Jeremiah 29:10-14, Philippians 2:1-11
July 28, 2013
It was hard to keep from laughing during Bible school when one of the young people announced that they were reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippines. It reminded me of the sweet elderly lady in my last church who used to refer to this as “the book of Filipinos.” (Its kind of fun that way!)
Well, the fact is that the church in Philippi was one of Paul’s favorite congregations. Throughout this letter we see the affection he had for them, and his sincere desire that their life of faith be fruitful and peaceful. There’s very little in this letter of any problems they were having, and nothing at all of challenge because of failures or lack of faith.
Paul was writing this letter while in prison. Most scholars believe he was actually in Rome at this point, awaiting trial. And since tradition has it that Paul was put to death in Rome, that puts this letter near the end of his life. This is almost a “farewell address” to the Philippians.
It’s hard for us to imagine what Paul had been through up to this point! His life had been a constant battlefield – ever since that fateful day on the road to Damascus. He had been imprisoned, put on trial, beaten, and pursued by his enemies from town to town. Yet, in all the difficulties life dealt Paul in first century Christianity, he still was able to speak so wonderfully about the joy of God’s kingdom, and the confidence we have in Christ Jesus. Despite all the personal trials and tribulations, he was still able to exhort his readers to” pray and not be anxious, and to know the peace of God which passes all understanding.” No letter surpasses Philippians in encouragement, or in one of Pauls favorite words, (and mine) “edification.”
Today we look at the second chapter. There we read these words. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Those are wonderful words! But again, does “being of the same mind” mean we have to think the same and believe exactly the same thing? No, this is bigger than that! This is being of one mind despite the differences in our belief and understanding. We said that a few weeks ago, and that is very Presbyterian, my friends! We Presbys have historically held to the understanding that “God alone is lord of the conscience” and that “people of good conscience can differ.”
That doesn’t always make things easy, does it? I think we’d all agree that it would be much easier if I just told you all what to believe, and that was it. There would be no debate! There’d be no struggle. Loving one another would be easy! A friend once said that “the lure of fundamentalism, is that there is only one understanding. There is no struggle”. But we don’t have that luxury! We are called to “forebear one another.” We are called to love one another, which means we are to respect those with whom we disagree. If you don’t want to do that, then we need to have a serious talk about whether or not you want to continue to be a Presbyterian!
So, how do we do that? Read the next sentence. “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.”
Isn’t that the best way we come to respect one another? Isn’t it through getting ourselves “out of the way?” It’s been said, and I agree, that “the biggest roadblock to understanding and loving another person is the ego!” When we can respect what we believe, but still love another person enough to respect them and their beliefs, too, that’s when this truly happens!
Paul takes this one step further,. He says, “In humility, count others better than yourself.” Now that doesn’t mean that we beat ourselves down. It means we lift others up! It means we get out of our own little world, which we talked about a few weeks ago, and get into other’s world. One person once said, “Nothing makes you feel good about yourself than helping someone else.” Isn’t that true?
Remember, “humility” is not the same as “humiliation.” “Humility” is not the degrading of the self. It’s actually the building up of the self, but in the proper perspective. It’s coming to the understanding that we are not the center of the universe. It’s knowing that we are worthy, but knowing that our worth does not preclude the worth of others! We can feel good about our own self-worth, and at the same time, look to build the self-worth of others! Does that make sense?
You know, the people who don’t think about others are usually those who don’t feel good about who they are. They’re in a constant struggle to build up their own sense of self-worth! Isn’t that true? It takes a strong person to be humble! It takes a confident person to think less of ones self, and to build others up. That’s why Paul exhorts people to do those things. Because they don’t come naturally. Those things are sometimes hard. But doing them is so important to everything in our faith! We need to strive to think less of the self and more of others.
So, again, how do we do that? Read the next sentence. This is the focus of all of this for Paul. This is what he saw as the highest and the best way to live. “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Paul says the key is “Having the mind of Christ.”
Think about that. In Corinthians, Paul said “we are being changed into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to the next.” (II Corinthians 3:18) We need to know that about ourselves! We need to know we are being changed into the image of Christ. In his book “The Purpose Driven Life,” Rick Warren elaborated further on that. He said that it is our goal as Christians to be (eventually) like Jesus.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it? But that’s what Paul is exhorting the people about. He’s trying to get them to see that as their goal. And just because a goal like that seems unattainable, that doesn’t mean we shouldnt strive to move toward it. Paul told the Hebrews, “We run the race set before us looking to Jesus.” Just because we can never be exactly be like him, doesn’t mean we shouldnt shoot for that as a goal! We need to have such a goal, because, as one person said, “If you shoot for mediocrity as a goal, youll hit it every time!”
The thing Paul is fighting against here is complacency and defeatism. There are too many people who live their life of faith that way. They say, in essence, “Theres no way I can be like Jesus, so I wont bother trying.” Paul knew that! That’s why he wrote these amazing words! Because there’s no doubt that part of motivation is inspiration. When we are moved in our hearts, then we see changes in our intentions and in our actions! Without the movement in our hearts, we fail to act, and apathy sets in.
We used to have a joke in which we asked, “Do you know the difference between ignorance and apathy?” And the answer was, “I dont know, and I dont care!” Friends, we have to know, and we have to care! We have to be strong, and to reach beyond ourselves to look to the interests and inspiration and exhortation of others. That’s difficult! Again, Paul wouldn’t have said it if it came naturally. But it doesn’t! We have to set our minds on it. We have to strive for it. We have to see it as our goal. We have to run that difficult race which all races are looking to Jesus, supported by that great cloud of witnesses who are cheering for us, urging us on!
That’s part of why I stand here before you. I could give you an outline or a narrative of what Paul was saying. I could give you some pointers about faith and belief. But what I hope to do is reach your hearts. I hope I give you the inspiration to “run the race,” to look to the heavens when your lives are full of turmoil. Isn’t that also the importance of being in this together? We can so easily be discouraged. We can feel like we’re missing the boat, like were falling far short of the mark. We can be tempted to say, “Why bother?”
I stand before you to tell you that you can care about it. It does matter. I’ts important that you do bother! You’re not where you should be, but you are on the road to being there, if you keep on keeping on. That’s the purpose of a sermon. Information is one thing, and my good wife would tell me that I sometimes lean a bit too heavily on the information side. And she’s right. But it’s the inspiration part that’s the most important! I’m your cheerleader! I’m the coach at halftime! I’m trying to motivate you to run the race, to fight the fight, to be like Jesus!
Paul tried to do the same thing for the people of Philippi. And the important thing to remember is that he couldn’t sell it if he didn’t live it. And for him, Jesus Christ is our example. He is our inspiration. He is our strength. He is our rock!
I could email this to you. I could print it out and leave it for you to pick up. But that’s not the point. Print has been around for over 500 years now. And believe me, it has its place. Paul knew that, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered to write the way he did! He knew the power of inspiration! But over the years, we’ve continued to see the importance of the spoken word and I’ll continue to speak the word to you for the same reason Paul wrote the way he did to the good people of Philippi. I’ll continue to challenge you with the question, “Where is your heart in all of this? Do you seek to have the mind of Christ?”
Eternal God, you reach out to us, you touch our hearts, you compel us to follow Jesus and to be like him. You know that’s not easy for us. But we know that through the power of your Spirit within us, we can grow into the image of Christ our Lord. Help us to do that, help us to know we are continuing to do that. Draw us closer to you, that we might become more like you. For we pray in Jesus name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.