Gilbert Lennox brings another powerful challenge from the book of Philippians.
We left yesterday with Paul’s appeal to the Philippians for unity and courage in a context that was hostile.
Paul at the end of chapter one is calling on them and us to strive, to contend, to struggle side by side for the truth of the Gospel. It is an athletic metaphor. A lot of us here are keen on rugby – we are invited to get into the scrum together.
That is the kind of idea here (although I’m not claiming that Paul invented rugby). It is not a vision of the lonely battle or the isolated individual. It is about getting together in the battle. It is about striving together for the Gospel. In my student days, opposition to the Gospel was largely to do with Christianity’s supernaturalism and exclusivism. That has expanded into the moral arena, especially in the area of sexuality. These challenges have swept like a tsunami into the church.
Hand in hand with a lack of knowledge of the truth of the Gospel comes a lack of confidence in the Gospel. We start bickering and arguing instead of standing side by side.
It is so easy in a Christian country to have a theoretical belief that the Bible is the word of God but to largely ignore it, even in church, and thus fail to equip each new generation.
The Gospel is assumed rather than assimilated. The pressure on our young people and increasingly on our children in primary school is going to build up. None of us like to mocked or ridiculed. We fear of being “unfriended” because of our Christian faith. We feel like we are on a wet Saturday morning in January and we are 76 -nil down only ten minutes into the first half.
Let me tell you, Jesus is going to score the winning touch down. Let us not be stampeded and fearful. Let us not cower away as if there is something to be embarrassed about in Jesus and the Gospel. This is the greatest message on earth so let us stand together arms linked.
Paul says, “You have been granted to suffer…” Paul sees it as a gift, as a privilege to know Jesus at this level. To experience the fellowship of His suffering. It is a God-sent indication of our salvation.
The cross is at the centre of the Gospel.
It is at the centre of our Christian experience. This is what we are called to but not in a grim endurance.
If there is any encouragement? See how chapter two flows on from this call. It is the “if” of the settled reality. There is encouragement, there is comfort in His love, there is tenderness and compassion… these things are part of our experience then we are to allow these things to influence our unity with one another.
Those who have been forgiven much, love much. Allow the Gospel to do its work. Share in the spirit together.
We need to allow the experience of the Gospel to inform our relationships w so that we do nothing out of selfish ambition because that is not the way we think anymore. Paul is appealing to us. To unity of mind and heart and affection. To humble and sincere regard for others as more important than ourselves. He calls us away from selfish focus on our own interests to unselfish concern for others.
In their partnership with the Gospel, in their contending together for the faith, egos have risen and selfish pursuits have caused hurt and division. This is the world we live in. What do we do? Where do we get the resource from to cultivate a different culture in our churches and Christian communities?
We get it by looking away at Jesus. We are focusing particularly on the mind-set of Christ. This is glorious, the language is wonderful but what is it doing here? The whole point of looking to the mindset of Christ is so that we adopt that mind-set in our relationships with each other so that we can effectively partner in the gospel.
How can they be effective in their partnership in the Gospel, if their attitudes and behaviour actually deny the Gospel they profess to believe?
We can never spend too much time thinking about these words. We need to be clear what Paul means. Jesus is in very nature God. He always was God. He always will be. He did not cease to become God, become a servant and then become God again. He never ceased being who He is. He emptied Himself in the sense of giving up His rights. He took on the form of a servant. This is a description of God, never ceasing to be God, yet becoming a man and then becoming a slave.
This is in fact the mind of God and this is the attitude we need to have. Isaiah declares that one day every knee will bow to Him – God has exalted Jesus and ordained that at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess. One day, the entire universe will be compelled to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and that in Him alone is righteousness.
If we were to ask, What kind of God is this before whom every knee shall bow? He is the One who humbled Himself. The One who did not demand His rights. The One who became a slave. The One who was obedient to death, even death on the cross. When we see the mind of Christ, we see the mind of God.
Paul takes us to the cross, not to focus on the sacrifice for sin but on the mind-set that led Him there. The cross was not a piece of jewellery. It was a scandal and a shame. Jesus was obedient to death even to death on the cross. If we are to follow Him, it will mean carrying the cross.
As a schoolteacher, I would sometimes use my red pen. There were occasions when I ended up taking my red pen and putting a cross over the whole piece of work. We need to put a cross over our self, saying no to self so that we can follow Jesus.
It is easier to have a theoretical belief in the atonement of Christ but not to have this same mind set, taking up the cross.
In Philippi, Paul did not insist on his rights. Just imagine now, the Philippian jailer is listening in and thinking, “That is exactly what Paul did when he came here. He had the mind of Christ.” If Paul had insisted on his rights from the beginning, he would never have been thrown into the jail.
But his primary concern was furthering the Gospel and representing Jesus well. Then interestingly (at the end of Acts 16) he did call attention to his rights because he had not broken the law. He wasn’t prepared to slip out the back door and insisted that the magistrate escorted him out of jail – demonstrating that he had not been in the wrong.
It is not a simple matter of concluding that our rights don’t matter but it is about thinking it through in terms of how they advance the gospel.
And when it comes to the Christian community, there is no rights talk. Our interaction is to be characterised by the mind set of Christ. We are people of the cross. The self-giving of the Son of God for us is what is to characterise our Christian community. I think that is easily forgotten.
We often preach a theoretically correct Gospel and we live the exact opposite in church.
What is the world meant to do with that? When I think of how I can hold on to real or imagined hurts. When I think of how believers can insist on their rights. And then we see the Lord Jesus. If the Lord Jesus walked in on some of our elders meetings how would He feel? The voluntary slave… the self-giving humility…
It applies across the church and it also applies to leadership. Jesus said very little about leadership but on those occasions when He did speak about it, He points out what it is not like. He pointed out how the great and good of His day tended to lord it over people. He said, “It is NOT like that.” He has just explained the significance of His death and the dispute arose as was to who was to be the greatest!
Do you like going to a restaurant? Do you like the feeling of being served? We love that in a restaurant. What would you think if you were sitting there at a table enjoying your meal and a person approaches you and says, “How can I serve you?” And you look up and see that it is Jesus? Would you not get up from your seat and bow down?
Jesus asks, “Who is greater, the one who sits at table or the one who serves?” Jesus serves. Leaders need to be examples of Jesus. Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another. God opposes the proud and gives grace the humble.
At the proper time, He will exalt you. It is the cross before the crown. It is so deeply counter cultural. The displacement of self. In a culture that is more and more characterised by individual freedom. Anything that restricts my freedom must be challenged and removed. It is so powerful and all-pervasive that we don’t notice as these attitudes creep into the church.
How refreshingly and challengingly different is the mind set of Christ. This is a plural letter. Just imagine as you partner in the Gospel in the mind set of Christ, what a difference that makes.
Keep going this way! Working out your salvation doesn’t mean you are trying to figure out how to be saved. The idea here is that it is God who works in your. He works not only in the doing but also in the “willing” – in the area of our desire.
God does that. The God at whose name every knee will bow. This same God is at work in us. We are to work out what God works in. No wonder it is with fear and trembling because God is at work.
When He revealed Himself in the Old Testament, the mountains shook when the Holy and Infinite intersected with history. It is this same God who works in us. There is to be a reverence, a humility and trembling… where the thought of playing around with sin and sinful desire becomes unthinkable to us as God begins to renovate our inside, to reset our damaged consciences and damaged values.
He wants us to work that salvation out into our daily living. You may not feel like it. God is prepared to work on our will, our motivation, our desires and our mind set so that we begin to WANT to do His will. Salvation is a complete process.
The purpose is to make us like Christ, not necessarily to make us comfortable, successful or happy.
It is a struggle. It is uphill and all the way (John Bunyan) but Christ is in us. Where are we to work this out? It is not just in the church, it is in the world! We are to shine like stars!
We are to do what stars do by shining clearly in the dark sky. In the days before GPS, stars were key to good navigation. They were a guidance system. We have the opportunity as followers of Jesus that the darker the night gets, the brighter the star becomes. What an opportunity to provide an alternative guidance system for the stranger, for your family, your neighbours and work colleagues.
Do everything without complaining and arguing! Paul is talking about how we behave in society. It troubles me how often Christians bring their complaints into the public arena. How easy our talk with colleagues turns to negative stuff.
No wonder people don’t ask about the reason for the hope that we have; they don’t think they have any!
By holding out the word of life – if all we ever do is what we call the “kingdom works” it will have virtually zero impact on those around us. They need the words. We need to hold out the word of life!