to “live for Jesus?” What does that even mean?  And are we doing it?  Is death truly gain for us?  Do we see it as gain?

I remember growing up, and hearing about heaven and Christ returning and what it would be like to see Jesus and be with Jesus, and while I thought that all of that was cool, I remember thinking, “I want Jesus to wait a while.  I want to get married, and have kids.  I want to travel the world.  I want to do this, and that, and that over here, etc.”  And I know I wasn’t the only one who thought that way.  That’s a heart problem and a sin, whether we recognize it or not.  We’ve unconsciously made idols out of this world, and out of “good” things.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be married, and have a family, and wanting to travel.  None of those things are bad, but when they begin to take the place of God, our “good” things have become idols.  When we want the things of this world, even the good things, more than we want to be with God, more than we want our faith to become sight, there’s a huge problem.  We have stored up treasure for ourselves here by forgetting the treasures we have in the gospel, the treasures that are eternal.

For Paul, his life now belongs to Christ.  He has given Jesus total control.  In fact, Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that he is now “crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  Paul is dead.  His will, his ways, his desires, his old life, is now dead.  And his will, his ways, his desires, his wants, likes, dislikes and whole way of life now mirrors that of Christ.  He has died to himself.  So his life is now 100% dedicated to serving Christ and working to see God’s kingdom grow and disciples made through him.  He belongs to Christ.

This is the call Jesus has for every man, woman and child that wishes to be his disciple.  Lose yourself and your old life, old ways and old desires and live for Christ.  Have a completely new way of living.  And too often, the “new life” we supposedly have is only shown on Sunday mornings.  We’ve traded the promises of a new life for a comfortable, convenient, religious life that’s only a part of our everyday lives.  And it’s not okay.  Did Jesus really die and rise again and breath life into my bones so that He could be a “significant” part of my life?

I had to fill out a “diversity pie chart” for a PR class this past semester.  I can’t remember the specific instructions, but basically, we were to divide our lives into a neat little chart and show which parts of our lives drove us the most.  Example: Being a college student made up 50% of my identity.  It affected that certain percentage of my life.  And being a son affected 25% of my life, and so on and so forth.  And I found myself struggling with this.  I didn’t feel right saying that my faith in Christ affected a certain percentage of my life.  Because it’s not a percentage.  Faith isn’t a very important part of my life.  No…outside of Christ and my faith in Him, I don’t have life.  And now that I’ve been brought to Him in faith, it affects everything I do.  At least that’s the goal.  I can’t say I’ve arrived yet, but I’m beginning to see how surrendering to Jesus as Lord affects everything, and what it means to lose myself in Him.  I’ll have more to say on how His Lordship affects specific areas of our lives in a later series this summer.

Where is our treasure?  This is the question that we’re presented with when reading Philippians 1:21.  If Christ is our treasure, then to die really is gain, and to live is to live for nothing more and nothing less than the glory of God in Christ being made known through us.  Death is gain because we get Jesus.  We’re free from sin, temptation, sickness, disease, war and everything else that plagues this world and we’re in the presence of God for eternity.  Even things such as marriage and sex, things that are good and given to us by God, are but a shadow of a greater reality yet to come.  Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, and our hope is that one day, the perfect, eternal marriage will take place that will replace all earthly marriages, as Christ returns for His bride.  That is good news.

But if our treasure is in this life…we won’t live for Christ.  And death won’t be gain.  We’ll fear it, because we don’t want to leave our stuff.  We don’t want to leave our spouse, our children, our job, our home or our toys.  So where are you at?  What are you living for?

I want to be like Paul.  I want to treasure Christ and embrace Him in faith, in full assurance of my salvation in Him, and I want to hold on to nothing in this world and joyfully shout that Christ is my treasure, Christ is my reward!  And I want that to drive the way I live.  Because while we wait for our treasure to take us home, He has works prepared for us to do here (Eph. 2:10).  So Paul continues in verse 22 in saying that if he remains here, it is “fruitful labor for me.”

Because Paul died to himself and now lives for Christ and looks to Him as his treasure, it allows Paul to be remarkably others-centered.  He says that he remains on account of the church, for their “progress and joy in the faith.”  So Paul’s life isn’t focused on what he can get, or building his resume, or anything like that, but about the kingdom of God.  He constantly disciples other believers, encouraging them in the faith, sharing life with them and worshiping with them.  He cares nothing for himself, but pours himself out for the church, as Christ did.  He’ll talk more about that in Philippians 2.

He does this for the glory of God, and for the church’s progress and joy in the faith.  Paul’s aim is that God is glorified and His children grow in their faith in Christ and their progress and love and joy for Him.  In other words, Paul is concerned supremely with God’s glory and the church’s sanctification.  That raises questions for us:

Do we take joy in growing in Him?  Do we sincerely enjoy knowing Jesus more, through His Word, knowing His character, seeing ourselves grow more Christlike, having our faith strengthened and confirmed?  Or are we content with where we are?

And do we take joy in seeing others grow because of us?  Do we even care whether or not our fellow believers are being encouraged and strengthened as a direct result of our relationship with them?  We saw last week that before we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ to have material blessings or good health, we should pray for their love for Christ to grow, and pray for their sanctification.  Now, Paul says, we play a role in that.  We see in Acts that the church isn’t a gossip club or a place to talk about football.  Not that every conversation has to be this forced talk about “God things,” since sharing life means we’ll talk about things like jobs, football, and our children, but you get the sense that conversations about Christ come frequently and naturally for the believer.

Paul sets an example.  And it’s in Scripture so we can follow it.  Paul even tells us that in 1 Corinthians 11:1–“Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ.”  We are all responsible for helping our brothers and sisters in Christ grow in their faith and Christlikeness, and this should be our joy.  If we treasure Christ, and count our lives as nothing for the sake of knowing and treasuring Him, we will be wonderfully selfless and take joy in seeing others grow because of us, and our vain pursuits and concerns will fade away.  I pray this happens in my life, and in yours.

Wrapping up (since this post is already really long…my bad), let’s look at verses 27-30.  Paul tells the church that they have an impact on his joy.  He’ll echo this again in chapter two.  He tells them to let their “manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  And he wants this to happen, whether he’s there physically or not.  He wants to see them “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”  What does this mean?  Understanding that Paul spent much of his time combating false gospels and false teachers in churches, it, on some level, means contending for the faith.  It means that the church is united in believing, embracing and preaching the true gospel.  It means they’re growing in their faith in Christ.  They become more and more convinced of the truth of the gospel, and they love Jesus more, and they trust Him more, with everything.  And they’re becoming more like Him.  And even though their opponents are many, they embrace suffering because their joy is in Jesus.  We can embrace suffering because we have Jesus.  And we know that this is a sign of the enemy’s destruction, and a sign of our salvation.

When Jesus is our treasure, then these things become our joy.  If Christ is not our treasure, these things may still bring us joy, but they will not be the focal point of our lives, and thus, we rob ourselves of true joy.  There is a supreme joy in trusting and loving Jesus with our heart, mind, soul and strength.  There is a supreme joy in dying to self and saying “all I have is Christ” and living for His glory and His church.  This was Paul’s mission.  This was Paul’s life.

So how do we get here?  While Paul’s a pretty important dude, he’s a sinner, like all of us.  He wasn’t a “super-Christian.”  He’s a normal (whatever that means) guy that God chose to use to display His glory.  And while we certainly won’t write Scripture and we may not plant most of the early churches, we can be men, women and children who think nothing of ourselves, trust only in Christ, live only for Christ and joyfully embrace death on our way to be with our King.

We “get there” by receiving the gospel.  By remembering the gospel.  By having faith.  True faith in the gospel always leads to a love for Jesus and a denial of self to live for Christ as Lord.  I’d argue that if I, if we, truly understood all that we have in Jesus, we would willingly and joyfully lay down everything we have, count it all as “rubbish” with Paul, and be completely His and His alone.  We won’t be perfect.  We’ll sin, we’ll make mistakes, and we’ll have idols that come up and threaten to ruin us.  But by living a life of repentance and faith and by the grace of God, we’ll overcome, we’ll grow, and we’ll bring glory to God.  And we’ll see Him face to face one day.  For those who have put their faith only in Jesus for salvation, for forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God, and who now want to follow Him as Lord, this is what you have, before you take a step toward following Jesus:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to the purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”–Ephesians 1:3-14

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him to the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”–Ephesians 2:4-7

Lord Jesus, may we treasure you above all else.  May we remember all we have in you–grace, forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, and much, much more.  May we trust in you alone, even as we continue to fight and battle sin and temptation.  May we rest in your amazing, saving grace, despite our sin.  May we joyfully exalt you because of your love for us.  May we embrace suffering and death as we treasure you.  May we live only for you.  May we die to ourselves and know you more.  May you be everything to us, Lord.  May your joys be our joys.  Make us yours.

God bless,

Neal E