In our latest sermon in the series "Letters from Lockdown", Pete preaches from Philippians 1:27 - 2:11. This passage show us the nature of God in his humble service towards us, demonstrated through the life and death of Jesus.
Think about last year, before Covid19 struck. Most of the applause and adulation would have been for footballers, or Glastonbury festival bands, or actors, receiving their awards. Humility takes a back seat in situations like this. Yet we are told in Philippians 2 :3-4
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Just imagine footballers, or big businesses or Hollywood moguls acting according to these words! What would our politicians be like if they took these words seriously?
Humility is often viewed as a weakness, reserved for the spineless, and certainly not a quality of heroes. Prestige tends to be linked with achieving your personal goals. You may remember in February this year, just a couple of weeks before lockdown, being encouraged to applaud a famous morning tv presenter, who was lauded as ‘brave’ for ‘being true to himself’ as he publicly left his wife. Such were the pre-Covid mantras.
But this year, there is a change.
Now we are applauding ordinary workers who are serving others in hospitals and care homes; doing the menial, often messy jobs required in these settings.
Until recently, humble people like this, doing humble jobs, were not praised. But now we go out every Thursday and clap for them. Perhaps God is trying to get our attention. Perhaps God is trying to tell us what it really means to be brave and a hero. Humble service of others is truly heroic and Godlike.
This is what we see in this passage -the true essence of God. God is the supreme power. But the essence of God is more seen in love and commitment to others than in anything else.
Look what Jesus did in this passage. Instead of being served by angels, He became a servant. That is the character of God. He saw the interests of others as more important than His own comfort. He gave His life to save others.
“In your relationships with one another have the same mind set as Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not think equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant and being found in appearance as a man he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross.”
To be godlike is to live and die for others, and the Lord God’s character is seen most clearly by what He did and became on the cross. I love the story in the Gospels where we hear about the Roman centurion who oversaw the execution of Jesus. It was at the point when Jesus was on the cross, dying for the sins of the world, that the Roman soldier realised, ‘That’s who God is!’ and he saw through the sham of all the other gods that are just about themselves. Only the real God gives his life for others.
One writer sums up all the different ideologies through the ages in this way:
“Greece said be wise, know yourself. Rome said be strong, discipline yourself. Religion says be good, conform yourself. Epicureanism says be sensuous, satisfy yourself. Education says be resourceful, expand yourself. Psychology says be confident, assert yourself. Materialism says be possessive, please yourself. Asceticism says be lowly, suppress yourself. Humanism says be capable, believe in yourself. Pride says be superior, promote yourself. Christ says be humble, die to self. “
To be godlike is to have humility, and to be humble is to be the servant of others. That is what God applauds and what He wants us to be.
Paul, who is writing this letter says, in chapter 1:27 “Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Be appropriate to that message of Christ which is to be a humble servant of others.
The first point to consider is the meaning of humility.
Paul spells out the meaning by telling us the opposite.
V3 “do nothing out of a selfish ambition or vain conceit rather in humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.”
Humility is not selfish ambition. That may be worthy of this world, but not worthy of the Gospel. The natural mind takes us to selfish ambition. I must look after number one first, and then I might spare some time for others. And, sadly, if I do not get what I want I turn resentful and bitter, accusing others of failing to understand or appreciate me.
Neither is humility vain conceit. This is empty glory, which looks impressive in my own little world, but is worth nothing in eternity. If you put both these things together, they spell destruction and disunity and if we want a joyful united church, then we need to get rid of selfish ambition and vain conceit.
Why do families split? Why do businesses experience so many personnel problems? Why do nations rage against each other? Self-centredness, ambition and conceit are self-destructive, defined by an attitude which says, ‘When you get in my way, I must destroy you.”
We are designed to be nothing other than godlike. We are made in the image of God, and as Christians we are given a divine nature to live a godly life. Selfish ambition and vain conceit are ‘small-minded’ goals, which bring devastating results; a bit like a terrorist wearing a body bomb. Just one terrorist in a crowd not only destroys himself but everyone around him.
In last week’s talk we saw that Christians are called to stand firm in one spirit, striving together in one faith, for the sake of the body of believers.
In chapter 2:1 we read:
“Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, any comfort from his love, any common sharing in the spirit, any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and mind.”
We are about something far bigger than just vain conceit and selfish ambition. We are building the Kingdom of God and encouraging others to do so too. So, pass on the blessings that you have in Christ. A Christian is not independent. We are in Christ. We are one, working together so all the blessings we have in Christ are to be shared with others that are in Christ. If we know any encouragement from being united in Christ, then pass it on. Live in the light of being united in Christ. It is such an encouraging thing that I, a sinner, am united with the King of Heaven. If I am encouraged, then I want to encourage others. If I have received any comfort from his love, I must pass it on. It is infectious. If we have experiences of how God has dealt with us in patience, or forgiveness, or compassion or tenderness, pass them on! Live in the light of the compassion and tenderness of a patient God who loves us.
The humble person recognises that they are made right in Christ, lives in the light of this truth, and then passes it on to others! Because we are in Christ, we are secure to be a servant of others.
Can I encourage you to encourage each other!
In Lockdown think about how you can use the blessings God has given you to encourage each other. Send a text, a letter, or a gift to a brother or sister who is on their own. Even children can do this, and it is a wonderful blessing to others. As Paul says in verse 2, “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and one in mind.”
The world’s attitude which says that I must gain everything for myself and then I’ll be happy, is totally wrong. There is a true joy in giving and blessing others with the blessing we have.
There is an old Christian saying:
“How do you spell Joy?
O= others second
Y= yourself last.”
This will give you joy. Humility defined.
The great model of humility - the servant God Himself.
Look at verses 5-8
V5 “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset of Christ Jesus”
Just think about that verse. We are to have the same thinking as Jesus. We are not called to be religious. Religion is about self. Pharisaic legalism is never humble. It looks at what I achieve and what you don’t achieve. But our attitude is not to compare ourselves with others but to serve others selflessly, loving them. In my relationships I need to be like Christ. Not thinking I am better than anyone else but desiring only to serve them.
Look at who Jesus is, ‘being in the very nature God’. It is a statement of His eternal nature. Jesus is God. Jesus is the one who made Heaven and Earth. Jesus is our creator. He was the one who became a servant.
Because He knows who He is, He does not have to prove Himself. Humility is only possible for the secure. Because He knows who He is, He can wash feet, He can go to a cross, He can serve you.
It is the same with us. When we really understand who we are in Christ we will be able to pass the blessing on and serve. When we understand that we are a child of God, not because of what we do for Him, but because of what He has already done, we don’t have to prove ourselves and we can serve. We can wash feet; we can give our lives for others.
Think about the person who is always scared about what other people think. When you are a child of God you are free from that. Opinions don’t matter. You are free to just serve. You are free to be humble, because you know whose you are.
Jesus is God. But look what He does, in verse 6.
“ who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;”
Jesus used his power for the advantage of others. He gave his gifts as God, to create something wonderfully new. Our God is a down-to earth God, a ‘get your hands dirty’ God. A servant God.
Look at who Jesus is, what He became and what He did.
V8 “And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death even death on a cross”.
He used his gifts to become obedient to the father’s rescue plan for us. He humbled Himself. He went to the place of curse. He did not social distance from sin. He became sin for us, gasping for breath under the weight of sin and judgment, so that we could become the righteousness of God. Now that is brave! That’s being a hero!
As a teenager we used to sing a song called Three steps to Heaven, which was actually about trying to kiss a girl. Well here are three steps to draw you to the true heaven of knowing Jesus.
1. Look at who He is. He is God in heaven
2. Look at what He became. He stepped down to become a servant
3. Look at what He did. He died to rescue us from our sin.
Why did He take those three steps down from heaven?
To take us to heaven.
Where is the power of God most seen?
Remember the Roman soldier saw it when he saw Jesus on the cross.
Is God’s ability to make galaxies really showing off his great power? Yes and no.
He made the galaxies in one day, and then had a day of rest.
Is His power shown in throwing the sun and moon into their places in the sky? Yes and no. He did that in one day too.
No, the really hard thing for God, the real power of God, is seen in making people like you and me love each other. In order to do that, He had to come into the world, die, rise again, ascend to glory, and send the Holy Spirit into our lives.
That is where you see the power of God and they are the steps He took to bring us into godlikeness with Him in heaven
Do you see what God applauds? Do you see what God claps?
The maker’s view of this humility is in v 9-11.
“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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God, the Father.”
That is true bravery. That’s what God comes out to applaud and clap every day: this humble servant who gave his life for the rescue of others. And that’s who will rule the new creation, a humble servant God.
Philippians 1:27 - 2:11
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so 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. (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.