Today we are going to continue our preaching series based on those lessons we can learn from the book of Philippians. Last week we learned that this particular book is actually a letter Paul writes while he is in prison and it was intended to bring about joy and hope to its recipients. This letter is meant to impress upon us that the Christian life, regardless of circumstances, can be one of happiness and holiness. Last week we used this letter to help us dissolve the myth of location: what it is, why it does not matter, and what this means for each of our own personal ministries. Today we are going to use this letter to help raise our own awareness to the impact of our attitudes. Specifically, how when we adopt a servant mindset, our priorities shift, our humility is heightened, and our pursuits are no longer self-centered but Christ centered.
Humility is Everywhere
There was once a country preacher that was well known around the town. He was asked to speak for a certain charitable organization. After the meeting the program chairman handed him a check. "Oh, I couldn't take this," he said with some embarrassment. "I appreciate the honor of being asked to speak. You have better uses for this money. You apply it to one of those uses." The program chairman asked, "Well, do you mind if we put it into our special fund?" he replied, "Of course not. What is the special fund for?" The chairman answered, "It's so we can get a better speaker next year."
Humility can come from any direction and at any point. Had this country preacher been living for himself, sustaining his life on personal gratification and compliments, he would have been crushed. However, if this country preacher was living for Christ, putting his own ego aside, and seeking to be better for Christ, this could be an incredible learning experience for him.
I believe that is one ideal Paul is trying to convey in this letter. That we are not the center of the universe. That there is something bigger to this life. Remember, Paul is in a Roman prison and is writing this as part of his 104 verse letter to the church in Philippi. A letter meant to bring hope, holiness, and joy to these people that he loves. As such, Paul understands that humility is an essential key to living the life that Christ has called all of us to live. A life that when lived for Christ will offer us a peace and joy like none other.
What is Humility?
And how do we do we live a life for Christ? We live like Christ; and Christ lived humbly. In this culture we are told that in order to be successful, in order to have complete happiness, we need to sell ourselves. We need to stand up for our rights. People need to understand that they cannot mess with us. We will be no one's fool. Let me share with you from several of Paul’s letters the words he used to describe the twenty years of his missionary work and how he lived his life. Here are Paul's words to describe his life and what he experienced: hunger, thirst, nakedness, cold, sleeplessness, homelessness, persecution, cast down, afflicted, beaten, imprisoned, slandered, poverty stricken, floggings, five times given 39 lashes, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, drifted in the open sea for 24 hours, in danger from rivers, bandits, and his own countrymen. All of this taught Paul how to live humbly and he uses these experiences to convey this importance of humility.
In our Epistle lesson this morning Paul wrote to the church in Philippi with advice about this very issue. Listen again, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…” (Philippians 2:1-9).
So What's Next?
Paul asks these four questions here at the beginning, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, any comfort from his love, any common sharing in the Spirit, and tenderness and compassion, because he knows the answers. He knows this church has experienced encouragement from being united with Christ. He knows this church has felt comfort from his love, fellowship with the Spirit, and tenderness and compassion. So he attempts to take them to the “what's next”, the step from knowledge to application.
He does so by instructing his dear friends to do two things: 1) Be Unified – like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose and 2) Be Humble – do not follow selfish ambitions; consider others better than ourselves; look to your interests AND the interests of others. Just in case there were any questions about this, any room for doubt or misunderstanding, Paul summarized these two points by saying this - Your attitude should be the same as Jesus who took on the form of a servant, even to death on a cross.
One way we can carry out this attitude of humility, to go from knowledge to application, to have an attitude that mirrors Jesus, is through the act of servanthood.
Paul was perhaps the most recognizable name and face in early Christianity. This man who never met Jesus yet spent part of his life dedicated to persecuting Christians, is more famous and remembered than most of the disciples who served alongside Jesus. Yet after his conversion, Paul wasn’t about power and fame. If those were his goals he would have quit after he began to suffer persecution himself. But Paul realized that being a Christian was not about him – it was about serving others and showing them the way to faith. That’s what kept him going even when things were rough.
For us today servanthood can take many forms. Praying for a neighbor in need, allowing someone in front of you in line or in traffic, buying an extra item at the store to donate to another, to actively participating in a ministry to benefit humanity. It can involve donating money, time, talent, or service or showing another person radical hospitality. But the one thing it always involves is you. It involves each of us setting aside our own agenda and taking the time to truly love each other.
I want to read for you our Epistle lesson from The Message, a contemporary translation of the New Testament by Eugene Peterson:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Why should we do this? Why should we put forth the effort? Paul gives us the reason for all of this in verses 12 and 13, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—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.” Because it will bring us closer to God through the working out of our salvation.
As is the case most of the time, Paul’s words were carefully chosen. The word he uses for “work out” in verse 12 is a Greek verb which always has the idea of bringing to completion. Maxie Dunnam, summarized this very well. He says, “Paul is saying to the Philippians, don’t stop half way. Don’t be satisfied with a partial salvation. Don’t stop when you’re just inside the door of the Christian life. Don’t accept grace simply as a way of getting into the Christian life, accept grace as a way of staying in the Christian life with freedom and joy.”
Our continued relationship with God is where we can find freedom and joy. This life is hard; failing economies, natural disasters, crime, failing physical health. We do not need to add to the hardship for each other. Rather we need to look to the example of Paul, the life of Christ, and the will of God. We need to be willing to lend a helping hand to another, seek the life of a servant, and put aside our own egos so that freedom and joy can be spread to others.
Each one of us has a chance to begin that journey today. If you are struggling with how to adopt the servant mindset of humility, I invite you to come to this altar rail and ask for guidance. If you desire help to continue living in love and humility, then come and ask for strength. God wants us to each of us to stay in the Christian life, accept his grace, and all of that can begin right now...right here.