Conquering Complaining: From Whining to Shining, part 1 (Philippians 2:14)

Grumbling and complaining, isn’t that the order of the day?  We, who live in one of the greatest nations in history, gripe and complain at the slightest inconvenience.

Someone has said…

“Some people are always grumbling; if they had been born in the Garden of Eden, they would have found much to complain of.”

In fact, someone has said:

God created the world in six days.

On the seventh day, He rested.

On the eighth day, He started getting complaints.

There is a poem that starts like this…

I knew a man whose name was Horner
Who used to live in grumble corner;
Grumble corner in crosspatch town
And he never was seen without a frown.

He grumbled at this, and he grumbled at that,
He growled at the dog. He growled at the cat. [sounds like Dr. Seuss wrote this]
He grumbled at morning. He grumbled at night,
And to grumble and growl was his chief delight.

He grumbled so much at his wife that she
Began to grumble as well as he.
And all the children, wherever they went,
Reflected their parents’ discontent.

That’s one thing about grumbling, it spreads.  People have a ready ear for griping and love to pass it on.

Mary Bachelor was that kind of chronic complainer.  She was a minister’s daughter, and a housekeeper and helper to her brother, who also was a clergyman.  Day after day she unloaded her troubles on him.  One evening, as they were talking together, she finally realized what she was doing to him.  Turning to the window in remorse, she saw some tall poplar trees framing the setting sun and casting their shadows across the lawn.  I’m like those trees to my brother, she thought.  I’m always casting shadows.  Why don’t I bury my sorrows by leaving them with Jesus?  She went to her room and found relief in tears, after which she wrote these lines:

Go bury your sorrow, the world has its share;

Go bury it deeply, go hide it with care;

Go think of it calmly, when curtained by night;

Go tell it to Jesus, and all will be right.

That’s what we ought to do…give it to Jesus.

Grumbling is a common problem.  We all do it at times.  Some people do it incessantly.  Sometimes I think it is one of our favorite pastimes.  In fact, in some churches it is the most loved thing to do after the worship services.  There’s always something to complain about.

One of the passages I often read to my hospice patients is Psalm 103.  The first two verses state:

“Bless the Lord O my soul, let all that is within me bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits.”  Then the last verse of that Psalm also says, “Bless the Lord O my soul.”

You will notice there that David is talking to himself.  He’s talking to his own soul and directing his soul what to do—to bless the Lord, to remember what good things God has done and thank Him.

Griping and complaining, they come quite naturally.  We don’t have to remind ourselves to do that.  But we do have to commonly challenge our souls to give thanks to God.

Well, Paul speaks to that issue in our study of the book of Philippians chapter 2.

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

First of all, in v. 14, Paul directs us to work on our speech.  Our speech reflects our heart.

Paul has just told them to “work out your salvation” and that is a corporate command.  He ended the previous section by saying that God works for “good pleasure,” both His and ours.  When God is continually working for our good, what logic is it to complain?

Paul commands us to “do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Which will be stated positively in verse 18, “rejoice and be glad.”

Now Paul’s mention of murmuring and questioning conjures up the pathetic grousing and whining of ancient Israel in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:12).  And his words are intentionally vivid.

The word “grumbling” is goggusmos, which is an onomatopoeic word that sounds like what it means.  This is a word that expresses displeasure either internally through murmuring or externally through whisperings to someone.

Although the word doesn’t occur regularly in the New Testament, it did occur very frequently in the Greek translation of the Hebrew narratives about Israel’s years of wandering in the desert.

This word was used in Acts 6:1, where it is translated with the word “complaint.”

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

Even the idyllic early church had its share of grumblings.

Of course, in that context, the complaints led to something positive being done.  I don’t think Paul is saying that any voice of dissent should be silenced.  There are times (and ways) to disagree and dialogue and ask questions.

I don’t think Paul is trying to stop the free exchange of ideas in love and a spirit of unity. He’s not so much against disagreement as disagreeableness.

It would seem to me that grumbling often begins with one (or just a few) malcontents, who gain a hearing, and whose grumbling multiplies.  This takes place until sufficient “support” has been generated, and then leadership is confronted.

An illustration of this may be seen in the New Testament when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume.  In Mark’s Gospel (14:1-9), we are simply told that “they” murmured against her.  But in John 12:4-6, we are told that it was Judas who first raised the objection.

Putting all the details of the Gospel accounts together, we can see that Judas was the first grumbler, and that he soon had stirred up the others, so that they joined with him in his grumbling.  Grumbling is indeed contagious.

Again, what Paul is speaking to is the attitudes of the Philippians which are leading to disunity.  Jesus was an example of someone to subdued his selfish desires and gave himself for others, without a complaint.

Grumbling is not denying pain or difficulty or suffering or even disagreement, but grumbling is a mindset that focuses almost entirely on the negative.

Two characters in literature that seem to have a problem with grumbling are A. A. Milne’s Eeyore—who thought everything could go wrong and he could count on it.  He could cover the sun with clouds.  Remember his “it’s my birthday, but nobody noticed”?

Then there is C. S. Lewis’ Marshwiggle in his story, The Silver Chair.  When he sets out with the two children to rescue the lost prince, he says, “We can count on it.  We will get lost.  We will start to attack each other.  We will probably end up killing each other.  There is no way we can succeed in this venture anyway.”

Grumbling stays focused on the negative and isn’t willing to look at the positive.  It believes the bad news even when others are trying to open their eyes to good news.

When we look back at ancient Israel, we find that grumbling not only sabotaged their future (they died in the wilderness), but it tends to falsify the past.  Israel actually told themselves that they had had better days in Egypt!

The other word here, translated “questioning” in the English Standard Version, is dialogismos.  While we get the word “dialogue” from this word, in this context it means “disputings” or “arguings.”

The first of these words (“grumbling”) looks at the initial activity, and the second (“disputing”), what results from the first (cf. 1 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:2; 4:2).

While grumbling can be kept internal (to ourselves), disputations are definitely between two people.

Arguing happens when grumbling spills over into our conversations.  We first look at things negatively, then we want to argue about it with others.  In our misery we want others to comply to our complaints.

Max Lucado tells of a man who came home one day and immediately his wife started complaining which led to an intense argument.  Arriving at 6:30 in the evening, he spent an hour trying to make things right.  Nothing worked.  Finally, he said, “Let’s start over and pretend I’m just getting home.”  He stepped outside and when he opened the door, she said, “It’s 7:30 and you’re just now getting home!”

She found something new to gripe about.

When you have a heart that is focused on the negative, then it is easy to go on the attack.  Grumbling can often be detected by the pronouns we choose to use.  If you are saying, “he” or “she” or “they” more than “we” and us” you are probably a grumbler.

If you are using “you” statements more than “I” statements, then you are arguing.

Throughout this epistle Paul has been emphasizing humility, which puts others needs ahead of our own.  Notice in these passages how pride leads to arguing.

Proverbs 13:10 says “By insolence [pride] comes nothing but strife…

Galatians 5:26 warns us, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another…”

If grumbling is discontent over not getting what we want; arguing is the attempt to get what we want.

Both are poison to community—to any relationship, the marriage relationship, churches.

Whenever two people get close enough, there will be friction, there will be conflict.  It is a given.  But if we operate from a position of believing the best in others, like 1 Corinthians 13:7 says) and a position of humility—putting others first, then we can deal with our needs and our differences in a more positive way.

Now the first word of verse 14 is “do all things” or “do everything.”  First, notice that the word “do” means that this is work; it will take effort.

Like I said earlier, we don’t have to work at grumbling and arguing, they come quite naturally.  We do have to make a conscious effort to live a life of trust and gratitude that produces better responses than grumbling and arguing.

And secondly, notice the word “all.”  The word order is literally, “all things do without” these two attitudes.  This inclusive word means there really is no place for grumbling and arguing in Christian community.  There are no situations in which grumblings and arguings are commendable.

So how do we stop griping and complaining?  How do we stop arguing with one another?

First, admit that complaining and arguing are sins.  They are not just “bad habits,” but a sin that needs to be put to death.  Oftentimes the most difficult part in learning how to change our complaining is to recognize it and admit it within ourselves.  It’s easy to see in others, but we are often blind to it in ourselves.

Second, accept personal responsibility for your tendency to complain and argue.

Third, work on the attitude of gratitude (1 Thess. 5:18).  Make it a habit of thanking God and others for what they have done and are doing for you.  Look for the positives.

Fourth, identity God’s hand of providence in your negative circumstances.  He is working all things for your good.  When you gripe and complain, you are saying challenging God’s wisdom, doubting God’s grace and forgetting God’s goodness to you.

Fifth, develop a habit of speaking positively, staying focused on the positive.  Just like complaining can be a bad habit, speaking positive, encouraging words can be a new habit.  Be kind and positive, even if you have to force yourself at first.

But what do we do in a circumstance where we have been truly wronged?  Here is where Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15 apply:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

This passage assumes that someone has wronged you or hurt you in some way.

First, we are to keep it to ourselves.  We are not to murmur to others.

Second, we should approach the offender with an attitude of trying to find a positive solution.  We are not aiming to win, but to find a mutually agreeable solution, just like the early church did in Acts 6.

Galatians 6:2 tells us we should go with a meek and humble spirit.

Also, fourth, we should give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe we misinterpreted his or her words or actions.

Fifth, make sure you are quick to hear, meaning that you are willing to listen to their side as well.

Sixth, the next two verses in Matthew tell us not to give up on the other person.  If they don’t respond to your initial confrontation, then bring a witness and try again.

Paul’s prohibition against “complaining or arguing” should be interpreted primarily in light of the interpersonal conflicts that were going on at Philippi.  Paul knew that the unity of the church was a precious and fragile thing and we all have to work at it to keep it.  Christ prayed for it and the Spirit provides it, but we have to maintain it.

Unfortunately, the Philippians, like you and me, were doing those things that generated unfriendliness towards each other.  They were focusing on the negative in their situation and each other and they were more than willing to argue with each other.  These attitudes were stoking the flames of the tensions they already felt towards one another.

Critical, complaining spirits are the historic bane of the church from Philippi to Peoria, Illinois to Philadelphia.  They are found in every culture, like the nineteenth-century Scots who went to church to see if the gospel was preached.  Or today’s McChurch worshippers who leave their church to go down the street to find a church more to their liking.

If we are reading Paul correctly, “do[ing] all things without grumbling or disputing” is a watershed state of the soul.  Those who persist in such murmuring are not obedient to Christ and his gospel and are rejecting the divine call to “work out your own salvation” (v. 12).  They impede their own souls and the souls of their brothers and sisters in this matter.  They are undertows to the Body of Christ.  So if you are one of these people, understand that when you finally stand before your Savior, you will answer with shame.

Our unity is what makes the world sit up and take notice.  When they can see us loving one another despite our differences and forgiving sins committed against one another, it is by far the best example, the shining example, as Paul will say in verse 15, of Christ living in us.

Unfortunately, what the world usually takes notice of is our fighting.  And that grieves the heart of our Lord who prayed for, and died for, our unity.

Spiritual Formation, part 2 (Philippians 2:12-13)

Last week we began looking at this wonderful expression of how we are sanctified—that it is a synergistic cooperation between God’s grace and our determined effort.  We find it in Philippians 2:12-13

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We saw last week that Paul is encouraging them to obey his commands to fight for unity and to live selflessly like Jesus did.  He tells them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” and we saw that this is a determined and continuous action on our part.  We also noted that this is a corporate action.

But what does Paul mean here?

Well, to be clear, Paul is not talking about working for our salvation.  Our justification is complete and secure.  We cannot lose it or improve upon it.  Paul is not telling them to work for their salvation, as if it depended at all upon them.

We should not even consider this as an option, because we know how dogmatic Paul is about the fact that men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works (Romans 3:19-30; Galatians 2:20-21; 3:1-29; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-7).  Paul expects his readers to understand that while we are not saved “by our works,” we are saved “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Rather, Paul is telling them to work out the practical implications of being saved.  He is not saying that there is something deficient with their justification, but that they needed to keep working on their sanctification.  Salvation can be compared to a huge gift that needs to be unwrapped for one’s thorough enjoyment.

We are justified by God entirely as an act of His grace, with absolutely no effort or earning on our part.

Again, this command is plural.  They were not told to work for their salvation but to work out the salvation God had already given them.  Because of the apparent problems of disunity and pride among those believers, this interpretation seems correct.  Some were not doing their work selflessly and with the interests of others ahead of their own (cf. 2:3–4).

A fourth comment on this statement is that it should be done “with fear and trembling,” indicating just how seriously we should take this command.  It is not optional.

Now, we don’t usually associate “fear and trembling” with God’s gracious provision of salvation.  Usually, we consider these words to be more appropriate to the old covenant and God’s wrath against sin.

“Fear and trembling” are words that speak of being “exceedingly afraid” and “quaking with fear.”  These are not tame words!  But then, our God is not a tame God.

The Scriptures call us to love God and to trust God.  But the call to fear God occurs more times in the Scriptures than both of these put together.  Even the New Testament calls us to fear God in passages like 1 Peter 1:15-17; Hebrews 12:28-29; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

But I don’t think Paul is calling us to “work out our salvation” because we are afraid we might lose it.  Rather, we are to fear the possibility that we might lose out on opportunities for growth, on the opportunity to gain rewards, on the possibility we might lose ground spiritually or lose our testimony.

It seems to refer to the idea that we should be afraid that we might miss out on all that God has for us.

I think that basically what Paul is trying to do here is to get us to take our spiritual lives and spiritual growth more seriously than we do.  We need to realize that there is a spiritual battle going on, that people’s eternal destinies are at stake, that every day we are faced with opportunities to sow to the flesh or to the spirit, and every day we have only so many opportunities to make an impact on the lives of those around us.

We can waste our lives away, or be serious about spiritual growth.  Paul is telling us to work at it as though it was the most important thing in your life, as though your life depending upon it.

This seriousness is expressed in such passages as 2 Peter 1:10-11,

10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Do you want a rich entrance into the kingdom?  Do you want to keep from falling?  Then “be all the more diligent” in your spiritual life.

Too many people would rather have a rich now than a rich forever.

Tragically, we in the church in America are very lazy when it comes to fulfilling God’s desires for our lives.  When we examine the lives of the men and women of Scripture and throughout church history we fall tragically short of their legacies.

Will you run with all your might, stretching towards the finish line?

Now, in verse 13, we see that we are to work out what God is working in us.

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We work out what God is working in us.

Believe me, spiritual formation is only possible because God is at work prior to us doing anything.  The word “for” at the beginning of verse 13 indicates that the very possibility of us “working out our salvation” depends upon God first working “in us.”

Every act of spiritual formation we take finds its initiative in the fact that God is already at work in us.

The good news is that we are not left to ourselves to accomplish higher spiritual goals, but God is working ahead of us and within us to make this possible.

Notice first of all that it is God who is working in us.  Paul emphasizes this by the way he puts it:  “it is God who works in you” rather than merely “God works in you.”

Most of the pagan gods were impersonal and removed from human interaction.  But the God of Christianity is involved with us…each of us…on a personal level as if we were the only person on earth.

And God has unlimited power and resources to give to us.  We should never attempt to excuse ourselves from pushing ahead spiritually.

Peter says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Second, the word “work” in verse 13 is different from the word that Paul used in v. 12.  Here Paul uses energeo, from which we get energy.  Literally, “God is the Energizing One in you.”

This word means to “work effectively,” to bring an action to an effective end.

He grants energy for the work we need to do.  He is our power supply—not an impersonal thing, but a loving supplier of all we need for life and godliness.

Third, this word is a present participle, indicating that God is always, in every instance, working in you.  You may not always feel it, but it is always present.

Fourth, notice where God is working…it is “in you.”  That is where the Spirit is present in our lives.  God always works from the inside out.  True spiritual formation is not first about our adopting spiritual practices, but about the working of God in us.

Charles Spurgeon says…

In a certain sense, the salvation of every person who believes in Christ is complete, and complete without any working out on his part, seeing that “it is finished,” and we are complete in Jesus.  Observe that there are two parts of our salvation, the one complete, the other as yet incomplete, though guaranteed to be brought to perfection. The first part of our salvation consists of a work for us; the second, of a work in us…

Fifth, note what God is working in us—“both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

In other words, God puts the desire in us to say “no” to temptation and to move towards godliness.  And, he provides the enablement to do this.

Desires are, in many ways, the most important thing about us. “Desire is the powerful subtext of our lives.  It determines our decisions.  This is why we need to pay attention to it.  If we are to change, desire must change” (Jen Pollock Michel).

Without God putting the desire for godliness in our hearts, we would not naturally desire it.  Unless he gives us the power, we would be unable to do it.

We know from common experience that there are two aspects to every conscious action: the hidden will and the outward work.  But God does more than merely strengthen our willing and doing.  Paul’s explanation goes deeper.  “God himself is working in us both to will and to act: he works in us at the level of our wills and at the level of our doing” (Carson).  God works in us, not merely with us.

Pascal’s approving quotation of Augustine will help our thinking along.  Augustine wrote, “Our deeds are our own, because of the free will producing them, and they are also God’s, because of his grace causing our free will to produce them.”

And he says elsewhere, “God makes us do what he pleases by making us desire what we might not desire.”  The work that God does in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (emphasis added) is expansive and complete.

Every time you desire to do something good and loving, guess who put that there…God!

Every time you successfully overcome temptation or accomplish a ministry that you wouldn’t have believed you could do, guess who gave you the strength….God!

Charles Williams says…

“The believer could not even desire the higher life of conquest over self and sin, and the sanctification of character and conduct, except as God through the Spirit works and helps him both to will and to work, to desire and do” (Charles B. Williams, A Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, p. 336).

Thomas Constable adds:

This verse is one of the most comforting in the New Testament.  Sometimes we want to do right, but seem to lack the energy or ability.  This verse assures us that God will help us.  At other times, we cannot even seem to want to do right.  Here we learn that God can also provide the desire to do His will when we do not have it.  If we find that we do not want to do right, we can ask God to work in us to create a desire to do His will. This verse gives us confidence that God desires both to motivate and to enable us.

Are you glad that God is working in your will?  Some people are uncomfortable with that thought.  Some would rather we keep our wills “free” and uninfluenced by anyone.

But the reality is, our will is never absolutely free.  It is always being influenced by someone or something.  Before we came to Christ our wills were heavily influenced by the world, the flesh and Satan’s forces (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:1-3).

So I am glad that God is working in me, giving me new, holy desires and giving me the strength to be able to carry out those desires.

So notice how these two verses argue against both quietism (being totally passive, “let go and let God”) and pietism (doing all the work ourselves).  Philippians 2:12-13 argues that our sanctification depends upon diligent effort on our part, but the only possible way that happens is precisely because God has already been, and always is, working in us giving us the desire and the ability to put in diligent effort.

If we had only verse 12, we would conclude that spiritual maturity is all up to us.  If we only had verse 13, we would assume that it is all up to God.

But both verses together indicates that our sanctification involves our effort, but that it is God who initiates it and ultimately accomplishes it.

So how do we stay balanced?  We work hard at our sanctification with a conscious dependence upon God to provide both the desire and power to accomplish it.  It is a dependent discipline, not simply a dogged discipline on our part, but a discipline that depends upon God every moment, every step of the way.

The motivation for all this—for our sanctification—is “God’s good pleasure.”

Just like the exaltation of Christ is for the glory of God, so our sanctification and eventual glorification serves “God’s good pleasure.”

One might very well get the impression that God does everything to suit Himself, whether we like it or not.  There is a certain measure of truth here, which I do not in any way wish to deny. He is sovereign, and that means God can do what He wishes.  No one has said it any better than Nebuchadnezzar:

31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;

My concern is that we may get the impression that God pleases Himself at our expense.  Surely Philippians 2:5-11 would challenge this.  God does glorify Himself at the expense of His enemies.  But I am convinced that when God acts to please Himself, He is also acting in a way that is for our benefit, as believers in Him.  Is this not the point of Romans 8:28?  God causes all things to work together for our good and for His glory.  Our good (that is, the “good” of Christians) is what glorifies God.  This is part of the reason we do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

He works in us for sanctification because it brings him joy.

It is all for the pleasure of our God.  Not just pleasure, but good pleasure.

At the very least, I believe Paul is saying that we should be humbled to realize that God is the One at work in us to will and to work His benevolent purposes for us. It may even be that Paul has structured this verse in a way that implies that the goal of God’s working is for His pleasure and ours.

Further, his “good pleasure” is, by virtue of his love for us, our great good.  And here, in respect to the Philippian church, what pleases God is an end to the dissensions among them, which would also be for their good.

Paul’s magnificent “therefore” sentence of verses 12, 13 is meant to be sweetly motivational: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

What an incentive this was to this beloved church to carry on!

How do we grow?  We grow when God works in us.  And we grow when we work out what God is working in us.

John Ortberg compares it to crossing the ocean.  If we set out in a rowboat by ourselves, we’ll never cross that ocean.  We don’t have what it takes.  But if we just drift, expecting God to blow us across the ocean, that won’t work either.

Neither trying nor drifting are effective in bringing about spiritual transformation.  A better image is the sailboat, which if it moves at all, it’s a gift of the wind.  We can’t control the wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts the sails accordingly.

God works, and then we work out what God is working in us.

Spiritual Formation, part 1 (Philippians 2:12)

This morning we’re going to talk about spiritual formation, or sanctification.  I know that the term “spiritual formation” is falling out of favor these days because it is linked to eastern mystical practices.

What I mean by spiritual formation is the process of becoming transformed into the likeness of Christ, that is initiated and sustained through a variety of experiences and relationships so that one might better glorify God and serve others.

Now, we could spend a whole morning unpacking that definition.  What we’re talking about is spiritual growth, growing in godliness, living in the Spirit.

The theological term for it is sanctification.

Now, when we think of sanctification, there are three phases of sanctification: definitive or positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and final sanctification.

Definitive sanctification happens the moment I accept Christ as my Savior.  The Holy Spirit places me into Christ and God now sees me as having Christ’s complete righteousness instead of my unrighteousness.  This is why Paul called even the Corinthians saints.  They weren’t acting saintly but in God’s eyes, because they were united to Christ, they were holy and perfectly righteous.

Progressive sanctification is the moment-by-moment, step-by-step attempts we make to become more like Christ in our desires, our attitudes, our motives, our thoughts, our speech and our behavior.

Whereas nothing can happen to change our definitive sanctification—we will always be saints in God’s eyes, our progressive sanctification will face times of failure.  When we sin, we have to repent and confess our sins and get back on the right track.

Then there is our ultimate sanctification.  The moment we die or when Christ returns, we shall see Him and be changed into His purity.

Also, there are a variety of theories about progressive sanctification—how it occurs.  There are two unbiblical extremes—quietism and pietism.

Quietists believe that the will of the Christian is quiet, or passive in sanctification.  Concerning Quietism, John MacArthur writes, “Quietism tends to be mystical and subjective, focusing on personal feelings and experiences. A person who is utterly submitted to and dependent on God, they say, will be divinely protected from sin and led into faithful living. Trying to strive against sin or to discipline oneself to produce good works is considered to be not only futile but unspiritual and counterproductive” (John MacArthur, Philippians, p. 152).

A second extreme is Pietism.  Advocates of this approach to spiritual growth are “aggressive in their pursuit of correct doctrine and moral purity. Historically, this movement originated in seventeenth-century Germany as a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of many Protestant churches.  To their credit, most pietists place strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, self-discipline, and practical Christianity….Yet they often stress self-effort to the virtual exclusion of dependence on divine power” (John MacArthur, Philippians, pp. 152-153).

Both Quietism and Pietism fail for the same reason: They place importance upon only one side of the process of sanctification.

  • Quietism places more emphasis upon resting in God by faith.
  • Pietism places more emphasis upon the diligent, unrelenting pursuit of holiness.

But growing in Christ requires both personal responsibility and dependence upon God in faith.  Jerry Bridges, who passed away just a couple of years ago, helps us understand the importance of keeping these two equally-true priorities in tension with one another.

In his first book, The Pursuit of Holiness (1978), he emphasized every Christian’s personal responsibility to be diligent in godliness.  God expects us to wage war against the remaining sin in our lives and run the Christian race with great effort.  We are not to flirt with sin, but fight against it.

In a later book, Transformed by Grace (1991), he wrote of the energizing power of God’s grace to transform us into Christlikeness.  In that book, he warned believers to beware of the “Performance Treadmill,” the never-ending tendency to base our relationship with God upon our personal, spiritual performance.

Then, in 1993, he wrote The Discipline of Grace, which combined personal responsibility and divine empowerment into one. The book’s subtitle says it all: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. It’s these two truths which the apostle Paul lays, side by side, before us:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Now remember, this passage is part of the section that begin in Philippians 1:27, which said:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Then Paul began to explain what a life “worthy of the gospel” was like by showing the example of Jesus Christ denying Himself and living for others.  Paul will go on to show through his own example (2:16-18), Timothy’s example (2:19-22) and Epaphroditus’ example (2:23-25) that our aim should be to live for the sake of others.  That is true love.

Thus, in order to become more and more like Jesus Christ, we have to put more and more of ourselves to death and live for His glory and the service of others.

So let’s take apart these two verses to see what they have to say about spiritual formation.

  1. We are to “work out our salvation” both corporately and personally.

Notice that Paul begins verse 12 with the word “therefore,” and we should always ask, “What’s is there for?”  It is pointing us back to the previous section about the self-giving example of Jesus Christ.

We are to model our spiritual path after Christ Jesus.  He is our model, not some other Christian, no matter how spiritual or popular.

You are not to become like me (thank God!) but like Jesus Christ.

And our goal is not to accomplish some spiritual milestone (like fast for 40 days or memorize the entire New Testament), but rather being fully satisfied with Christ and committed to becoming more like Him in our attitudes, motives, feelings, affections, thoughts, words and behaviors.

We are to follow His leadership and His example.

Others can help us.  Paul says “Imitate me” (1 Corinthians 11:1) but the ultimate goal is to become like Christ.  Even Paul says “follow me as I follow Christ.”

Not only does the “therefore” refer us back to Christ’s example, but it also refers us back to the reason why Paul used Christ’s example in the first place—because it is the best example of self-denying humility and love, which in turn is the best antidote to conflict in the church.

You see, most of us believe that the ultimate end of spiritual formation is our own growth, and our own feelings of security and satisfaction in that growth.  But in reality, spiritual formation does not end with us and our feelings, but rather we become spiritually mature SO THAT we might serve others.  Otherwise, our efforts are spiritual formation become self-serving and self-promoting, leading to pride.

Notice that Paul addresses the Philippians as “my beloved.”  He is drawing upon the deep love relationship that they shared.  He is appealing to them as a friend, not as a military drill sergeant.

This should also remind them that they are God’s “beloved,” that He loves them deeply (as illustrated by Christ’s willingness to humble himself and die for them) and it is that love that motivates them to obedience.

Nothing motivates us to obedience like knowing that we are deeply and passionately loved by the one asking us for our obedience.

The first part of verse 12 reminds us that “working out our salvation” is largely an issue of obeying what God has asked of us.

Remember that Jesus is now and will one day be universally proclaimed as “Lord,” therefore He has the right to ask for our submission to Him.  No one makes Jesus, Lord.  He is Lord.  The response of saving faith is to recognize this reality and submit to His rightful rule over our lives.

And notice that future obedience becomes easier because of past obedience.  Paul reminds them that they had initially responded positively to God’s commands (cf. Acts 16:14, 32-33).  So he uses the “as then, so now” formula to say, “As you obeyed before, so continue to obey now.”

“Past action becomes a model and a motivating force for present and future conduct.” (Gerald Hawthorne, “Philippians” in Word Biblical Commentary, p. 98).  In other words, the capacity to obey God builds up over time.  Initially, it may seem difficult to obey God, but like most other activities, the more we do it the easier it gets.  So, don’t give up trying to obey God.

Spiritual formation happens best in community, when someone takes the responsibility to mentor us, encouraging us and challenging us to obedience, just like Paul had with the Philippians when he had spent time with them.

We will also see this corporate emphasis in the works “work out your salvation,” for the pronoun “your” there is plural.  Here in the South we would say, “work out ya’lls salvation.”

But, spiritual formation is also a personal issue (not so much private as personal), meaning that we ultimately have to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth.  We cannot delegate that to someone else.  And we don’t really have to depend on their continual encouragement or accountability.

Ultimately we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

Paul is telling them, “You need to learn to do this on your own.  You don’t need me to be there—just keep growing, keep maturing.”  It was even more important that they purpose to obey in Paul’s absence, since his “presence” among them provided a measure of external motivation for them.

Lutheran commentator R. C. H. Lenski notes:

“There is always a tendency to relax obedience when the spiritual leader is absent.”

It is possible to lose our momentum when we don’t have others checking on us.  It is also possible to blame others for not being there to encourage us and support us.

Yes, community is important to spiritual growth and it is vital that we have people in our lives to pray for us, encourage us, challenge us and hold us accountable.  But, we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual lives.

We should look for mentors, we should look for teachers.  But ultimately we have to learn to feed ourselves and hold ourselves accountable.

  1. We are to “work out our salvation” with seriousness

The rest of verse 12 indicates our responsibility in sanctification: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”

Let’s note several things about this statement…

First, it calls for determined action on our part.  The word for “work out” is katergazomai, a word that means “to put energy into an activity until you get it done.”  It focuses not merely upon the process, but the accomplishment of the intended goal.  “Work out this math problem” means to work at it until you solve it.

In Paul’s day, it was also used for “working a mine,” that is, getting out of the mine all the valuable ore possible; or “working a field” to get the greatest harvest possible.

Sophocles used katergazomai in the sense of overcoming all opposition, to accomplish something despite obstacles and difficulty.  It is a command for sustained effort, diligence and hard work, until the goal is achieved.

Other passages indicate this sense of using all our energies to accomplish our goal of becoming like Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul told them…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

And also in 1 Timothy 4:7 Paul says “train yourself for godliness…”

In both of these passages the emphasis is placed upon our personal responsibility to do everything we can for godliness.  It doesn’t happen without effort.  It requires discipline.  Discipline is very much a part of becoming more like Jesus Christ.

There is no such thing as drifting into godliness.  You can drift into sin.  Without effort we will just flow with the current of our culture.  We will be inclined to worldliness.  It will be easy for us to sin.

We need discipline.  We need to train ourselves.  We need to exercise ourselves toward personal holiness.  This is personal responsibility.

We tend to be lazy when it comes to our spiritual lives.  We don’t see the stress fractures right away.  That’s why Paul tells us not to be deceived, in Galatians 6, we will eventually reap what we sow.  But since we don’t reap immediately, we get discouraged that our discipline is not paying off.

But just like physical exercise doesn’t immediately make us healthier and stronger, so spiritual exercise takes awhile to show visible results.

In the context, the Philippians as a body are to work out their problems and come to unity.   They are to produce the fruit of their salvation, that is, peace, love, and harmony in the Spirit.

Another thing to notice about this command is that it is a continuous action.  We have to keep at it and never let up until our “salvation” is achieved.

Paul will express it this way in Philippians 3:12-14

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Too often we misunderstand that to live by grace means that we put no effort into the Christian life.  But grace doesn’t oppose effort, it opposes earning.  Grace means that we cannot possibly earn God’s favor, it has been freely given.

Rather, grace is the best motivation for passionate effort.  When we’ve seen God gracious God has been to us, we want to respond to Him and become like Him.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul keeps that balance—he worked harder, but it was the grace of God with him that motivated him and enabled him to work hard.

Descending into Greatness, part 2 (Philippians 2:10-11)

Last week we were looking at Philippians 2:9-11, where Paul expresses the explosive result of Christ humbling himself by taking on humanity and dying the cruel, shameful, painful death on the cross.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The name that God bestowed on Jesus is “Lord,” but more fully is “Lord Jesus Christ.”

The clue lies in the fact that it is “above every name.”  It is greater than any other name  conferred on Jesus.  In fact, it is God’s own name kyrios (Lord), which was used in the Greek Old Testament to represent Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel.  The name given to Jesus that is above every name is indeed Yahweh, God’s name, which fills so much of the Old Testament.

How can we be sure?  Verse 11 identifies Jesus as “Lord” (kyrios), Yahweh —“every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Giving Jesus the name “Lord” (Yahweh) is the ultimate of all honors because he says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD [Yahweh]; that is my name.”  It is no one else’s name.  Yahweh is the name that trumps all other titles — the awesome covenant name of the God of Israel — “the name that is above every name.”

What a moment it must have been those 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered Heaven and Paradise — to super-exaltation and a new name!

That is the name we bow before and worship and adore.  We pray, “hallowed be Thy name” and we pray in the name of Jesus.

Notice that this name is “bestowed” upon Jesus by the Father.  It was not exactly earned through obedience and sacrifice, but was “freely given” as an act of grace from the Father.

It reminds us that even the rewards we get for our obedience are not earned, but rather given to us as gifts.  We can never earn or “pay back” God for the grace He has given us.

Now, look at vv. 10-11.  Here we find out why God has so highly exalted His Son Jesus Christ.

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice that v. 10 begins with the words “so that,” indicating that these verses indicate the purpose for which God highly exalted Jesus.

First of all, God highly exalted Jesus and gave Him the name “Lord” to promote universal submission to His Son’s sovereign authority.  God wants “every knee to bow” to His Son’s authority.

The interesting thing about this statement in vv. 10 and 11 is that it is attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 45:23 records Yahweh as saying, “

23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

Of course, here in Philippians it is being applied to Jesus, another indication that God the Father and God the Son are equal in authority.

It is quite significant that this Old Testament quotation is taken from one of the Old Testament passages that emphasized so strongly the sole authority of Yahweh.  The verse immediately before this, verse 22, says, “I am God and there is no other.”

Kent Hughes emphasizes this:

As to how dynamic Paul’s application is, we must understand that the forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is the Old Testament’s most forthright and forceful statement of God’s sovereign rule in history and salvation.  Four times in Isaiah 45 the Lord declares his absolute sovereignty.  Three times he says, “‘I am the LORD [Yahweh], and there is no other’” (vv. 5, 6, 18), and once he says, “‘For I am God ( El ), and there is no other’” (v. 22).  And it is with this fourth declaration of sovereignty that we have Yahweh’s call for utter allegiance: “‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance”’” (vv. 22, 23).

In the earthly, millennial sense, this was promised the Son in Psalm 2

7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

But the universality of this “change in status” is that even now every knee bows, literally “pertaining to heaven, pertaining to earth, pertaining to the underworld.”  Thus, every single member of the angelic, human and demonic realms, will ultimately join together in worshipping the one true God—Jesus Christ our Lord!

This high regard for the authority of Jesus Christ was once expressed by Charles Lamb in conversation with some friends: “If Shakespeare was to come into this room, we would applaud him; if Abraham Lincoln entered this world, we should all rise to honor him; but if Jesus Christ was to come into it, we should all fall down upon our faces.”

Notice that even unbelievers will bow down before the authority of Jesus Christ at that time.  While the Lake of Fire is not yet inhabited and the spirits of deceased unbelievers go to Sheol-Hades, it was still considered part of the “underworld.”  So not only every believer and every good angel, but the demons and unbelievers will bow before Jesus Christ.

No knee in the universe is excluded, be it human, angelic, or demonic.  This means that some will bow with spontaneous ecstasy, and others with grudging mourning and shame.  But bow they will!

The certainty of this was sealed with Yahweh’s oath in Isaiah 45:23: “‘By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”’”  So, regardless of your spiritual state, regardless of your might and power, regardless of your will, however steely and proud it may be, you will bow your knee to Jesus.  The only question is, when?  How much better to do it now!

Brian Doerksen has captured this important choice in his song, “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.”  In one chorus we sing:

One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God
One day ev’ry knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those,
Who gladly choose you now

Willingly we choose to surrender our lives
Willingly our knees will bow
With all our hearts, oh, mind and strength
We gladly choose you now

Don Richardson, who wrote Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts, a Canadian missionary to Western New Guinea, came to Citadel Bible College, where I went to school.

Don had an interesting theory about hell.

He said that often hell is pictured as the demons and the damned blaspheming and cursing God.  But, Don said, God isn’t going to allow that to go on throughout eternity.  Rather, those in hell will forever acknowledge the lordship of Jesus.

He explained by using the analogy of the threshold of pain.  Some people can endure only a small amount of pain before they will submit to anyone torturing them.  Others can endure much more pain before they are broken.  As a boy, you may have wrestled with a bigger boy who got you in a painful hold and increased your pain until you would agree to do or say what he wanted.  If he let up on the pain, you would defy him and say, “I’m not going to do it.”  So, he would increase your pain until you said, “Okay, I’ll do what you want!”

Don speculates that in hell, God is going to inflict on every person or demon the amount of pain necessary to bring that being into submission, where under duress he cries out, “Jesus is Lord.”  If God were to lessen the pain, the person would defy God.  So God increases the pain to the point where they submit and then holds them at that level throughout eternity.

I don’t know that you can prove his theory from Scripture, but it does make sense. However God does it, there isn’t a rebellious creature on earth or in hell who will not acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. It will be a forced confession, but every knee shall bow before Jesus. (from the sermon “Every Knee Shall Bow” by Steve Coles)

There are many other passages in the NT that affirm Christ’s universal right to rule.  In Matthew 28:18 Jesus claims to have received all authority in heaven and earth.  In Ephesians 1:20-21 Paul says that Christ was seated in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be named not only in the present age, but also in the age to come.

The early preaching of the church recognized that Christ was exalted to the status of Lord (Acts 2:33, 36) and upon the basis of his universal Lordship offered the gospel to all men (Acts 10:34-36).  Thus, Christ’s lordship is viewed as universal and eternal.  But he got there by humble obedience—that is the message proper of Philippians 2:6-11.

A second reason God has highly exalted Jesus and given him the name “Lord” is to promote personal acceptance of Christ’s sovereign authority.

Paul says that “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”

Confession with the tongue is the spoken counterpart to bowing the knee.  The verb “confess” is exhomologeo.  The word homologeo is found in 1 John 1:9 where we “confess” our sins—we agree with God or say what He would say about our sins.

With the preposition attached, it means to “speak out fully, openly, loudly and joyfully” or to “speak out plainly and publicly in the presence of others.”

What the bended knee indicates, the open tongue now openly and clearly expresses.

Romans 10 teaches us that this is part of the response to the gospel.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

It is vital that the heart and mouth are working together for salvation.  There are those who speaks the words, but their heart has not believed.  That’s why Jesus uttered those chilling words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount…

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

The confession is that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  This threefold confession was the earliest baptismal formula of the church (Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

But this confession is not limited to the church, to true believers, but “every tongue will confess.”

Of course, this is not a call for universalism, the idea that everyone, in the end, is saved.  Rather, every one will confess this, but only those who do so before death are saved.  The others are compelled to do so, but it doesn’t save them.

To break it down: “Jesus ” (meaning “the Lord saves”), the name given to the Son of God at his incarnation, signifies that the Lord’s salvation came when Jesus was born.  This is why Simeon swept baby Jesus into his arms and declared, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29, 30).

Second, the title “ Christ ” (meaning “the Anointed,” “the Messiah” in the Old Testament) speaks of his being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy — “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

Third, “ Lord ” is here understood to represent the divine name Yahweh, which is a public declaration of his sovereignty — “I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5, 6, 18; cf. 45:14, 22).

“He has always (in Paul’s view) shared in the Divine nature.  But it is only as the result of His Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection and Exaltation that He appears to men as on an equality with God, that He is worshipped by them in the way in which Jehovah is worshipped.” (Kennedy)

We also should not miss the significance that at a later time in the Roman Empire, all residents of the Empire were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Emperor, declaring that Caesar is Lord, and burning a pinch of incense to an image of the emperor. Though the Roman state saw this only as a display of political allegiance, Christians rightly interpreted it as idolatry – and refused to participate, often paying with their lives.

Paul has no doubt who is really Lord – not the Caesar whom he will stand trial before; Caesar may be a high name, but it is not the name above all names, the name which belongs to Jesus Christ!

Ultimately, and thirdly, all of this is for one purpose—“for the glory of God the Father.”

The end-all of all of God’s plans and actions, and all of Christ’s work on earth and now in heaven, and the Spirit’s work here on earth, is that God would receive all the glory.

God created us for His glory.  Everything He has done has been for His glory.

But as George Lawlor says…

“It must not be thought that God has been selfish in arranging all things for His own glory.  When it is analyzed, we find that what might seem to superficial minds as a selfish arrangement really is absolute unselfishness.  God has all along looked upon the things and interests of others, and has laid himself out for their good.  This has characterized the plan of God throughout its entire history; and when eventually the universe recognizes, acknowledges and confesses the mighty self-forgetfulness of the eternal God, and this is hailed as the real glory, we cannot desire it otherwise.” (When God Became Man, pp. 138-139).

Jesus does not rival God, despite the exalted status He occupies.  Jesus’ authority, though great, was given to Him.

Therefore, whenever and by whomever the confession is made that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” God suffers no embarrassment; rather He is being glorified for what He planned and gave and worked out that it would be so.

Descending into Greatness, part 1 (Philippians 2:9)

Over the last two weeks we’ve been examining Paul’s illustration of extreme selflessness in Christ’s example in His seven steps downward in voluntary humiliation from the incarnation to the crucifixion.  That was in Philippians 2:6-8:

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And it was all his own doing.  No one humbled him!  Herod did not humble him.  Pilate did not humble him.  The high priest did not humble him.  The Romans did not humble him.  Jesus “humbled himself.”  The humblest man who ever lived is Christ himself, the God-man.  No other man or woman has even come close!

But at this point, there is a radical reversal in the hymn.  Kent Hughes asks us to picture it like this:

So the down, down, down of Christ’s humiliation is followed by his soaring exaltation.  To get the feel of this, picture the gears of a catapult being ratcheted down ever tighter with the three movements of his self-humiliation, so that the final groaning click of the gears creates an explosive tension, and then the gear is tripped, launching indescribable exaltation.

Whereas in these three verses Christ is the active subject, humbling himself; in the second part (vv. 9-11) it is God who acts and Christ is the object of the divine action.  Whereas the first “verse” of the hymn focuses on Christ’s self-humiliation, the second “verse” describes His super-exaltation by God.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This part open with the double conjunctions dio kai, indicating that this act of God is the logical outcome of what Christ did in humbling himself…it is the direct result.  It was precisely Jesus’ humiliation that became the grounds for his exaltation. By humbling himself on the cross out of love, he demonstrated that he truly shared the divine nature of God, who is love (1 John 4:8).

Jesus had consistently taught His disciples that we must humble ourselves, and when we do God will exalt us.

In Matthew 23:12 we read:

12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 14:11 says the same.

When we get it all backwards and we exalt ourselves, then God is forced to step in and humble us.

Proverbs 18:12 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

You remember what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, right?  He was the mighty king of Babylon, and worse of all, He knew it.  He believed that it was His might and knowledge that had built Babylon into a worldwide power.

And because of that pride, God humbled him.

Jesus, of course, illustrates the principle of humility in John 13:13-17 and here in Philippians 2:5-8.

1 Peter 5:6 also says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…”

God is committed to exalting those who humble themselves.  We just have to trust God for the “proper time.”

The exaltation of Jesus, which is now the theme of this second part of the Christ-hymn, is not described in stages as the descent into humiliation was.  Rather, it is presented as one dramatic act, lifting Christ from the depths of humiliation to the heights of glory.

“He humbled himself as no other could ever humble himself.  He is exalted as no other is exalted” (When God Became Man, George Lawlor, p. 120).

Hebrews 2:9 confirms this move:

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned [now] with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

2 Corinthians 8:9 also shows us the purpose of this move:

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

It was all for us.  All for you and me that He humbled Himself.

But now For this reason (“therefore”) God raised him to life and highly exalted him, entrusting him with the rule of the cosmos and giving him the name that is above every name.

This compound verb “highly exalted” is found only here in the New Testament and it means to “super-exalt,” to “raise something or someone to the very highest of heights.”

It is not comparative, that Jesus is just higher than any other being, or even higher than He was prior to the incarnation, but it is a superlative expression—He is the highest.  There can be no other higher.

He made Himself the lowliest of the low, now God make Him the highest of the high.  No one compares.

Interestingly, this verb is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament and it describes Yahweh as the one who is “exalted far above all gods” (Psalm 96:9; cf. Daniel 3:52, 53, 57-58).  So Jesus shares that with His Father as well.

Though Christ’s exaltation was a once-and-for-all event, it was the culmination of a process that began with the resurrection.  He had gone down, down, down through his incarnation and passion and death (which wrought such infinite spiritual compression), but then in a final, explosive upsurge the grave could no longer hold him.

Thus we have that brilliant moment on Sunday morning when Jesus came right through his grave clothes in the sacred body of his humiliation, glorious and radiant.

Rick Renner tells of coming across an old document in an antique shop in Russia.  It turned to be the birth announcement by a Russian Tsar.

The imperial insignia was still pressed into the broken wax seal, and on the back of the letter was an inscription with all the names and titles of this particular Russian Tsar. The beautiful handwriting described him as:

Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Tauric Chersonesos, Tsar of Georgia, Lord of Pskov, and Grand Duke of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, Finland, Jerusalem, [and so forth, and so forth, and so forth].

The point of these titles was clear: There was no higher name and no greater power than the Tsar of Russia in the realms of his rule.  But that is nothing compared to Jesus Christ.

His glory is now “21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:21-22).

There, in Ephesians 1, Paul says that Jesus is “far above.”  In the context of this verse, it means quite simply that no one in the universe has a higher rank, name, or position than Jesus Christ!

Furthermore, to affirm Jesus’ highest position, Paul added the word “all,” which is a translation of the Greek word pas, meaning anything and everything.  By using these two words together, huperano and pas, he left no room for misunderstanding or doubt regarding his message — that Jesus Christ holds the highest and most exalted position in the entire universe. He is literally “above all.”

Paul went on to describe the specific categories that Christ is above. First, he stated that Christ is “above all principalities….”  The word “principalities” is from the Greek word arche, and it denotes rulers of the highest level.  This encompassing term refers to all human rulers, including kings and politicians.

However, it must be noted that the word arche is also used in Scripture to refer to angelic beings.  This means Paul was declaring that Christ’s exalted rank is far above all human rulers and angelic beings.  The natural and the spiritual realms are both under the dominion of Jesus Christ, and there is absolutely no one in any realm more highly exalted than Him.

Paul then mentioned Christ’s superiority over “powers.”  The word “powers” is the Greek word exousias.  This word describes people who have received delegated power, and therefore is often translated authorities.

In the context of Ephesians 1:21, this word exousias refers to people who hold public office and wield authority entrusted to them by their superiors or through an election. Paul was teaching that although these individuals yield substantial power and influence in the affairs of the world, their authority pales in comparison to that of Jesus Christ.

At the time Paul penned these words in the First Century AD, this was a very dangerous and powerful statement to make, because Roman political powers were actively persecuting the Church and attempting to suppress the message of the Gospel.  However, Paul wanted his readers to know that no matter what authority a politician might try to exert over the Church, Jesus had a rank that was even higher than most powerful human authorities.

Next Paul wrote of “might,” which comes from the Greek word dunamis. The word dunamis denotes explosive power, but it also was regularly used to describe the full strength of a military force.  By using this word, Paul declared that Jesus is exalted in His authority and power even above all the military forces in the world today.

As if this list is not already complete enough, Paul added one more word.  He stated that Christ is supreme above all “dominions.”  This is the Greek word kuriotes, which means lordships.  It could refer to any world system, political, financial, or any system of any type.  There simply is no system more high-ranking that the Lord Jesus Christ!  Jesus is the Lord of lords.

Finally, to make sure he has included everyone and everything on his list, Paul added “…and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come….” In one sweeping statement, Paul declared that Jesus is Lord over all.  He is literally superior to rulers (arche), elected leaders (exousias), military powers (dunamis), and constitutional authorities (kuriotes).  He is literally Lord over all!

Christ is now in Heaven with myriads of angels singing, “‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:12)—and you could probably add a few hundred more attributes as well.

Now back to Philippians 2.

It is difficult to imagine here that Jesus could be actually moved to a higher place than “being in very nature God” and “equality with God” (v. 6).  So I think what Paul means here is that God is making Jesus’ great superiority more fully evident to all humanity and all angelic beings.

I find this similar to the meaning of Romans 1:4,

4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

This doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God until after the resurrection, but that the resurrection made it patently clear that Jesus was the Son of God.  It removed all doubt.  At least, it presented convincing evidence that He was the Son of God.

The resurrection did not “make” Jesus the Son of God.  That has been His nature since before time began; but it was the resurrection in particular that so powerfully demonstrated the reality of that divine nature.

Jesus’ place now is at God’s right hand, the place of supreme authority and honor.  Stephen saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  The writer of Hebrews makes a point of having Christ sitting at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

And verse 13 says, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13)

Sitting (cf. Hebrews 10:12) indicates that Christ’s atoning work is finished.  His humiliation is over and now He sits in glory.

And this act of “super-exaltation” is accompanied by the parallel statement that God “bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”

This is a little harder to picture than the idea of Christ being exalted far above all earthly and heavenly authorities.

What does it mean that He has a “name that is above every name” and what is that name?

In comparison with the Tsar of Russia, Jesus has these names:

King of kings, Lord of lords, The Blessed and Only Potentate, The King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, The Anointed One, The Christ, The Messiah, The Chosen One, The Lamb of God, The Glory of God, The Word of God, The Only Begotten of the Father, Emmanuel, Son of Man, Son of God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, The Power of God, The Wisdom of God, The Only Wise God, Prince of Peace, Redeemer, Chief Shepherd, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, Great High Priest, Universal and Supreme Head of the Church — God in the Flesh!

Those names are definitely superior to any earthly name.

But what is that name?  The option which seems to fit best is that it is “Lord Jesus.”  The name Jesus, of course, means Savior.  He is Lord and Savior.

The clue lies in the fact that it is “above every name.”  It is greater than any other name  conferred on Jesus.  In fact, it is God’s own name kyrios (Lord), which was used in the Greek Old Testament to represent Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel.  The name given to Jesus that is above every name is indeed Yahweh, God’s name, which fills so much of the Old Testament.

How can we be sure?  Verse 11 identifies Jesus as “Lord” (kyrios), Yahweh —“every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Giving Jesus the name “Lord” (Yahweh) is the ultimate of all honors because he says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD [Yahweh]; that is my name.”  It is no one else’s name.  Yahweh is the name that trumps all other titles — the awesome covenant name of the God of Israel — “the name that is above every name.”

What a moment it must have been those 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered Heaven and Paradise — to super-exaltation and a new name!

That is the name we bow before and worship and adore.  We pray, “hallowed be Thy name” and we pray in the name of Jesus.

Notice that this name is “bestowed” upon Jesus by the Father.  It was not exactly earned through obedience and sacrifice, but was “freely given” as an act of grace from the Father.

It reminds us that even the rewards we get for our obedience are not earned, but rather given to us as gifts.  We can never earn or “pay back” God for the grace He has given us.

Upside-Down Living, part 2 (Philippians 2:6b-8)

Last week we began looking at this wonderful expression of the humiliation of Jesus Christ.  He has existed forever as God, but took on human flesh to serve and sacrifice His life for us.  That is expressed in Philippians 2:5-8 as a way of illustrating the kind of perspective, attitude, thought pattern, that Paul wanted the Philippians to adopt.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Because we are “in Christ Jesus” we have the capacity to think like Jesus.  As illustrated in John 13, Jesus, though God most high and exalted, humbled Himself to serve others.  That was the pattern of His whole life, according to these verses before us today.

So let’s pick up with verse 6. We had noted last week that the first clause of verse 6 speaks loudly and clearly that Jesus existed with the same essence and character as God the Father.

Now, speaking of the incarnation, Paul says that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

Here again, Jesus’ full deity is affirmed in the word “equality.”  It indicates that Jesus was “exactly the same, in size, quality, quantity, character or number.”  We use words like isometric (equal in number) and isosceles triangle (a triangle with two equal sides).

This very claim is what got Jesus in trouble with the Pharisees.  In John 5:18 we read…

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

And in John 10:33 they also say…

33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

That’s all they saw Jesus as—a man.  But He was more than that.  He truly was God, it’s just that His humanity veiled that identity somewhat.

But in this first step downward.  Jesus refused to selfishly hold onto His equality with God (the rights and privileges of His deity).  Our verse says that He “considered” it, He gave careful thought to it.  He knew that He could not hold onto His full deity.  He couldn’t hang onto that full equality and become a man who would die, on a cross.  He thought it through and decided that “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10) was worth the cost of letting go of the full rights and privileges of His glorious deity.

The word “grasp” is usually meant in an aggressive sense, to “take by force, to seize” or to “hang onto.”  You’ve maybe had to grasp onto something when you were falling, like from a ladder.

I was helping my brother-in-law, on Becky’s side of the family, re-roof her father’s house.  I was rolling out tar paper, backing up step by step, and suddenly I stepped off the roof.  I didn’t have time to grasp hold of anything.  Believe me, I would have if I could have.  Fortunately, the roof of the porch was just about 3 feet below the roof, so that is as far as I fell and didn’t hurt myself.

But in cases like that, you want to grasp hold of something to protect yourself.  Jesus didn’t do that.  Instead, He let go.

Unlike Adam, who senselessly sought to grasp after an equality with God he never had; the second Adam, Jesus Christ, although He had always enjoyed full and true equality with God the Father, refused to derive any advantage from it during His days on earth.

This is where it all starts—with a humility of mind that is willing to lay aside the true rights we have.

The New Living Translation reads, “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.”

What normally causes disunity?  Two people asserting their rights, fighting to give their opinions and agendas top priority.

“Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3).  In humility, he counted the interests of others as more significant than his own (Phil. 2:3–4).

This downward mobility is further explained by the contrast indicated by the word “but” in verse 7.  It is a strong contrast.  In contrast with hanging onto His full equality with God, Jesus “emptied himself.”

The ESV reads

7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

The words “made himself nothing” are literally “emptied himself,” but that begs the question, “What did He empty Himself of?”

William Barclay, mistakenly says, “He emptied himself of His deity to take upon Himself His humanity.”  In other words, He traded one for the other.  When he became man He ceased to be God.

There are those who think this means that Christ willingly gave up His divine attributes—omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, eternality…”

But there are four reasons why it could not be the case that Jesus gave up His deity

  • First, to give up any of His attributes—to actually lose one or not be able to fully use it—would destroy His deity, making Him no longer God.
  • Second, it would effectively “annul” the Trinity, for there would be no more “Son” in the Godhead.
  • Third, it would deny the attribute of immutability (James 1:17), the fact that God doesn’t change.
  • Fourth, it would undermine the atoning work of Christ. If He was not God, then His work on the cross would lose its sufficiency in satisfying God’s wrath against sin.

Besides, Jesus did use His attributes at times.  He just fully submitted them to God’s will and plan.

Jesus did not stop being God, but something did change.

So, what did He empty Himself of?  Or, in what way should we understand this concept?

  • First, he emptied Himself of His glory—the blazing splendor of His character (John 17:5). In the Old Testament men would die if they saw God’s glory face to face.  When Jesus came He veiled that glory, though a small portion was apparently revealed at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17; 1 Peter 1:15-18).
  • Second, Jesus voluntarily limited the use of His divine powers, so that He didn’t always do the miraculous and even experienced needs Himself. Whereas He didn’t stop being omniscient, in His humanity He “grew in wisdom” and stated at one point that even the Son of Man did not know the time of a future event (Matthew 24:36).  Thus, He voluntarily limited His abilities.
  • Third, He lived in total dependence upon the Holy Spirit in the miracles that He did (e.g. Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:14). In other words, when Jesus did do miracles and display His omnipotence, He did that in conscious dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit instead of His own power.  He did this to model for us a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered life.
  • Fourth, He submitted to the will of the Father. He came to “do His will” (God’s will) rather than His own.  He submitted to God’s will in the Garden, even though He knew it would be excruciating.  In this sense he “learned obedience” through suffering (Hebrews 5:8).
  • Lastly, he gave up a favorable relationship with God, choosing instead to suffer alienation as the sin bearer on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

All this Jesus willingly did for you and me.  Am I willing to limit myself and place myself totally in submission to God?  How might that help you in your interpersonal struggles with your spouse or someone else?

But Jesus didn’t stop there.

He took the next step down.

There is a sense in which He didn’t simply empty Himself by giving up something, but He emptied Himself by taking on “the form of a bondservant” (v. 7).  He gave up the free expression of His glory and power and appeared to His kindred as a humble man, one who would serve.

The word “form” here (morphe) is the same word that we saw in verse 5.  Thus, just as “God very God was his form” then, now His form is a “bondservant.”

Of course, we know that in the Incarnation Jesus took on a second nature, a human nature.  From conception He was now not only God very God, but fully God and fully man.  And as a man, His form was that of a bondservant, a slave, a doulos.

We’ve seen this word before.  Paul claimed it in the beginning of the book, when he introduced he and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus.”

Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve, and give [His] life a ransom for many.”

But this word doulos goes beyond the mere activity of serving or helping someone.  It refers to the position of being a slave, or not having rights of your own.

Jesus, the most free and sovereign being in the universe, gave up that freedom to submit to the Father and even to men.

All along, Paul has been encouraging the Philippians to adopt this same attitude of seeing themselves in the serving position rather than in the power position, getting their way.

What about you, are you willing to position yourself as a slave, giving up your rights?  What about in your marriage?  Is there a strained relationship that would benefit from taking the stance of the servant, of yielding?

Then comes another step down in the latter part of verse 7, when it says He was “made in the likeness of men.”

Here, “being made” is from a verb that indicates—not continual existence (like huparcho, in v. 6)—but which indicates an existence that began at a certain point in time and continues now.

Thus, Jesus was (and is) eternally God, but He became man (adding a second nature) at a fixed point in space-time history.

At that point He was given the attributes of humanity.  He looked like a man and had a body like a man.  He wasn’t a ghost (as the Docetics claimed).  In every likeness or point of similarity Jesus was just like you and me.  He got tired, He had to sleep, He got hungry.

Just at it is important that Jesus remain God in the Incarnation, it is also important that He becomes man.

Colossians 1:21-22 says, And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

Jesus didn’t have that “body of flesh” in heaven before His incarnation.  In order to die for you, He had to become a man.  He had to become “flesh and blood” as Hebrews 2:14 tells us, in order to redeem those who are flesh and blood.  It is how He became a sympathetic high priest” (Heb. 2:17) for us.

He became flesh so he could “sympathize with our weaknesses” experiencing all our pains and struggles and loses and temptations, “yet without sin.”

Are you willing to find points of contact and identification with the people you’re in conflict with?  Follow the example of your Savior.

Then came the fourth step down.

When it says in verse 9 that Jesus “was found in appearance as a man,” it is saying something different than He became flesh and blood.  It’s not just a repeat of the end of verse 7.

Rather, when they saw his schema as looking human, that’s all that they saw him as.  This looks at the humiliation from the viewpoint of the people who saw him.  They looked at him and saw little to nothing that would make them think He was God.  Instead, they saw him as a man just like us.  Just a normal, everyday man-next-door.

This is likely what Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians 5:16

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

Prior to the resurrection, Paul says, it was normal for people to view Jesus as just a good-old-boy, a run-of-the-mill person.  Nothing special.

It was humbling enough for God to hide his glories and become a man, but another thing for men to see him as just another man.

How about you?  Are you willing to be seen as “nothing special,” to allow your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to show?  Are you willing to do that so that you can reach them?

But this isn’t all.  Not only do they treat the majestic King of the Universe as a mere man, but in this next step down they treat him like the worst of all, like a criminal.

But when Jesus was reviled, spit upon and flogged, did He fight back?  No, He did not.

Instead, He humbled Himself under the punishment, shame and ridicule, the false charges, mock trials, betrayal and abandonment.

It was humiliating enough to leave the glories of heaven, but now to submit to utter humiliation…that is love indeed.

And He did humble Himself, for it was His choice!  He wasn’t humiliated because He was at the whim of other’s choices.  He made the choice to endure this shame and humiliation.

Again, what about you?  Are you willing to stand silent when accused?  Are you willing to utter a blessing when you’ve been cursed?  Are you willing to entrust your reputation to God?

The sixth step downward in Christ’s humiliation, is found in the words “obedient to the point of death…”

We might say, “Stop, that’s enough.  I can’t take anymore.”  But not Jesus.  Jesus goes further, all the way to sacrificing His life.

Instead of, in the last moment, finally revealing Himself as He truly was and saving Himself from a cruel, shameful death, He obeys God’s will to the point of death.

And finally, this was no normal death.  No, it was the most cruel, most shameful kind of death that could happen in those days.  The word “even” introduces us to the shock and horror that this was “death on a cross.”

We’ve cleaned up and pasteurized the cross today so that we can wear it around our necks and feel nothing of the searing shame and terrible torture of that instrument of death.  I mean, imagine someone today wearing an electric chair or a syringe around their necks!

No one would have worn a cross like that in the first century.

This is the very bottom, the end of the line.  To be crucified on a cross was the most excruciating, more embarrassing, most degrading, most painful form of torture ever devised.

Yet Jesus freely and willingly chose it to bring reconciliation to us!

This form of torture was so demeaning and degrading that the Romans wouldn’t even use it on their own citizens.

The Jews themselves believed that a person being crucified must be under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22; Gal. 3).

There He is, stark naked, hanging wounded and vulnerable before the watching world, an object of mocking and derision.  This is your God!  The God who created the universe, who made the very wood and iron which was used to nail Him to the cross.

Somewhere along the line you’d think He’d say to himself. “You know, these people are just not worth all that.  That is too degrading, too humiliating to put myself through for them.”

But that’s what He did.  The One who is above all powers, all wisdom, all riches, before time began to the moment He was hanging on that cross—thought of us “above all.”

You can see Lenny LeBlanc’s Above All music video

Above all the searing pain, the jeering laughs, the betrayal by a friend, being abandoned by His disciples, but most of all having the Father turn His back on Him for the first time in all of time—beyond all that Jesus “endured the cross and despised the shame” (why?)…”for the joy that was set before him.”

What was that joy that drove Christ to offer His body to be tortured this way?  What was the joy that caused Christ to forfeit His harmony with His Father?

It was the joy of “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10), of seeing that you and I would be reconciled to the Father by gladly and willingly embracing Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

Let me remind you:  Paul didn’t write this simply as a keen theological exercise.  He is using the example of Jesus’ humiliation to teach us that sometimes it takes great personal sacrifice to resolve conflicts and reconcile relationships.  Are you willing to follow in the footsteps of your Savior?

Upside-Down Living, part 1 (Philippians 2:5-6a)

This morning we’re going to be looking at a passage of Scripture that many consider to be one of the most beautiful in all of the New Testament and was thought to be an early Christian hymn.

Although this passage has deep theological content, let’s remember that Paul is using it primarily as an illustration for the practical instructions he had given the Philippians in vv. 3-4:

3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

So Paul points to several people that the Philippians were familiar with that illustrated these very attitudes and habits—first Jesus in vv. 5-11, then Paul in vv. 17-18, then Timothy in vv. 19-24 and finally Epaphroditus in vv. 25-30.

Several commentators and pastors also find a close relationship between this passage and the passage in John 13 where Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.

  John 13:13-17     Philippians 2:6-11
1. Jesus rises from the table and lays aside (tithesi) his outer garments (ta himatia) (v. 4)   1. He emptied himself (ekenosen heauton). Moffatt translates it, “He laid it (his divine nature) aside.” (v. 7)
2. Jesus takes a towel and wraps it about himself (dieksosen heauton), puts water in a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet (a menial task often assigned to slaves; 1 Sam. 25:41; cf. Mark 1:7; Acts 13:25l St-B 2.557) (v. 5)   2. “…taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of human beings.  And being found in human form he humbled himself (etapeinosen heauton, v. 7)
3. When Jesus finished, he once again takes his outer garments and puts them on (elaben ta himata), and again sits down at the table (apepesen) from which he got up (v. 12).   3. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name (v. 9).
4. Finally Jesus says: “You address me as teacher and Lord (kurios) and rightly so, for that is what I am” (v. 13).   4. …that every tongue might openly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (kurios, v. 11).

(Gerald Hawthorne, “Philippians” in Word Biblical Commentary, p. 78)

Remember that a big part of why Paul was writing this letter to the Philippian believers was to help them deal with an interpersonal conflict that had arisen and was in danger of spreading (4:2-3) among them and dividing them.

One of the problems Paul had identified in vv. 3-4 that disrupts and ultimately can destroy community within a church, an office or a family, is the problem of “vain glory” (kenodoxia), or “thinking more highly of oneself” without good reason.

But whereas Paul counsels against us having “vain glory” he shows us in this passage today how Jesus emptied himself of his very real and deserved glory, humbling himself to serve us and even sacrifice himself for our good.

That is the example they were to follow.

There is an interesting verse in Psalm 18:35b where David says of Yahweh, “You stooped down to make me great.”  That is quite an amazing verse for the Old Testament, or even for the whole Bible for that matter.

The highly exalted God stoops down to make such a worm as I great!  That is quite astounding.  But that is exactly what Paul pictures here as he presents the example of Jesus Christ and encourages us to follow.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Again, many think that this was an early Christian hymn, that it was sung in their worship services.  In Latin it is called the Carmen Christi.  Whether or not it was actually sung, Paul crafts it as a concise theological statement about the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ.

In this passage we see Jesus Christ taking several steps down from his exalted glory in heaven, being incarnated as a human, becoming a servant and eventually dying in disgrace and shame, and agony, on the cross, as separated from that previous glory as one can be.

But then, in a couple of weeks, we will get to His reward, when He is exalted and proclaimed for the exalted King He is.

Moises Silva’s outline in his commentary on Philippians discerns the structure of the hymn and helps us see the main points of the passage.

who in the FORM of God existing in likeness of men BECOMING
not an advantage considered his being equal with God and in appearance being found as man
but nothing he made himself he humbled himself
the FORM of a servant adopting BECOMING obedient to death

Here is his line-by-line explanation:

In this arrangement, the first stanza begins and ends with the noun form (morphe), whereas the second stanza begins and ends with the participle ‘having become’ (genomenos).  This feature can easily be interpreted as [an] inclusio . . . and may suggest that indeed these lines begin and end discrete units.

Moreover, each line of the first stanza finds some parallelism in the corresponding line of the second stanza.  In both stanzas the first line contains a participle, and the participle rules a prepositional phrase.

The contrast between God and man in that [first] line is repeated in the second line. The third line of each stanza describes Christ’s voluntary act (‘he emptied himself/humbled himself’).

Finally, both stanzas puts us in touch with the original structure of the hymn, it is certainly suggestive and may have a bearing on exegesis. (Moises Silva, Philippians [BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005], 99)

The usefulness of this structure is evident in how it helps us see the contrast between God and man, the two main action verbs, and the act of becoming human and dying on the cross in the place of men.

Theologically, this structure coheres with the two main movements of Christ’s life—his incarnation and crucifixion.  Likewise, it stresses the two natures of Christ—he is both God and man, and in his humanity his human form has hidden his divine form without replacing it, reducing it, or rejecting it.

Last, Jesus’ primary actions of making himself nothing (i.e., emptying himself) and humbling himself relate in time to his incarnation and crucifixion.  Yet, neither action is separated from the other.  Christ’s humiliation on the cross came about because of his kenosis, and his incarnation also involved a significant step of humility.

All in all, Silva’s structure helps clarify our exegesis and theology in this key passage for biblical Christology.

So here in Philippians 2:5 we see Paul tying this passage back to his previous exhortations to unity.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

This word phroneo refers to the disposition of the mind or heart towards something.  It speaks of perspective, a way of thinking and says that our way of thinking should be like Jesus’ way of thinking.

Paul is saying that what we think about, our attitude, is very important.  Instead of having a mind that imitates the world, we should aim for a mind that imitates Christ.

What was Jesus’ perspective on life?  We see it here in this upside-down mentality, this “downward mobility” that is so foreign to our own thinking about life.

First, of all, we see that Jesus Christ began “in very nature God.”  His eternal, pre-incarnate nature was full divinity.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

In asking what Jesus Christ was like prior to the incarnation, Paul expresses it with the noun morphe (translated “form,” or “very nature” in the NIV) and the participle huparcho, which expresses the continuing existence of something, in this case the “form of God” in Jesus.

Jesus thus “existed,” or “continued to exist” during all the ages before the Incarnation “in the form of God.”

Now, the word morphe is defined of the “essential character of something.”  That which it is in its very nature.

Another word which Paul will use later, in v. 8 is schema (“found in appearance as a man”).  The difference between morphe and schema is that morphe speaks of the essential form that never changes; while schema speaks of the outward form which changes over time.

Thus, my morphe is that I am a man; but my schema has changed throughout the years from baby, to child, to pre-teen, to teenager, to adult (although some would debate I’ve gotten that far!).

Thus, what Paul is saying in verse 6 is that he has always existed in the unchangeable essence of being God.  He has always existed as God.

This is expressed in a variety of verses:

John 1:1-3 and verse 14 says…

1 In the beginning was the Word [we know from v. 14 that the Word is Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

So Jesus “was in the beginning,” and the tense of the verb means he “already was in the beginning.”  He was “with God” and most importantly this verse says that Jesus “was God.”  Again, the tense of the verb means that He didn’t become God, He always was God.

Now Jehovah witnesses will say, “But there is no article in front of the word God at the end of verse 1, so that means Jesus was ‘a god,’ a lesser god, a created god.”

While it is true that there is no article in front of the final word “God” in verse 1, this doesn’t mean that John was indicating that Jesus was any lesser deity.  After all, “everything that was made” was made by Him, according to verse 3.

A Greek grammarian by the name of Colwell said that an “anarthrous predicate noun is only indefinite if the context dictates.”  That’s just a fancy way to shut the mouths of those who argue that Jesus was less than God.

The reality is, if John had put an article in front of “God” it would have created a worse misunderstanding, for then it would mean that God was only “the Word.”  In reality, what John is doing here is not pointing so much to Jesus as God, but Jesus as divine, having the same nature as God.  It amounts to the same thing.

God, in this verse, is the Father, except in the final part of the verse when “God” stands for the nature or essence of who the Word has always been—totally, irrevocably divine.  Fully God.

Colossians 1:15-17, is another potential Christ hymn.

15 He is the image [the outward visible manifestation] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation [in position, not time.  Remember, He created all things that were created.]. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

I really like Colossians 2:9

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

That was Jesus’ exalted position.  He was, and still is, God very God.  Fully God.  He is not part God, or partially God.  The “whole fullness of deity” dwells in Him.  Richard Trench, commenting on this word “deity,” says…

Paul is declaring that in the Son there dwells all the fullness of absolute Godhead; they were no mere rays of divine glory which gilded Him, lighting up his person for a season and with a splendour not his own; but He was, and is, absolute and perfect God; and the Apostle “uses theotes to express this essential and personal Godhead of the Son;…

Kenneth Wuest adds…

One could translate, “For in Him corporeally there is permanently at home all the fulness of the Godhead.” That is, in our Lord Jesus in His incarnation and in the permanent possession of His human body now glorified, there resides by nature and permanently the fullness of the Godhead. The word “Godhead” is from our second word theotes. The word expresses Godhead in the absolute sense. It is not merely divine attributes that are in mind now, but the possession of the essence of deity in an absolute sense.

The simplest way to put it…is that Jesus is God in the flesh.

That is Christ in His glory.  In His essence He is fully God, deserving of worship and service.

But now the humiliation of Christ, in particular the incarnation and crucifixion, are depicted theologically in these steps downward.

And we will pick back up with the second part of verse 6 next week.

Upside-Down Living, part 1 (Philippians 2:5-6a)

This morning we’re going to be looking at a passage of Scripture that many consider to be one of the most beautiful in all of the New Testament and was thought to be an early Christian hymn.

Although this passage has deep theological content, let’s remember that Paul is using it primarily as an illustration for the practical instructions he had given the Philippians in vv. 3-4:

3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

So Paul points to several people that the Philippians were familiar with that illustrated these very attitudes and habits—first Jesus in vv. 5-11, then Paul in vv. 17-18, then Timothy in vv. 19-24 and finally Epaphroditus in vv. 25-30.

Several commentators and pastors also find a close relationship between this passage and the passage in John 13 where Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.

  John 13:13-17     Philippians 2:6-11
1. Jesus rises from the table and lays aside (tithesi) his outer garments (ta himatia) (v. 4)   1. He emptied himself (ekenosen heauton). Moffatt translates it, “He laid it (his divine nature) aside.” (v. 7)
2. Jesus takes a towel and wraps it about himself (dieksosen heauton), puts water in a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet (a menial task often assigned to slaves; 1 Sam. 25:41; cf. Mark 1:7; Acts 13:25l St-B 2.557) (v. 5)   2. “…taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of human beings.  And being found in human form he humbled himself (etapeinosen heauton, v. 7)
3. When Jesus finished, he once again takes his outer garments and puts them on (elaben ta himata), and again sits down at the table (apepesen) from which he got up (v. 12).   3. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name (v. 9).
4. Finally Jesus says: “You address me as teacher and Lord (kurios) and rightly so, for that is what I am” (v. 13).   4. …that every tongue might openly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (kurios, v. 11).

(Gerald Hawthorne, “Philippians” in Word Biblical Commentary, p. 78)

Remember that a big part of why Paul was writing this letter to the Philippian believers was to help them deal with an interpersonal conflict that had arisen and was in danger of spreading (4:2-3) among them and dividing them.

One of the problems Paul had identified in vv. 3-4 that disrupts and ultimately can destroy community within a church, an office or a family, is the problem of “vain glory” (kenodoxia), or “thinking more highly of oneself” without good reason.

But whereas Paul counsels against us having “vain glory” he shows us in this passage today how Jesus emptied himself of his very real and deserved glory, humbling himself to serve us and even sacrifice himself for our good.

That is the example they were to follow.

There is an interesting verse in Psalm 18:35b where David says of Yahweh, “You stooped down to make me great.”  That is quite an amazing verse for the Old Testament, or even for the whole Bible for that matter.

The highly exalted God stoops down to make such a worm as I great!  That is quite astounding.  But that is exactly what Paul pictures here as he presents the example of Jesus Christ and encourages us to follow.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Again, many think that this was an early Christian hymn, that it was sung in their worship services.  In Latin it is called the Carmen Christi.  Whether or not it was actually sung, Paul crafts it as a concise theological statement about the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ.

In this passage we see Jesus Christ taking several steps down from his exalted glory in heaven, being incarnated as a human, becoming a servant and eventually dying in disgrace and shame, and agony, on the cross, as separated from that previous glory as one can be.

But then, in a couple of weeks, we will get to His reward, when He is exalted and proclaimed for the exalted King He is.

Moises Silva’s outline in his commentary on Philippians discerns the structure of the hymn and helps us see the main points of the passage.

who in the FORM of God existing in likeness of men BECOMING
not an advantage considered his being equal with God and in appearance being found as man
but nothing he made himself he humbled himself
the FORM of a servant adopting BECOMING obedient to death

Here is his line-by-line explanation:

In this arrangement, the first stanza begins and ends with the noun form (morphe), whereas the second stanza begins and ends with the participle ‘having become’ (genomenos).  This feature can easily be interpreted as [an] inclusio . . . and may suggest that indeed these lines begin and end discrete units.

Moreover, each line of the first stanza finds some parallelism in the corresponding line of the second stanza.  In both stanzas the first line contains a participle, and the participle rules a prepositional phrase.

The contrast between God and man in that [first] line is repeated in the second line. The third line of each stanza describes Christ’s voluntary act (‘he emptied himself/humbled himself’).

Finally, both stanzas puts us in touch with the original structure of the hymn, it is certainly suggestive and may have a bearing on exegesis. (Moises Silva, Philippians [BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005], 99)

The usefulness of this structure is evident in how it helps us see the contrast between God and man, the two main action verbs, and the act of becoming human and dying on the cross in the place of men.

Theologically, this structure coheres with the two main movements of Christ’s life—his incarnation and crucifixion.  Likewise, it stresses the two natures of Christ—he is both God and man, and in his humanity his human form has hidden his divine form without replacing it, reducing it, or rejecting it.

Last, Jesus’ primary actions of making himself nothing (i.e., emptying himself) and humbling himself relate in time to his incarnation and crucifixion.  Yet, neither action is separated from the other.  Christ’s humiliation on the cross came about because of his kenosis, and his incarnation also involved a significant step of humility.

All in all, Silva’s structure helps clarify our exegesis and theology in this key passage for biblical Christology.

So here in Philippians 2:5 we see Paul tying this passage back to his previous exhortations to unity.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

This word phroneo refers to the disposition of the mind or heart towards something.  It speaks of perspective, a way of thinking and says that our way of thinking should be like Jesus’ way of thinking.

Paul is saying that what we think about, our attitude, is very important.  Instead of having a mind that imitates the world, we should aim for a mind that imitates Christ.

What was Jesus’ perspective on life?  We see it here in this upside-down mentality, this “downward mobility” that is so foreign to our own thinking about life.

First, of all, we see that Jesus Christ began “in very nature God.”  His eternal, pre-incarnate nature was full divinity.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

In asking what Jesus Christ was like prior to the incarnation, Paul expresses it with the noun morphe (translated “form,” or “very nature” in the NIV) and the participle huparcho, which expresses the continuing existence of something, in this case the “form of God” in Jesus.

Jesus thus “existed,” or “continued to exist” during all the ages before the Incarnation “in the form of God.”

Now, the word morphe is defined of the “essential character of something.”  That which it is in its very nature.

Another word which Paul will use later, in v. 8 is schema (“found in appearance as a man”).  The difference between morphe and schema is that morphe speaks of the essential form that never changes; while schema speaks of the outward form which changes over time.

Thus, my morphe is that I am a man; but my schema has changed throughout the years from baby, to child, to pre-teen, to teenager, to adult (although some would debate I’ve gotten that far!).

Thus, what Paul is saying in verse 6 is that he has always existed in the unchangeable essence of being God.  He has always existed as God.

This is expressed in a variety of verses:

John 1:1-3 and verse 14 says…

1 In the beginning was the Word [we know from v. 14 that the Word is Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

So Jesus “was in the beginning,” and the tense of the verb means he “already was in the beginning.”  He was “with God” and most importantly this verse says that Jesus “was God.”  Again, the tense of the verb means that He didn’t become God, He always was God.

Now Jehovah witnesses will say, “But there is no article in front of the word God at the end of verse 1, so that means Jesus was ‘a god,’ a lesser god, a created god.”

While it is true that there is no article in front of the final word “God” in verse 1, this doesn’t mean that John was indicating that Jesus was any lesser deity.  After all, “everything that was made” was made by Him, according to verse 3.

A Greek grammarian by the name of Colwell said that an “anarthrous predicate noun is only indefinite if the context dictates.”  That’s just a fancy way to shut the mouths of those who argue that Jesus was less than God.

The reality is, if John had put an article in front of “God” it would have created a worse misunderstanding, for then it would mean that God was only “the Word.”  In reality, what John is doing here is not pointing so much to Jesus as God, but Jesus as divine, having the same nature as God.  It amounts to the same thing.

God, in this verse, is the Father, except in the final part of the verse when “God” stands for the nature or essence of who the Word has always been—totally, irrevocably divine.  Fully God.

Colossians 1:15-17, is another potential Christ hymn.

15 He is the image [the outward visible manifestation] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation [in position, not time.  Remember, He created all things that were created.]. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

I really like Colossians 2:9

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

That was Jesus’ exalted position.  He was, and still is, God very God.  Fully God.  He is not part God, or partially God.  The “whole fullness of deity” dwells in Him.  Richard Trench, commenting on this word “deity,” says…

Paul is declaring that in the Son there dwells all the fullness of absolute Godhead; they were no mere rays of divine glory which gilded Him, lighting up his person for a season and with a splendour not his own; but He was, and is, absolute and perfect God; and the Apostle “uses theotes to express this essential and personal Godhead of the Son;…4

Kenneth Wuest adds

One could translate, “For in Him corporeally there is permanently at home all the fulness of the Godhead.” That is, in our Lord Jesus in His incarnation and in the permanent possession of His human body now glorified, there resides by nature and permanently the fullness of the Godhead. The word “Godhead” is from our second word theotes. The word expresses Godhead in the absolute sense. It is not merely divine attributes that are in mind now, but the possession of the essence of deity in an absolute sense.

The simplest way to put it…is that Jesus is God in the flesh.

That is Christ in His glory.  In His essence He is fully God, deserving of worship and service.

But now the humiliation of Christ, in particular the incarnation and crucifixion, are depicted theologically in these steps downward.

And we will pick back up with the second part of verse 6 next week.

A Formula for True Unity, part 2 (Philippians 2:2-4)

Last week we began looking at Paul’s encouragement to unity found in the opening verses of Philippians 2.  We found that Paul reminded them of all they had experienced through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in being united to Christ.  These experienced realities will form the basis for Paul’s commands in vv. 2-4…

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

You’ve heard the old ditty, I’m sure:

To live above, with saints we love, oh that will be glory.

But to live below, with saints we know, now that’s another story!

Unity is a precious commodity and we must pursue it.  Paul had explained all that God has done for them to be unified.

So the second step in maintaining unity in the body of Christ is to identify the end in mind.

Verse 2 describes what unity looks like.

Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says that the #1 habit of an effective leader or person is that they begin with the end in mind.  So Paul, after having given the Philippians four motivations, now presents a picture to their mind—a picture of a preferred and shared future.

So what is our goal?  What are the marks of true unity?

First, we are to have the “same mind.”  Literally, to “think the same.”  This same phrase is used in Romans 12:16; 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11 and Philippians 4:2.

I don’t think that Paul is pleading here for uniformity of thinking, as if everyone has to have the same opinion, but rather for an inward disposition of mind that strives to find common ground.

It is not easy to think alike.  We have to put our own agendas aside and be willing to listen to one another and identify common ground, rather than focus on what divides us.

It’s hard to think alike.  Consider how many different denominations there are, many of which have formed because they emphasized a difference rather than common ground.

One researcher found 70 different groups just within the Baptist family!

Nor, is Paul indicating that we must sacrifice the gospel to get along with others.  As we saw in 1:27, we must stand firm for the faith of the gospel.

We are all different.  We have different opinions, different experiences, different backgrounds, different personalities.  Yet, with all that, God wants us to have the “same mind.”

The key is that we are all seeking to have the “mind of Christ.”  We are pursuing a Word-saturated, God-dominated way of thinking that allows us to look at the bigger picture, value the more important truths, seek common ground, and even be willing to yield (as we will see in 4:3).

As believers grow in their understanding of Scripture, they share a common way of approaching problems.  The world offers all sorts of conflict resolution techniques to help people work through differences, but they’re all built on self.  They teach you how to get what you’re after.  But God’s way is to teach us to deny self as we seek to please God and love others.  If two people have this same mind, there is a basis for working through conflicts.

The second picture of unity that Paul asks them to strive for is to pursue “the same love.”

Now what does that mean?

Well, it could be taken in two ways.  First, he could mean that we are to love everyone with the “same measure of love.”  In other words, play no favorites, take no sides.  Certainly this would eliminate factions and a party spirit.

But another way Paul could mean it is that we have the same love that Jesus had when He sacrificed Himself for the good of sinners (1 John 3:16).

Obviously, love is a major factor in keeping unity.  When we begin to devalue people and champion our own causes, we run the danger of breaking unity.

Several years ago I was listening to a series of CD’s by Pastor Dee Duke about prayer.  At one point he discussed the importance of unity, I believe in connection with corporate prayer.  He said that in a dairy community the farmers would milk their cows on Sunday morning and then clean up as best they could and come to church.  Invariably, they would bring some of the stink of the farm with them.  Of course, they were used to it and didn’t smell it anymore.

However, when a new person came into the church, they immediately noticed, “Something doesn’t smell right here.”

He said that disunity is the same.  We might get used to it and sweep it under the rug, but newcomers can sense that “something’s not right here.”  They can sense disunity.

“The same love” is a love that yields its rights for the sake of others.  Christians must have that love in mind in every encounter with one another.

Jesus said that we should be known for our love to one another, not our positions on moral issues, being anti-this or against that.

Third, Paul pictures our goal as “being one in spirit and purpose.”  “Being one” is literally “souls together” souls knit, “soul brothers.”  And our souls are linked together by “spirit” and “purpose.”

Although we exist separately in body, we are linked together “in spirit.”  We have a common spiritual bond.  United to Christ we are united to one another.

We are also “one…in purpose.”  Our ultimate goal is the same.  Whatever may distinguish us, we are intent upon one goal overall and that is to “glory God and enjoy Him forever.”  That is the goal of all creation, the charter of the church and it should be our personal ambition as well.

Now, as defined here in Philippians, the ultimate goal or purpose is to “advance the gospel,” whatever advances the gospel, that is what Paul was concerned about.

That is why he didn’t get his undies in a bunch when people were preaching the gospel but downing Paul.  He didn’t care if they attacked him, as long as they were preaching the gospel.

If we could start from an “it’s not about me” attitude, that would eliminate a lot of conflict, wouldn’t it?

Paul wants us to achieve that tremendous synergy and productivity that happens when a church is of one mind, the same love, linked together in spirit and intent on one purpose.

By the way, Paul encourages them to manifest this type of unity to “complete my joy.”  I believe that not only Paul’s joy, but Christ’s joy, is full when we live together in unity.

The third way to pursue unity is to employ some very practical strategies.  We find these in verses 3 and 4.

Just in case Paul’s motivations and manifestations of unity in vv. 1-2 were somewhat unclear or ambiguous, Paul gets very practical and very specific here.

3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

What Paul has shared so far has been rich, but if that is all we had we might be left scratching our heads at how to possibly turn those motivations and manifestations of unity into reality.  Thankfully Paul wrote vv. 3-4.

But…verses 3 and 4 are such a challenge!  This is a high standard to reach for!

“Do nothing, absolutely nothing” for the purpose of pursuing selfish goals or ego promoting plans.  “Nothing!”  Not a hint, not a whiff of self.

The primary enemy of unity is self—demanding that others see it my way or pursue my way.

How many conflicts between husbands and wives, between bosses and their employees, between siblings, and yes, between church members…is started because of big egos and self-driven motives?

The word “rivalry” was used back in chapter 1, verse 17 and describes a party spirit that wanted to get its own way, even at the expense of community.

A politician, for example, tries to build a following for himself by building himself up and, if need be, by putting his opponents down.

In Galatians 5:20 it is a deed of the flesh, “disputes.”  Many churches suffer because some of the leaders view their position as a way of promoting self.  Some husbands misuse their authority in marriage in the same way.  But, Christians are not to do ANYTHING from this self-seeking motive.

“Conceit” comes from a very picturesque Greek word meaning an “empty opinion.”  A person who has kenodoxia is a person with strong opinions that are, in fact, erroneous.  And, of course, they are more than willing to fight to prove they are right!

Kent Hughes remarks:

Conventional wisdom has it that you can’t get anywhere without it [conceit, that is]. And there is some truth in that.  But it is an abomination in the church.

You might advance in the world with conceit, but it will ruin relationships.

This conceit is what motivated the disciples to want to be first, to sit at Christ’s right hand in glory, thus to receive glory themselves.

But Christ taught that…

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43b-45)

A third negative practice is found in verse 4, where Paul identifies a selfish preoccupation with one’s own personal (or those in one’s group, hekastoi) interests without regard for others.  This selfish mindset is contrary to the very nature of God (1 Cor. 13:5; 1 John 4:7-8).

Unity cannot co-exist where the primary value is placed on individualism (my rights and ideas) or partisanship (our rights and ideas) in opposition to others.

So Paul gives them a positive alternative, countering “rivalry,” “conceit” and looking out for one’s own interests, with “humbly consider others better than yourselves.

The lowliness that was utterly despised by the Greeks and makes such little sense today has become the highest virtue for the child of God. Markus Bockmuehl writes:

“Instead of pursuing their own prestige, that strangely addictive and debasing cocktail of vanity and public opinion, the Philippians are called to humility (tapeinophrosune), the ‘lowliness of heart’ which agrees to treat and think of others preferentially. . . . The biblical view of humility is precisely not feigned or groveling, nor a sanctimonious or pathetic lack of self-esteem, but rather a mark of moral strength and integrity. It involves an unadorned acknowledgement of one’s own creaturely inadequacies, and entrusting one’s fortunes to God rather than to one’s own abilities or resources” (Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians, Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: A & C Black Limited, 1998), p. 110-111)

If we wonder how a person of superior abilities can regard others as more significant than himself or herself, the answer is to use those abilities for self-assessment by the light of the Scriptures and, in particular, to compare ourselves with Christ (who humbled himself as great as He is).

Then take to heart the words of the surpassing genius and Christian Blaise Pascal, who concluded after much thought, “what amazes me most is to see that everyone is not amazed at his weakness” (quoted in Marvin R. O’Connell, Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997] p. xii).

In the words of St. Chrysostom, “There is nothing so foreign to a Christian as arrogance” (quoted in Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians, p. 114).  When we actually see ourselves for what we are, our conceit and vainglory will recede, and we will begin to count others more significant than ourselves.

We will honor others above ourselves, putting them and their interests ahead of our own.

I remember coming across this idea while we were trying to start a multi-cultural church in Little Rock.  At one time we had a young African-American man named Carl coming to our church.  Carl seemed to have a chip on his shoulder about race issues because he had been treated with prejudice while growing up in Little Rock.  Although he had become a Christian, he still struggled with insecurities and inadequacies.  He argued with me that he wanted to be treated as an equal.

I didn’t think of it at that moment, but later it came to me that in reality, genuine reconciliation between the races will not occur, and neither will real unity, until we began treating one another—not as equals, but as “more important” than us, as “better than” ourselves.  In other words, like Paul says in Romans 12, we need to “outdo one another in honor.”

One practical way we can do this is by being willing to shut our mouths and listen, really listen, to someone else stating their opinion, rather than being argumentative.

Humility is the quality that allows us to do this.  Humility is the ability to see ourselves as we really are (cf. Romans 12:3).  We are not to think too highly of ourselves, neither are we to think too lowly of ourselves, rather we are to think rightly about ourselves.

That takes a Bible-saturated mind, one that looks at life and ourselves from God’s perspective.

In comparison with God, we are exceedingly wicked and also exceedingly small and weak and totally dependent.

In comparison to others, we have a combination of strengths and weaknesses.  Humility is both admitting my weaknesses and offering my strengths to help you (not to dominate you).

If I am humble I will recognize first that I need you (because I have limitations) and second that you have real strengths that I need.  I can value you.  Then I can humbly offer you my strengths to help you.

According to C. S. Lewis, humility is nothing thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.  In other words, we rarely think about ourselves and instead focus upon others and how we can love them and meet their needs.

Someone asked the great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones this very question. His answer:

A friend was asking me the other day, “How can I be humble?” He felt there was pride in him, and he wanted to know how to get rid of it. He seemed to think that I had some patent remedy and could tell him, “Do this, that, and the other and you will be humble.” I said, “I have no method or technique. I can’t tell you to get down on your knees and believe in prayer because I know you will soon be proud of that. There’s only one way to be humble, and that is to look into the face of Jesus Christ; you cannot be anything else when you see him.” That is the only way. Humility is not something you can create within yourself; rather, you look at him, you realize who he is and what he has done, and you are humbled (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Living Waters, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009], p. 710).

That is exactly what Paul does next.  He says, “Look at Jesus, look at His willingness to lay aside His glory and die for us; realize who he is and what he has done, and you will be humbled.”

Or, as Robert Murray McCheyne reminds us…

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9.  Learn much of the Lord Jesus.  For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.  He is altogether lovely.  Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!  Live much in the smiles of God.  Bask in his beams.  Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . . (Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, Edinburgh 1894, p. 293).

A Formula for True Unity, part 1 (Philippians 2:1)

Welcome back to our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In this section today we continue the primary reason for which Paul is writing this letter—to encourage the Philippians to pursue unity and harmony.  That theme was begun in the last four verses of Philippians 1.  When we see the word “therefore” at the beginning of chapter 2, verse 1, we understand that this chapter is built upon the foundation of what Paul said back in chapter 1.

The difference is this:  Whereas 1:27-30 identifies the danger to Christian community to be enemies from the outside; 2:1-4 indicates that there is another danger to Christianity community, and this one is on the inside.  In fact, Paul indicates that the greatest enemy to Christian community and unity is all the way inside us—our very own hearts.

As Pogo observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  The source of quarrels and conflicts is our own desires (James 4:1-3).  The cause of divorce, according to Jesus, is our own hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8).  And, before you say, “Yes, my ex-mate really did have a hard heart,” Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).  Alexander Maclaren put it, “To live to self is the real root of every sin as it is of all loveless life” (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], 14:252).  If we want harmonious relationships, each of us must confront self, put self to death, and live to build up others.

You might remember the Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels so she could watch what she wanted to watch.  He retorted, “What makes you think that you can just walk right in here and get what you want?”  Lucy said, “These five fingers.  Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like THIS [and she shows him her fist] into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”  Sheepishly, Linus says, “Well, what channel do you want?”  Then he turned, looked at his hand and said to his fingers, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”

We must work as a team, right?

That is what Paul was saying back in 1:27-30 that he wanted them to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”  The emphasis on unity was begun there.  Now Paul will expand upon it.

If you read the book of Acts, you can see the power of unity, where time and time again you read “one heart, one accord, one voice” and “one mind” and when that happened there would be a spurt of growth and the gospel would be advanced.  Whenever they encountered an obstacle—whether persecution from without or some grumbling within—they would work together towards “one mind” and there would be another spurt of growth.

On the other hand, there can be nothing more discouraging that disunity and church conflict.  When criticism and grumbling abound, it saps our morale and stops our momentum, it sours our love and stains our testimony.  Satan would rather stop the church through internal strife than external opposition.

Leslie Flynn in his book with the dubious title Great Church Fights quotes a story from a Welsh newspaper about a church that was looking for a new pastor.

Yesterday the two opposition groups both sent ministers to the pulpit. Both spoke simultaneously, each trying to shout above the other. Both called for hymns, and the congregation sang two — each side trying to drown out the other. Then the groups began shouting at each other. Bibles were raised in anger. The Sunday morning service turned into a bedlam.

Through it all, the two preachers continued to outshout each other with their sermons. Eventually a deacon called a policeman. Two came in and began shouting for the congregation to be quiet. They advised the 40 persons in the church to return home. The rivals filed out, still arguing. Last night one of the group called a “let’s-be-friends” meeting. It broke up in argument.

The newspaper article was headlined, “Hallelujah! Two Jacks in One Pulpit.”

Many of us have been affected by church conflict.  Some people have been so deeply hurt that they have vowed never to step foot in a church again.  I hope and pray that you will find healing because now, more than ever, we all need a Christian family.

Before we get into Philippians 2, let’s affirm three important facts about unity that reflect God’s heart for us:

First, unity means a great deal to the Father and to Jesus Christ.  In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays to the Father…

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

The Trinity itself expresses a perfect unity, with each member of the Trinity fulfilling their role, but with the intent of glorifying, celebrating, loving and enjoying each other.  There is no selfishness or jockeying for position in the Trinity.

And Jesus asks that we “may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.”  Why this emphasis on the importance of unity?  That unity is needed “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  Disunity destroys our witness to the world and stymies Christ’s mission to save.  Jesus wants us to “become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

It is through unity that we experience the same love that exists between the Father and the Son!

Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples that unity is a key part of our witness to the world.  In John 13:34-35, Jesus said,

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Although the word “unity” does not occur here, Jesus is telling them to love one another just as Jesus loved them.  That kind of love produces unity.  Jesus’ kind of love is totally unselfish and un-self-promoting.  It results in unity and that unity would reveal to the world that they really were disciples of Jesus.

Thirdly, God has already done everything needed for us to have unity.  So, if you are united to Christ through faith in the gospel, you are united with the body of Christ.  So, in Ephesians 4, Paul tells the Ephesians not to attain to unity, but to maintain that unity.  Look at vv. 1-3…

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

This unity is already in place, because we are united with Jesus by faith and enjoy the life and benefits of the Trinity.  But we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” and Paul tells us that the fundamental attitudes that help us do that are “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”  So be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Back in Philippians 2, Paul gives us a formula for unity.  So what is our formula for unity?

First, start with the proper motivation (2:1)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

What do you think Paul means here?

Well, first we have to understand that Paul introduces the four clauses with the Greek preposition ei (“if” in English) containing two nouns in each one, but not verbs at all.  That is what makes these verses somewhat difficult to interpret.

The first interpretive issue relates to the use of the world “if,” which makes it almost sound like these motivational factors are all “iffy,” up in the air, undetermined.

Greek conditional sentences are made up of a protasis and an apodosis, what we call the “If” clause and the “then” clause.

The Greek language had four ways to express conditional ideas.  The first class conditional sentences affirmed the positive.  They express the idea, “If (and it is so, or and it is true_)…” and could often be translated “since.:  “If the sun rises, we will work.”

The second class conditional sentence affirms the negative.  If expresses “If (and it is not so, or could not be so).  “If you are Superman, then jump off this building and fly.”  The Greek would indicate that you are not Superman.  Any arguments there?

The third class conditional sentence is what we are most familiar with—it leaves the outcome up in the air.  “If it stops raining, we’ll go fishing.”  Maybe it will and we will or maybe it won’t and we won’t.”

The fourth class conditional sentence is rarely used in the New Testament.  It expresses a more probable condition, though not quite as certain as the first class conditional sentence.

OK, so what does this have to do with our passage?  Well, it means that, since Paul is using the first class conditional sentence, then he is not leaving any of these attitudes as mere possibilities, but rather certain realities.

Perhaps this can best be seen as a conversation:

  1. Paul: “Is there any encouragement in Christ?” The Philippians: “Yes.”
  2. Paul: “Is there any comfort from love?” The Philippians: “Yes.”
  3. Paul: “Is there any participation in the Spirit?” The Philippians: “Yes.”
  4. Paul: “Is there any affection?” The Philippians: “Yes.”
  5. Paul: “Is there any sympathy?” The Philippians: “Yes.”

Paul is building his case for the command in verse 2.

There IS encouragement from being united to Christ; there IS comfort from His love, there IS fellowship with the Spirit. There IS tenderness and compassion.  So these are not just intellectual possibilities, but experiential realities.  If you are a believer, YOU HAVE experienced these things.

So, by identifying what each of these attitudes or motivations are, they provide us with the first piece of our formula for unity—four great motivations for unity.

Right motivations are important in the Christian faith, for right motivations provide a certain power that allows us to successfully and consistently obey God’s commands.

Is there “encouragement in Christ”?  There certainly is.  All of us who are “in Christ” have His encouragements.  That word can mean encouragement or exhortations—cheerleading and challenge.

So what Paul is likely referring to here are the promises and word of encouragement that Jesus had shared with His disciples that help us now.

David Guzik notes:

Luke 2:25 says that one of the titles for Jesus as the Messiah is the Consolation of Israel.  Paul could say in 2 Corinthians 1:5For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:16, Paul says that God has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace.  Of course there is consolation in Christ!

We are encouraged simply be being “in Christ,” but we are also encouraged by all the promises and challenges He gave to us in the Gospels.

What sets us apart as Christians in times of conflict is that we can depend upon receiving encouragement from God, either directly or through the Word.

“Any comfort from love” is the next clause, and it speaks of the reality that we receive comfort from being loved.  Most of the time we have conflicts with others because of insecurities we feel—whether we feel we’re being attacked, or whether we feel like something precious to us will be lost, or whether we feel like we are not being heard.

But the fact is, we are loved, and greatly loved, by God and Jesus Christ.

Since we’ve received this love and been comforted by it, we need to love and comfort others.  We don’t have to be concerned about ourselves when we feel such love and comfort.

What is unclear here is whether Paul is speaking about God’s love for the Philippians or Paul’s own love for them.  Either way, they should experience that love and that should give them confidence to risk, rather than insecurity which chooses to keep things for ourselves.

Because God, or Paul, loved them, they could bring comfort to others rather than compete with others.

In Romans 5:5 Paul tells us that one of the benefits of being justified by faith is that

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The idea here is that God’s love has flooded into our hearts.  Not just a trickle, but an overwhelming food.  This is an experiential love, the kind of love that Paul prayed that the Ephesians would “get” when he prays that they…

18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

When we are overwhelmed with love from God, them we can love others.  When we are comforted by God, then we can comfort others.

The idea behind this word for “comfort” in the New Testament is always more than soothing sympathy.  It has the idea of strengthening, of helping, of making strong.  Even the Latin “comfort” has the idea of fortifying or strengthening one’s spirit.

“Any participation in the Spirit” hearkens back to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:2 in the words “unity of the Spirit.”  The Greek behind “participation” is koinonia, which we often translate “fellowship.”  Our fellowship, our community, is created by the Spirit.

God took the initiative to create fellowship with us, to overcome the rift caused by sin, and placed us into a body which unites Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.  We are all part of one body now, so we should maintain that unity.

This fellowship in the Spirit came when, as Paul explained, “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body —Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). And now it rests as the lingering, final word of the sublime Trinitarian benediction that we repeatedly invoke: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). This is the enduring reality of our lives — fellowship in the Spirit.

The final motivations are “any affection and sympathy” refers to what we have received through Christ.  His great affection and sympathy were expressed to us through the cross.  He entered our pain and suffering because of His great love and His desire to sympathize with us.

The writer of Hebrews says…

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus died on the cross, not only to fully pay the penalty for our sins (that is great affection) but also to sympathize with our weaknesses, pains and sufferings.

Paul is so emotionally compelling here.  He has taken the Philippians back to the graced memories of the supernatural work of Christ in their souls at salvation.  They all had experienced encouragement and comfort in Christ.  They remembered the consolation of Christ’s love when they became his.  They, through Christ, had found fellowship in the Spirit.  And the compassion and sympathy of Christ had not only graced their souls but had flowed from them to others.