Welcome to week number 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 testing and trouble.
As we talked 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 the letter from inside prison and he is encouraging those outside of prison. The people of that day 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 some churches face these days, but as individuals we certainly face times of testing and trial. This letter, in the book of Philippians, is God’s instruction to us about how to live during tough times:
- Learning how to live as if God is in control (which we covered last week as we looked at Philippians chapter 1.)
- Learning how to live as servants. (This week, in chapter 2, we will see Jesus’ example.)
To briefly review last week, we talked about Learning How to Live as if God is in Control. God is in control, isn’t he? Yes, of course He is. But there is a big difference between saying God is in control and living as if God is in control. It is 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.
So last week we broke chapter 1 into three parts:
- We can learn how to live as if God is in control by taking on God’s priorities. We saw Paul’s example, that he was gospel-centric. And we asked ourselves, “Do we look at the outrageous events swirling around 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?”
- We can learn how to live as if God is in control by trusting Him for the outcome—Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi that, “what has happened will turn out for my deliverance.” From this very important phrase we learned that Paul understood God is in control in terms of outcomes, not events. Whatever the outcome, Paul was rock solid about the fact that he would experience glory and goodness from any set of events
- And finally, we can learn how to live as if God is in control by receiving suffering as something that is sometimes granted by God to the community of faith. This is very challenging to our 21st-century ears—our ability to suffer together is a sign of God's kingdom on the earth here and now.
This week, we turn our attention to chapter 2 and discover that Jesus is our model for living in troubled times. His model is not only praiseworthy or notable; it is accessible for us. Paul challenges us to live up to the example Jesus set. And we can do it!
Let’s start by reading our scripture this morning Chapter 2 of the book of Philippians. It starts with
Imitating Christ’s Humility (verses 1-11)
2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The next portion of this letter in Chapter 2 discusses
Shining as Lights in the World (verses 12-18)
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. The next portion discusses Timothy and Epaphroditus (Timothy was like a son to Paul and Epaphroditus is like a brother to him)
Timothy and Epaphroditus (verses 19-30)
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20 I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.
May God bless the reading of our scripture.
Now let’s break this 2nd portion of Paul’s letter down. The first thing Paul is talking about here is:
1. Don’t look out for #1
If you look at the first few verses of chapter 2. We are instructed that in the midst of difficulties that we should not look out for number one! This certainly runs counter to the spirit of this age. It’s easy to be magnanimous when everything is rolling along well. But Paul laid his challenge in front of people who were experiencing persecution. For example, consider these words:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
If we were to go back and read Luke 23:34 the Scripture tells us that we should not look after our own well-being but that we should look after the well-being of others. We learn from the Gospels that when Jesus was on the cross, he focused on the Father’s will and was concerned about the standing of those who persecuted him. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Or even before that terrible day on the cross Jesus placed his focus on the Father’s will, and was constantly reconciling people to God. What an example! 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 such an attitude look like in our everyday lives? We are routinely told that if we don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will. But Paul is introducing the example of Jesus to us in Philippians chapter 2. Where he talks about:
2. The Great Example of Jesus
In the next few verses (5-11) we hear 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. It is a song filled with challenge and wisdom for us today:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Verses 5-11 read 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
These verses break down into three sentences. * First, he made himself nothing. * Second, he humbled himself. * And third, God exalted him.
This early hymn is like the steps downward into humility. Jesus is our example. We might think that when he came to earth he would demand worship from everyone. But no: when he came to earth he made himself nothing. He became like an ordinary man. He humbled himself living a life of service, and then humbled himself even until death. And beyond humility, Jesus suffered the kind of death filled with shame. This did not happen to Jesus accidentally. This is the path Jesus chose to walk. Bible scholar Gordon Fee tells us that this passage is the complete picture of what God is like. He says “There is no other,”
Here in Philippians, this ancient worship song does not leave Jesus in the grave. We see that God the Father exalted Jesus and raised him to life. Indeed, the Father raised him high above every other name. Now that’s a song worth singing! But it’s more than a worship song. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus is our example. Paul tells the church in Philippi to have the same attitude that Jesus had.
During times of trouble or persecution we are tempted to defend ourselves. When people misunderstand us at work; when people ridicule us for our beliefs in public; when our own family members do not understand us, we face the temptation to argue and to dispute. But the Apostle Paul says that we should have the same humility of heart and posture as Jesus, our Lord.
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.” How different this is from our society! We need to be reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer, who said, “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.
Remember, these are Paul’s instructions through the Holy Spirit to people facing persecution.
Next Paul talks about:
#3 Working Out Our Salvation
After leading the Philippians in this beautiful worship song, the Apostle Paul brings a practical word for them, and for us. In verses 12 and 13 he says, 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. How strange these words might sound to us! After all, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8 “We are saved by grace, through faith.” Right? Yet it’s the same Apostle Paul who said, “We are saved by grace through faith,” who also said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Has Paul changed his mind? Is Paul inconsistent? Never!
What Paul is saying is that we have been given salvation. It is a gift. And having received the gift, our only reasonable response is to work toward imitating the example of Jesus. Perhaps that will take some work on our part. But the work does not save. We must remember the words of Dallas Willard, who famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning.”
We do not want to be the kind of person who fails to respond to God’s grace. The truth is that Jesus gave us a free pass to heaven, and he’s been trying to make us ready for heaven ever since! And obedience is the path to Christian growth.
This sounds challenging even for people who are not facing persecution! But the path to Christian maturity is the same in good times as it is in bad: humble yourself 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.
Finally we need to
#4 Hold On, and Hold Out
In this final passage, we discover that in hard times, blameless and pure people shine forth. Verses 14-18 read 14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. You can tell that the Apostle Paul was quite the preacher, because after singing the worship song his preaching becomes very practical. He tells us to do everything without complaining or arguing. And this is true for both individuals and for the community of faith. To set aside complaining or arguing is a discipline that is only possible when people realize the blessings of grace and salvation. We have been saved by grace. What is there to argue or complain about? Imagine if we could all get along and respect each other’s opinions and differences. That is very difficult for anyone to do. I get mad, I don’t always like what I hear or see, none of us is perfect, but what Paul is trying to tell us here is that if we can set aside that anger, bitterness, complaining, arguing we would look like a different kind of people to the rest of the watching world. If we were a community who could live together without complaining or arguing we would shine forth like the stars in the heavens. We would be seen as blameless and pure, even though we would be well aware that God is the one who made it so.
Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us to hold on to the Word of Life. This is a wonderful and challenging command. But if we can hold on to the Scriptural word of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, we will also be able to hold out the words of life, offering them to our families, friends, and our community. This would be a demonstration of God’s kingdom, but here on earth.
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 (and our) example. The Lord’s example does not require of us miracles and supernatural living. These things are certainly possible, but they are not a requirement for following Jesus. No: the heart of our faith is to follow the humble example of Jesus, especially in times of trial and persecution. His example of humility and service is within our reach. It is our calling, both individually and as a church.
‒ Pastor Pam