Nov 19, 2017
Philippians 2:1-11

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Paul closes out Philippians chapter 1 encouraging these believers to “stand fast in one spirit” and “with one mind” to “strive together for the faith!” Because Paul knew there was likely a persecution of Christians brewing on the horizon (Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake”), he knew how critically important it was that this church stand unified in purpose and mission. 

The reality is that Christianity is not designed to be a “Jesus and Me verse the world” kind of proposition. Keep in mind, that while Jesus may have saved you from the sin of this world, He left you in this world of sin. And not only that, but until Jesus finally calls you home, the Scriptures are clear that you’ve been given a mission to accomplish. 

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” And while this task is admittedly daunting and if we’re honest a bit intimidating, before ascending to heaven, Jesus left us with an encouraging promise… He says, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

The question then begs: If the Bible tells us that Jesus is physically at the “right hand of the Father” (Acts 2:33) where He presently acts as both your “High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14-15), Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5), and “Advocate” (1 John 2:1)… If Jesus left earth promising to “prepare a place for you” (John 14:2-3) before His return, then how is He “with you always”?

Though few speak of this, the reality is that Jesus, while this morning in heaven, is still “with you” in three very distinct and different ways. First, there is the personal existence of Jesus’ presence in your life through the written Word of God. Aside from the testimony of John 1 explaining that the “word became flesh”, most notably in Revelation 19:13, Jesus’ literal name as He returns to earth in power is presented as simply “The Word of God.” 

This is why in Hebrews 4:12 we’re told, “The word of God is living and powerful.” And then in 1 Peter 1:23 that “the word of God lives and abides forever!” Jesus is known by His Word. Side note: This is why the best thing I can do as your pastor is faithfully teach God’s Word.

Secondly, there is the internal existence of Jesus’ presence in your life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In both Romans 8, 1 Peter 1, as well as Philippians 1:19 the Holy Spirit is simply referred to as the “Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Upon salvation the very person and nature of Jesus takes up residency within your heart through the Spirit of the Living God.

In Ezekiel 36:27 the Lord promises, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” In Romans 8:9 Paul mixes no words when he writes, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

And finally, there is the external existence of Jesus’ presence in your life through the church. Most interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as Ephesians 4 this community of believers is described as being the “body of Christ.” What this means is that Jesus is presently “with you” in that His Spirit indwells the people around you. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”

The implications of this incredible reality is that our interactions with one another should be motivated by and seen as being representative of Jesus’ activity in our midst. It’s why on the occasional Sunday we sing the actual Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi - that Jesus would literally “Make of me Your hands and feet to the people around me!”

So back to the question… How is Jesus “with you always?” Personally, His presence manifests through His Word. Internally, the presence of Jesus manifests through His Spirit. And externally, His presence manifests in your life through other believers. 

This is why Christian fellowship is so essential to Christian effectiveness, and why the enemy wants nothing more than to remove you from such interactions. Because Jesus’ presence in my life manifests through my interacts with you, to not have you would put me in serious risk. The greatest danger I face as a believer is when I grow distant with my church family!

Have you ever noticed that in the midst of struggle your natural inclination is to pull away from relational connections? Seriously, you detach from friends, take a break from church. You separate. And yet, please know this is the absolutely worst thing you can do! 

Friend, because there is a real enemy in this world who is seeking to “like a thief steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) your life - an “adversary walking about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8), it’s only logical that there is safety in numbers. 

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:4-12, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

This family we have in Christ exists to provide strength in the midst of crippling weakness, renewed power when we’re completely tapped out, resolve when we’re ready to quit, fresh hope in overwhelming depression, faith when we’re filled with doubt, a peaceful presence in the middle of a terrible storm, rejuvenating joy when we’re overcome by debilitating sorrow… 

What we need in these moments is a shinning light when our path is filled with darkness, hands to lift up arms that can no longer endure, encouragement to press forward when we can go no farther, a kind word that turns away wrath, unconditional love in place of hate, a listening ear instead of council, the demonstration of grace when all we have is judgment, friends willing to join us in the foxhole when we’re taking fire from the surrounding enemy… 

Whether it be a more systematic religious persecution that arises, a trial specific to you, or a personal season of tribulation, it’s a truth that in these times of suffering you need more than anything else the presence of Jesus made real in your life through both the internal dwelling of His Spirit, His Word, and the external manifestation of His presence through your Church! 

You see it’s for this reason Paul knew that a growing disunity within the church leading to the division of Christians was the chief tactic of the enemy. There was no way these Philippians would be able to withstand if they didn’t stand unified - the same is true for Calvary316.

Philippians 2:1-2, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” 

Let’s break down the particulars of these verses before we set them in context of the flow of Paul’s larger point. He begins, “If there is any consolation in Christ” or literally “have you ever been consoled by Jesus.” As it pertains to this word “consolation” the word “paraklesis” possessed the idea of making strong. It’s a “consolation” that manifests an inner resolve.

Paul continues, “If there is any comfort of love…” In the Greek this word “comfort” is a noun that describes the encouragement yielded from the “love” or “agapē” of God. It’s as though Paul is asking these Philippians if they’d ever been encouraged by God’s unconditional love.

“If there is any fellowship of the Spirit…” Once again this word “fellowship” is the word “koinōnia” which would be better translated as “partnership.” In this series of rhetorical questions Paul is asking these Philippians if they’d been influenced by the Holy Spirit?

“If there is any affection and mercy…” The KJV translates this word “affection” as “bowels” which was the seat of a person’s core desirers. The word “mercy” would be better read as “compassion.” Paul’s asking if these things had yielded a heart to demonstrate compassion.

The implication of these questions was to hammer home the truth that Christ should be manifesting through their lives in such a way. The overwhelming answer should have been, “Yes! Obviously, we’ve experienced strength yielded by Jesus, His love, the Spirit. No doubt our passion is compassion.” This reality is why Paul then writes, “Fulfill my joy by now being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” 

Though Paul is not saying there isn’t room for a difference of opinion within a Church body or that in some way we need to be monolithic in all beliefs and best-practices, the Apostle is making it clear that “having the same love” should be more than enough to unify believers because this one truth transcends anything else that might yield divisions. 

We can disagree about eschatology. We wrestle over the best way to handle the church finances. We can battle it out over the color of the bathroom walls. But in the end, since we have the cross in common - His grace and love, how can we divide over such trite matters. It’s almost as though Paul’s exhortation for unity is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Since unity is the desired goal and the logical manifestation of Jesus’ love demonstrated to each of us, Paul now continues in verses 3-4 by explaining how we maintain this unity.

Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

First and foremost, Paul issues this challenging statement, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit…” This Greek word Paul uses for “selfish ambition” is interesting for it means electioneering. You see it was a political term describing a partisan action whereby a person deliberately courts distinctions for the purposes of putting oneself forward.

Aside from this, in the old King James Version, this word “conceit” is translated as vainglory. The word described a groundless and empty pride. The idea behind the word is thinking to much of oneself or having an erroneous estimation of one’s standing and importance.

Please understand, the greatest foe to unity within a church community is selfishness for it’s impossible to be other-focused if you’re me-centered. You see in order for unity to be achieved and maintained everyone in a church must resist acting in a selfish manner. Paul is clear “let nothing be done” through these kind of motivations. We all must resist the exaltation of oneself and we must always keep an appropriate view of self in mind.

In contrast to “selfish ambition and conceit” Paul then encourages the motivations for their actions to be a “lowliness of mind.” In the Greek this phrase implies “having a correct opinion of one’s self” or “a deep sense of one’s moral littleness.” In our modern vernacular you could translate this word as “humility.” It’s not that one is belittling to self. The idea is that you have an accurate understanding that apart from the grace of Jesus you’re really nothing at all.

And it’s only when you have such a perspective that you’ll finally be able to “esteem others better than yourself” by “looking out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Note: Paul is not saying you can’t “look out for your own interests.” The word “also” simply means you should “look out for the interests of others” equal to that of your own.

In essence what Paul is encouraging these Philippians to do for the high purposes of maintaining unity within the church so that they could endure the suffering that was sure to arrive was the simple rejection of self-consumption for the purpose of esteeming others. You see a church will be unified if everyone in the congregation is looked up to and no one is looked down upon… If I prefer you and you in turn prefer me we can stand unified!

Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

In order to hammer home his point Paul now presents Jesus as the ultimate example of such a humble and others-centered attitude. What’s interesting about the next several verses is that it would appear Paul begins with the application before delivering the message. In a way Paul reverses the natural order of things. He says, “Let this mind (the mind of Jesus) be in you” before then proceeding to explain the mind of Christ in the verses to follow!

Honestly, verses 5-11 of Philippians 2 are some of the most theologically profound verses in all of Scripture. In actuality, Greek scholars (which I am not) say these verses in the original language are so poetic they may have even been a hymn sung by the early church. 

In describing the “mind of Christ” Paul is going to recap Jesus’ journey from heaven - to earth - to Calvary - then back again to heaven. His point is that the example established by Jesus should be the motivation for our “lowliness of mind” - our basis for Christian unity! 

Philippians 2:6, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God…”

In case you are unaware it should be pointed out that Jesus existed before the incarnation (the moment he was born in Bethlehem of the virgin Mary). As the second member of the Holy Trinity Jesus has always existed. In actuality, this was a reality Jesus Himself affirmed on numerous occasions. For example, in John 8:56-59 Jesus said, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him…”

In this amazing passage Paul begins by saying that “Jesus” has always existed “in the form of God…” In the Greek this word “form” literally referred to the “external appearance.” The word implies that Jesus, before coming to earth, fully expressed in his person the very being of God. This means that anytime in the Old Testament when God revealed Himself in an external way it was the pre-incarnate Jesus! God has a form and that form is Jesus!

And yet, even in such a glorified state, Paul says that Jesus “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” What Paul means is that, while Jesus had always existed as the physical manifestation of God, He didn’t see this state as something to cling too! What will be implied is that Jesus viewed the salvation of you and I to be more important than His Godly position.

Philippians 2:7, “But Jesus made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men…” 

Recognizing the predicament sinful man found himself in (eternally separated from God and damned to remain in such a state), it was Jesus, who while being “equal with God,” made the decision to do something drastic. Paul writes that Jesus willingly “made Himself of no reputation” by stooping down from glory in order to come to earth “in the likeness of men.” 

Before we leave this particular thought, consider how dramatic and radicle this really is. The Almighty God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the Alpha and Omega, chose to become a human being. Jesus willingly cloaked Himself with human flesh. He deliberately joined the very creation marred by sin therefore subjecting Himself to its chaos! 

And why did Jesus decided to do such a thing? Paul says that Jesus came “in the likeness of men” so that He might be able to “take the form of a bondservant.” Once again the word “form” indicates Jesus (who was “in the form of God”decided to present Himself to humanity as the ultimate external personification of what it means to be a servant. 

If coming as a man wasn’t humbling enough for God, Jesus came to earth to specifically serve humanity not to be served by humanity! Please realize it was for this purpose that Jesus came to this earth. He was on a mission. He came to save man from his sins!

As it pertains to the radicle nature of what Paul is articulating there are two important aspects to his statement you need to keep in mind. First, this humbling of Himself was not something Jesus could be told or commanded to do. It wasn’t an act He was forced into. Jesus, as God, made the decision to dawn humanity to His deity of His own volition.

Which leads to the second point, it’s important we not read more into Paul’s words that what he’s saying. The text is clear that in the act of “making Himself of no reputation” Jesus “took the form of a bondservant…” This means in coming to earth as a man Jesus did not lay aside any of His Godly attributes. As a man Jesus was not any less God than He was before. 

The only difference between the Jesus who’d always been and the incarnate Christ was the addition of His humanity to His divinity. Known doctrinally as the Hypostatic Union the Bible is clear that the incarnate Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. And yet, while the addition of humanity was an act of pure selflessness for Jesus, Paul continues…

Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” 

How absolutely remarkable this verse really is? Jesus was “found in appearance as a man” indicating He was way more than most understood Him to be. Aside from this not only did Jesus take on human flesh and live among us, but He “humbled Himself to the point of death!” Then Paul adds, “Even the death of the cross!” In light of who Jesus really was His willingness to be subjected to the humiliation of a Roman crucifixion was truly shocking.

In Hebrews 12:2 we’re told we should be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” And what was the “joy” that caused Jesus to “endure the cross”? Friend, it was the thought that through His sacrifice and death you and I now have a way to be saved. We’re told in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

You see Paul’s point in that if we’re struggling to “esteem the needs of others” we should consider what Jesus did for us! “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” 

Jesus’ crucifixion was the ultimate act of humility and selflessness… The ultimate act of others-centeredness! Though in the Garden Jesus would even pray three times for the cup to pass, Paul is clear that Jesus “became obedient” to the will of His Father. It was a difficult decision Jesus made, but one He was willing to submit Himself under because He loved us!

Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Notice that while it was Jesus who chose to “humble Himself” it was God the Father who, in the end, “Highly exalted Him!” This phrase translated “highly exalted” means to be “exalted beyond measure” or to the highest possible level. Here’s the lesson… There is no need to be concerned with “selfish ambition” when in “lowliness of mind” God will look out for you!

How incredible that we’re told in His exaltation Jesus has been given “the name which is above every name!” Though I could spend 30 minutes unpacking this, if you don’t believe the name of Jesus possesses power consider it’s the only one used by even the pagans in vain.

Paul then adds, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow!” First, “of those in heaven” speaking of the segment of humanity who died in faith and are presently in heaven. Secondly, “of those on earth” speaking of those who were presently alive. And finally, “of those under the earth” speaking of those who died in rejection of the revelation of God.

Paul says of the multitude of all humanity that in addition to “every knee bowing” ultimately “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” The interesting implications of this section of Scripture is that in the end of the age everyone will not only face Jesus, submit to Him, but “will confess” who Jesus really is! In a sense everyone will end up a believer. That said… For some they’ll face Jesus as their Savior while others will face Him as judge.

Furthermore, what’s also astounding about Paul’s description of Jesus’ exaltation is that He ultimately returned to heaven with more than he originally left with. Not only is Jesus’ humanity now forever added to His deity (in the book of Revelation John describes Jesus as still bearing the scars of the cross), but He returned to glory also possessing the identity of “Christ” (Christos meaning anointed one) and “Lord” (kyrios - he to whom a person belongs).

In the end (and to Paul’s point) what resulted from the humility and others-centeredness of Jesus? Paul concludes these things ended up being “to the glory of God the Father.” Because Jesus humbled Himself and preferred others, God was glorified in the process. 

Earlier in the study I said the greatest foe to unity within a church community is selfishness for it’s impossible to be other-focused if you’re me-centered. And while that’s true, sadly it’s an others-focus can be the very thing that get’s us into trouble. 

One of the main reasons divisions often arise from a disunity among believers is that while we understand our individual calling, most often our focus ends up being on one another. Not only do we excuse our own self-centeredness, but we love to point out the lack of selflessness within others. This is what makes Paul approach in this passage so brilliant.

You see the key to rejecting a me-centeredness and the motivation for preferring others is to keep your eyes fixated on Jesus alone! Did Jesus ever once allow what those around Him were doing to distract Him from His purpose and calling? No! Never! 

This is why Paul presents Jesus’ example of true selflessness and humility directly following the individual challenge to “let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus!” The only way we can ever yield a Jesus Culture within a church whereby the presence of Jesus is manifesting through the lives of the believers who make up that church is for the example of Jesus and not those around us to be our primary motivator.

In closing I must ask… What would a church look like if everyone was more concerned with the needs of everyone else than their own self interests? Even better than that… What would a church look like if everyone died to self and allowed Jesus to manifest from their lives? The truth is that we do need each other, but if we’re honest what we really need most is Jesus manifesting in our lives through the interactions we have with one another.


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