Welcome to week two of our four-week series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is the story of the community learning how to live together in times of trouble … in times of trials.
As we saw last week, the Book of Acts, chapter 16, records the roots of this church. Then, nearly 10 years later, the Apostle Paul is in prison in Rome, and he writes a letter to encourage the church he planted a decade before. Think of it … Paul is writing a letter from inside prison to encourage those outside of prison.
The people of that day certainly needed encouragement because persecution was becoming an everyday part of life. But we need encouragement, too. Perhaps we do not face the kind of persecution that the early church faced, or that the church in China or Iran faces these days, but as individuals we certainly face times of testing and trial.
This letter is God’s instruction to us about how to live during tough times … in this series we are to learn 4 things…
• How to live as if God is in control (which we covered last week as we looked at Philippians chapter 1.)
• How to live as servants. (This week, in chapter 2, as we study Jesus’ example.)
• How to live a life of loss (using Paul’s example in Chapter 3)
• How to live a life of generous friendship (which is the example of the Philippians themselves cited in chapter 4.)
To briefly review last week, we learned “How to Live as if God is in Control”. We learned there is a big difference between saying God is in control and living as if God is in control … the difference between our theology and our actions.
Together, like the church in Philippi, we can become a community that demonstrates God is in control by the way we live … by the very actions we take.
So last week we broke chapter 1 into three parts:
1. First, we learned how to live as if God is in control by taking on God’s priorities. We asked ourselves, “Do we look at worldly events that affect us in terms of their effect on God’s plan, or, do we ask, ‘why is this happening to me?’ as if things are out of control?”
2. Secondly, we learned how to live as if God is in control by trusting Him for the outcome. Paul wrote while in prison, “what has happened will turn out for my deliverance.”
Paul understood God is in control in terms of outcomes in life, not individual events.
3. And finally, we learned how to live as if God is in control by understanding that suffering is something that God often grants to His people. Our ability to suffer together is a sign of God’s kingdom on earth.
Now, this week, we turn our attention to chapter 2, and discover that Jesus is our model for living as servants in troubled times.
So, let’s start with this thought by Paul …
Don’t look out for #1
Look at the first four verses of chapter 2. Paul says that in the midst of difficulties, we should not look out for number one, which certainly runs counter to our culture today. And remember, Paul is teaching this to people who were experiencing extreme persecution.
Paul says in verses 3-4 of our text…
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
God is NOT SAYING that we SHOULD NOT look after our own well-being, of course we should. God is simply saying we SHOULD look after the well-being of others as well. It is not an either-or … it is both.
When Jesus was on the cross, he focused on the Father’s will and was concerned about the standing of those who persecuted him. Afterall Jesus’ prayed, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Under all circumstances, Jesus placed His entire focus on God’s will, and was constantly reconciling people to God. What an example for us today…
In fact, whether in times of persecution or in times of safety and security, there is simply no other way to reflect Jesus Christ.
What would that Jesus-attitude look like in our everyday lives? Especially since we are routinely told that if we don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will.
So today, God, through Paul, is telling us that while we look after our well-being, we are to also look after the well-being of others.
But as Paul continues in chapter 2, he also emphasizes that Jesus is THE great example.
Great Example of Jesus
The next few verses (5-11) are regarded as one of the great songs of the early church. Some scholars believe that this passage was actually a worship song, sung by the very first followers of Jesus.
Here is a synopsis of verses 5-11…
“…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus … Who, being in very nature God … made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant … He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death … God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…” (Philippians 2:5-11)
As you read through verses 5-11, you sense that essentially, these verses break down into just three thoughts…
• He made himself nothing.
• He humbled himself.
• God exalted him.
We might think that when God came to earth, he would take command of everything and demand worship from everyone. But instead, when God came to earth, He made himself nothing by becoming an ordinary man.
He humbled himself even until death. And this did not happen to Jesus by accident. This is the path Jesus chose to walk. And the key is that this ancient worship song does not leave Jesus in the grave.
These verses record that God the Father exalted Jesus and raised him to life high above every other name.
Using Jesus as an example, Paul tells the church in Philippi, and us today, to have the SAME attitude that Jesus had.
During difficult times, such as when people misunderstand you; ridicule your beliefs; or call you horrible names, you are tempted to argue and get angry and fight back.
But the Apostle Paul says that instead, you should exhibit the same humility as Jesus.
Indeed, this message is repeated in many other places in Scripture. Here’s just one example. Four different times, the Bible says, “God gives grace to the humble, but it resists the proud.”
Listen to these words of Dietrich Bonheoffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die. There is no place for triumphalism in our lives, or in the life of the church. Exaltation is the Father’s work. And it requires faith from us to trust that the Father will raise us up in His time and in His way.”
So today, we have learned to not just look out for #1, but also what a great example Jesus is for us to love people and do ministry. Now my third point is this … we should daily be ….
Working Out Our Salvation
After the worship song in verses 5-11 that we just discussed, Paul follows it up with some practical words in verses 12-13…
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
But here is the thing… these words … “work out our salvation” … sound a bit strange to us when you think about what Paul says in Ephesians, “We are saved by grace, through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Has Paul changed his mind? What does Paul mean by “work out our salvation”?
What Paul is saying is that we have been given salvation as a gift. Then, after receiving the gift, our only REASONABLE RESPONSE is to WORK TOWARD imitating the example of Jesus.
And perhaps that will take some work on our part. But that work does not save. We must remember the words of a famous theologian (Dallas Willard), who said, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning.”
The truth is … Jesus gifts us with a free pass to heaven, and he’s been trying to make us fit for heaven ever since.
But all of this sounds challenging even for people who are not facing extreme persecution. We are to humble ourselves because God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.
So really, in good times or bad, there is simply no other way to reflect Jesus Christ … we simply need to…
Hold On, and Hold Out
In the final passages of this chapter, we discover that in hard times, blameless and pure people shine forth…listen to these words from Paul…
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing … then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life … I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain … so, you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:14-18)
The Apostle Paul simply is teaching us to do everything without complaining or arguing.
And this is true for both individuals and for our church. To set aside complaining or arguing is a corporate discipline that is only possible when people realize the blessings of grace and salvation. We have been saved by grace. What is there to ever argue or complain about?
And more importantly, we look like a different kind of people to the rest of the watching world. If there were a community who could live together without complaining or arguing, they would shine forth like the stars in the heavens. They would be seen as blameless and pure, even though they would be well aware that God is the one who this made them so.
Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us to HOLD ON to the Word of Life, SINCE IF we can HOLD ON to the Word of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, we will also be able to HOLD OUT that Word of life as we offer it to our families, friends, and community.
The second chapter of Philippians puts us in touch with the ancient worship of the earliest Christians, and the very heart of what it means to follow Jesus.
When Paul wrote his letter to comfort the brothers and sisters in Philippi, he pointed to Jesus as their only example.
The Lord’s example of course does not require us to perform the miracles He did. These things are certainly possible, but they are not a requirement for following Jesus. No … the heart of our faith is to always follow Jesus’ example of …
humility and service, especially in times of trial and tribulation.
Indeed, this is a summary of our calling, both individually and as a church, as disciples of Jesus. May we always intentionally live out what we learned today about “how to live as a servant”. Amen