A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Philippians 2:1-11 on Sunday 9 February 2020. Part 5 in a series on the Apostles’ Creed.
Community. It’s a lovely feel-good word. So we use it a lot. We talk about the local community or the rural community or the church community. But do we know what it means? Well, it means sharing. It means togetherness. It means fellowship. At its heart is the assumption that there is a common unity. That there is not just a me and a you and a you and a you, but that there is an us, a group that we all belong to with common values and needs and goals. It’s the idea that helping you doesn’t just help you, but it helps me too.
And yet the forces that divide us that can break that fragile unity are strong. Divisions of age, of income, of education, of distance, of race, of politics. We are very different people. And these demographic differences are exaggerated by our selfishness. The great enemy of our common unity, this sense that there is an us, is me. Well, I don’t just mean me, I mean you too, all the mes that are out there. The main reason that people don’t want to work together is that they can’t see what’s in it for themselves.
That makes community hard in our region. It makes it hard in our town. It can make it hard in church. Because we aren’t immune from the problems of everyday people. There’s no little box at home that we can leave our heart in with all our problems so that we can come to church and pretend that nothing’s wrong. No, underneath our Sunday best, we still bring our hearts full of hopes and fears and all its insecurities. As a wise man once told me, “You’re only human.”
Where can we, the members of God’s church, find our community, our common unity, despite all our differences? It was to answer that very question that Paul wrote chapter 2 of his letter to the Philippians. In it he reminds us of the basis of our community, the one thing we have that creates our common unity.
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, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
All these ifs, of course, aren’t meant to raise any doubts about these things. It’d be a bit like saying to someone who’s a bit down, “If you eat three square meals and have a roof over your head then you should be grateful.” Now, I don’t know if that’s a very kind thing to say to anyone. You can eat as much as you want and have a home to live in and still be justifiably miserable. My only point is that the person who is saying those things isn’t raising doubts about whether the miserable person eats breakfast lunch and dinner. They aren’t implying that the person might be homeless. They are just drawing attention to the good reasons for gratitude.
In the same way, in Philippians chapter 2 Paul is not raising doubts, but is drawing attention to the great benefits that Christians enjoy because of their faith in Christ. Encouragement. Union with Christ. Comfort. Love. Fellowship. These are the great blessings of the Spirit that we can draw upon to face the day to day struggles of life. Like a soldier who takes courage from his fellow soldiers. Like a teacher can draw upon her experience to control an unruly class. Like a doctor can draw upon the research of clinical trials of a particular drug. We do not need to go through life on our own. Because we have the limitless resources of the Spirit of God who is the presence of God around us, with us, and within us. God’s gift to us in Christ.
But these great benefits, these blessings don’t just help us, but draw us out of ourselves to help us to help others. Not just encouragement and comfort, but fellowship, and tenderness, and compassion. Instead of just looking at ourselves and caring about our own problems, God helps us to see others and to care about their problems. The Spirit helps us overcome the selfishness that obstructs our community.
“If these things are true in your life,” says the apostle Paul, “if you know God’s love, if you’ve experienced his strength, if the compassion of Christ dwells in your heart, meaning “because these things are true” then:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul’s plan is not that Christians become uniform. All the same. No different from each other. God help us, no. I mean, imagine what a mess we’d be in if everyone was like you, or worse, like me. The place would be full of people wanting to talk for twenty minutes and nobody listening. Paul’s plan is not that we become uniform, all the same, with no distinctions and no personalities of our own, but that despite our differences, despite the forces that would divide us, we would be united in spirit and purpose
And to that end, Paul inspires us with that one other great thing that Christians have in common. The same Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. He says in verse 5,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
For Jesus is not just our Saviour. I mean the world of full of saviours. The paramedic might save your life, but you’re not going to invite him to live with you. The fire fighter might save your life, but you aren’t going to make him the beneficiary of your estate. Your barrister could save you from prison, but you aren’t going to leave work and study law.
Jesus is our Saviour, but he is not just our Saviour, with no more interest in our lives. No he is our Lord, our Master, our Teacher. The great goal for being saved by him, is that we become like him. And in verses 6 to 11 Paul reminds us what Jesus is like.
Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
Jesus didn’t have to be dragged out of heaven kicking and screaming, unwilling, uncaring. Is that what being the eternal son of God meant to Jesus? Is that what the glories of heaven meant to him? Something to cling to. Something to grasp. Something to never let go of. Not at all. Jesus willingly let go of all those things, for you and me.
And his journey down from heaven to earth wasn’t finished there. I mean, where did the wise men go when they were looking for the baby Jesus? They went to Jerusalem. They went to the palace. Where else would be the newborn king of the Jews? But the baby Jesus was right where he belonged. In a stable, laid in a manger held in the arms of a peasant girl, surrounded by shepherds and animals. As Paul reminds us in verse 7.
He made himself nothing, taking the very natures of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Even then his journey down from heaven to earth was still not finished. His birth was humble, but his death was in pain and disgrace. For this was his Father’s plan, for his son to give his life for us. As Paul reminds us in verse 8,
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross.
This is the example of Jesus. This was the attitude that was in him, that Paul says should be in us as well. Love. Humility. Service. Obedience. Sacrifice. This is the one thing that we all have in common: him. His love. His example.
At least on the cross Jesus’ journey down turned round and led its way up. As Paul reminds us in verses 9 to 11.
Therefore 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, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ.” Well this morning we’ve been looking at the fifth article of the creed, Jesus is God’s only Son, our Lord. Philippians chapter 2 reminds us that to call Jesus God’s Son means that we recognise that his life did not begin in Bethlehem, that the newborn king was once prince of heaven and left it all for us. But it also reminds us that to call Jesus God’s son means that we understand why he suffered the cross. Out of love and obedience to God, to his Father in heaven.
Philippians chapter 2 also reminds us that to call Jesus Lord means that we acknowledge what he did to earn it. This wasn’t jobs for the boys, God looking for the best job for his pride and joy. But Jesus earned his exalted place at the right hand side of the Father with every step he took in his journey down: his humble birth, he life as a servant, his brutal death. As far as he went down, so far has his Father raised him up: to life, to heaven, to be the king of kings. But it also reminds us that to call Jesus Lord is ultimately our solution to the problem of selfishness. For to be a Christian, to belong to Christ, to look to him for salvation, means that Jesus is not just the Lord, but our Lord as well. It means that we must abdicate from the rule of our life, that we must not consider being number one, the most important person in our life, as something to be grasped, that we have to hold onto it for dear life. But that we let go of our devotion to ourselves, and live for him, our Lord. That we live like him in his example of love, humility, service, obedience, sacrifice.
There are many things that divide us. There are many things that threaten our fragile community as the church, the people of God. But there is one thing that unites us as believers. Jesus. God’s only Son, our Lord. Because if we live for him, and not for ourselves, then we begin to live for each other and we begin to live for those who need him too.