There have been many ways I have been blessed in life. I’ve gotten a good education. I have some decent possessions and a few toys. I’ve been able to travel and been on some neat adventures. I have walked in the vast boreal forest of Canada, swam in a cold, clear mountain streams in California, had a picnic in a rainforest in South America and walked where Jesus himself walked. These things have all been wonderful. However, I think that my greatest earthly joys have been found in the relationships that I have made along the way. I know so many wonderful people. I have friends in every Canadian province west of Ontario and in many U.S. States and even some foreign countries. Many of those are from the church families that I have pastored over the years. On top of that, I have my own family.
One of the reasons why I have found such great joy in my relationships is simply because we as people are made for relationships. Human beings are hard wired to long for good relationships. People usually become hermits and lone wolves not because they don’t long for good relationships but because they have been disappointed or hurt in relationships and live in fear of being hurt again.
One of the consequences of the fall of mankind is that good relationships are difficult to have and maintain. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit that gave knowledge of good and evil, God said this to Eve:
16 ¶ To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (Genesis 3)
I don’t have time to go into detail about this except to say that before this, Adam and Eve had the perfect relationship. Someone joked that one of the reasons for that was that Eve couldn’t tell Adam about all the men she could have married and Adam couldn’t compare Eve’s cooking to his mother’s. They would have experienced unity and oneness on an unimaginable scale. Their love for one another would have been perfect and flawless and come naturally. After this, sin tainted that relationship. When God said that her desire would be for her husband, he meant that she would try to control him to meet her needs but would find herself frustrated. Conflict, instead of love, would come naturally. And sadly, sin has infected not just marriage relationships, but all relationships. When we see a list of Paul’s acts of the sinful nature, we see that they are poison to relationships: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. And so relationships, one of the things designed to give us our greatest joy, are very difficult and often cause us pain.
Yet loving relationships are God’s will for the church. They are God’s priority for the Church. And, as I said last week, joy comes when we align our priorities with God’s priorities and so it shouldn’t surprise us when we experience joy when we make good relationships our priority.
I. One of God’s priorities is unity in his church.
1 ¶ 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.
Here, Paul lists many blessings we have in Christ that motivate us to and even enable us to have this unity – to have loving relationships.
We are united with Christ. Christ is ours, and we are Christ’s. We have mystical union with our Lord that we share with fellow believers.
Some people might find this difficult to believe but there have been times when I have sensed that a stranger was a fellow believer in Jesus Christ without them saying anything and without them wearing any kind of Christian jewellery or T-shirt. Somehow, I just knew. It is this mystical union that we share in Jesus Christ. I have had other people share similar experiences with me.
We have comfort from his love. We have a Savoir and a God who loves us. We have a Saviour who tells us things like:
Joh 15:9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love
Joh 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master‘s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Can you imagine worshiping a god who you believe doesn’t love you? Can you imagine worshiping a god whose anger you fear and feel like you have to appease? That Christ loves us is a great comfort and can be our comfort when we have difficulty in our relationships.
We have fellowship with The Spirit. We have a relationship with God. We have been made one by the Spirit and we are therefore partners with him and with each other.
All of these blessings encourage us to UNITY because encouragement, comfort, love and fellowship are all things that bring people together. That they come from our union with Christ, the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit makes them even more powerful. Therefore God’s work within us is evidenced by this unity.
This unity is an occasion for JOY.
2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Paul said that his joy would be complete, or made full, if he saw the Philippian church having the same love and being one in spirit and purpose.
Unity among God’s people is a wonderful thing. One of the Psalms expresses how wonderful unity among God’s people is.
1 ¶ A song of ascents. Of David. How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133)
Comparing unity to oil being poured on someone’s head to us might seem strange. It seems kind of messy to me. But the writer is talking about special oil used in the anointing of priests. It was perfumed oil. Back then, pleasant scented oil was highly valued. People around the anointed priests would get to enjoy the fragrance of the oil. And so unity is something that is very pleasant and very precious.
Notice how the writer talks about how when people live together in unity, God bestows his blessing.
Churches where there are loving relationships experience God’s blessing. It didn’t surprise me one bit that Christian Swartz in his research on Natural Church Development found that one of the eight factors of a healthy, growing church is loving relationships. Not only are such churches attractive, but they receive God’s blessing.
B. What are the enemies of this unity? Paul warns us of those in the next couple of verses.
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.
Selfish Ambition is an enemy of loving relationships. This occurs when I want to advance myself and my agenda rather than the work of God.
The world is all about self-promotion. People who work in corporations are always looking for that next promotion. They want the parking space. They want the corner office. They want the key to the executive washroom. This sort of ambition can be the breeding ground for resentments and conflict.
Church leaders need to be aware that selfish ambition is a danger. Two pastors were talking and one of them innocently referred to the church he pastored as “my church.” His friend gently corrected him, “I thought it was God’s church.” When we are heavily involved in ministry, we must be very careful to remember whose ministry it really is.
Then there is vain conceit. This is the desire for personal prestige. This is the desire to be admired and have our ego stoked. This is the desire to be better than everyone else. This is the temptation to arrogance. It too, is a breeding ground for conflict.
Then there is a concentration on our own interests. William Barclay said:
If a man is forever concerned first and foremost with his own interests, he is bound to collide with others. If for him life is a competition whose prizes he must win, he will always think of other human beings as ... opponents who must be pushed out of the way. Concentration on self inevitably means elimination of others; and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down.
The owner of a certain company was upset that his sales force didn’t work together. He wanted them to cooperate because he felt that he would sell more products that way. So he called them all together and gave them a rousing speech about cooperation.
What he didn’t realize was that he was actually encouraging competition among his sales force. You see, the person who sold the most during a certain time period won a company expense paid trip to a tropical destination. He didn’t realize that a contest he initiated was encouraging competition and discouraging cooperation. He was encouraging selfishness and it was working against his company.
Over against that Paul encourages us to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. This takes a tremendous amount of humility
II. This humility is EMPOWERED by Christ Jesus.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
I`m not sure I like this translation of this verse. I think that the Revised Standard Version of this verse is perhaps a little more enlightening to us:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
The NIV version simply tells us to take our example from the attitude of Christ`s humility. Don`t get me wrong, Christ`s example of humility is wonderful. But how often have I been unable to follow someone`s example because I didn`t have the power to?
The RSV version, on the other hand, words things in such a way as to suggest that IN CHRIST, we have the power to follow Christ`s example. This mindset of humility is OURS IN CHRIST JESUS. We can have this mind set of humility among ourselves because Christ gives us the power to have it. Christ enables us. He not only EXEMPLIFIES us his attitude of humility, he EMPOWERS us to have His attitude through his indwelling spirit.
Having said that, Christ does indeed EXEMPLIFY the attitude of humility.
First of all, there is the humility of the incarnation. Christ humbled himself when he became a human being.
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.
God the Son removed His mantle of glory, donned a coat of flesh and bone and came for a walk on earth. God the Son put on the dust of this creation. He became a human being who became hungry and thirsty and tired. He felt pain. He had to go to the bathroom. He needed to take baths. The same hands that put the stars into place worked with wood and stone for a living.
Add to that that he came to a fallen world. He came to a world where everything beautiful God made was being corrupted by sin. He came into a world of disease and death. He came into a world populated by beggars and prostitutes. He came into a world where some people make the deaths of others their business. Somebody has compared the humiliation of Christ’s incarnation to royalty on the rubbish tip!
Secondly, there is the humility of His death.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
To be executed for a crime is a major disgrace, even today. Christ was executed even though he didn’t commit a crime. How humiliating! While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth, writings by a contemporary Roman named Seneca the Younger suggest that victims were crucified completely nude. There are some aspects of crucifixion that are so disgusting that I will not mention them here. Despite its frequent and seemingly accepted use by the Romans, some of Rome’s best known speech makers spoke about the horrors of crucifixion. Cicero for example, in a speech that appears to have been an early bid for its abolition, described crucifixion as "a most cruel and disgusting punishment", and suggested that "the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears."
Crucifixion was used for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. It was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.
Christ did this in obedience to the Father. He was willing to undergo an unjust, cruel, and shameful death to advance the plan of God. He was willing to do it for OTHERS! He was willing to do this so that we could be forgiven and have a relationship with God and by extension, with others.
Paul’s whole point is that if Christ was willing to undergo this ultimate humiliation for others, how much more we should have an attitude to humility. How much more should not only look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.
He exemplified the REWARD of humility.
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.
a. I recognize that I could go on and on about this. No matter what anyone says, at the end of time as we know it EVERYONE will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord! Everyone will know that Jesus shall reign wherever the Sun, does its successive journeys run! Jesus will reign supreme. His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom. Jesus humbled himself, but His Father exalted Him!
i. This implies that if we humble ourselves, God will lift us up too.
Pe 5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
Mt 23:12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Even in the corporate world, humility can be respected. I was told a story about two men who applied for a job at Shell Oil. The one man asked what he hoped to achieve in the company. He displayed his selfish ambition when he answered that he hoped to one day become the president of Shell Oil. The second man, whose name was Fred Neuman, was asked the same question. He said, “I want to use my talents wherever Shell Oil wants me. I will go wherever Shell Oil needs me to go and I will do whatever Shell Oil needs me to do.” He was lifted up when got the job.
I have the privilege of knowing a retired CEO of a nationwide company who I think exemplifies this very truth. His company has always been successful. It has grown steadily over the years and now has over 1000 stores in Canada. I have met many people who know this same man and all of them speak of him with great admiration. He is a clever, hardworking person. When he talks, people listen. I am told that when he walks into a room, people often fall respectfully silent before greeting him. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada. Yet, ironically, I have learned that one of the secrets to his success has not been self promotion. He has an ability to make others feel important. He got to know many of his employees by name even though hundreds of people work in the company. He is respected and valued but he is that way because he himself respects and values those around him. When I meet him, he is always more interested in talking about me, than he is about himself. He is lifted up because he lifts other people up. The man I am talking about is also a man of faith. His Christianity is more than just his religion. It guides his life and I believe that it has also guided his business practices and his relationships with others.
It has been my experience that arrogant people might be envied and deferred to and even perhaps respected and admired, but they are not often loved.
If this works in the corporate world, how much more will it work in the church? If even pockets of the corporate world recognize the poison of selfish ambition and vain conceit and the value of humility, shouldn’t we do the same? Those who humble themselves not only have the promise of being lifted up by God, they also will find that they have a secret to united, harmonious relationships – especially in the church. And these will bring them joy.
Sometimes we are so focused on getting our own way – on our selfish ambition or our vain conceit – that we don’t realize the harm that we are doing to the very thing that will bring us great joy – our relationships! Sometimes we are so focused on getting our own way that we forget what our master did and what God did for him. We try to find significance and self-esteem on our own terms instead of relying on God to lift us and we forfeit the blessing and the joy that could be ours.
And so we need to take seriously when Paul exhorts us to have this mind of humility in us that is ours in Christ Jesus. We will not only make Paul’s joy complete, but I also believe that it will help make our joy complete.
C. 2012 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.