Unity Through Humility

Philippians   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We are continuing our study of Philippians. In our last lesson, we looked at 1:12-26, where Paul challenged us to remember that our lives on this earth are not about us, but about Jesus Christ. We saw through his example that no matter what the circumstances may be, we have a reason to be joyful because Jesus can be exalted and magnified through our lives, whether by life or by death, and that Christ can work through our circumstances, even those which seem negative, to further His kingdom. We closed our last lesson examining what is, in my opinion, one of the more challenging teachings of the chapter. We looked at the struggle that he had between staying on this earth and going to be with Christ in Heaven. He, as a disciple of Christ should, desired to be with Christ more than anything, but he struggled with this desire because he saw that there was a great need amongst the people of God, and he knew that God could use him to meet that need. He seemed so unselfish in his desire to stay. His motivations here indeed do show that for Paul, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
It is this kind of attitude that Paul is telling us to follow when he says in our theme verse for the book, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” ()
In today’s lesson, Paul will raise the bar even higher. Paul’s example up until this point has been challenging, but he shows us in the following sections whose example he was looking to in order to know how to live the Christian life, that being the Lord Jesus.
In this section, he will be dealing with one of the main reasons that he wrote this epistle, to encourage them to be united in their thinking and actions.
27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
In verses 27-30, I believe we can clearly see Paul’s desire for them as a church clearly in this section. We are given the picture here of the “oneness”, or the unity God desires His people to have. What is the most challenging part of this section to me is this: the unity that Christians can grow to have with one another is the result of what Paul describes in v27 as conducting ourselves “in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” Their lives as individuals needed to be lived a certain way… a way that reflected the heart of the gospel message; a way as we will see later that reflects the mind of Christ. This is a challenging concept for us. Whenever we think about the heart of the gospel message, it is a message of sacrifice, self-denial, and a concern for others that has the outcome of victory for those who are served. Paul will encourage the brethren in Philippi (and us) to grow in these things so they can indeed live in a Gospel-honoring manner. Paul tells them that if they live lives worthy of the Gospel, then he would hear that they are standing fast together in ONE spirit, striving/working alongside each other with ONE mind, and that they would do all of this TOGETHER as they are enduring trials and suffering that God graciously brings their way. This is how God’s people live in a Gospel-honoring and Gospel-centered way (of course he will get to the “how” soon). Paul wants them to view themselves as fellow citizens and soldiers in the battle of life, standing shoulder to shoulder, helping one another to be emboldened as their adversaries turned up the heat on them, remembering the fact that they are brothers tied together by the blood of Jesus Christ. And I believe Paul recognizes that this is not an easy task. When he tells them that they need to be “striving together with one mind”, this implies that it is a struggle; that it is hard work. This will especially be the case while there are external pressures from the world, such as persecution, and while there are internal pressures in the form of false doctrine, selfishness, and pride. But in spite of these things, we need to work together. We need to work towards having the unity that God desires His people to have.
As we get into chapter 2, Paul will show us how this kind of unity can be accomplished; or how “living a life worthy of the Gospel message” can be accomplished. It can be accomplished when each disciple of Jesus Christ is working to grow in humility and to be more like Christ in their humility.
The standard that is set in this chapter regarding humility is high. We can look at verses 3-11 and think that we will never be able to grow to be more like Christ in our humility; we can never get near this… So Paul begins chapter two by giving these brethren (and us) some motivation to strive to be unified with one another, which once again can only happen through humility. Chapter 2:1 begins with the word ‘therefore’, tying it back to the previous section. He writes in verse 1:
1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 [then] make my joy complete…” (NASB)
He uses these “if” phrases to make his appeal here to the Philippians. When he uses the word “if” in this passage, I don’t believe he is in any way doubting that these things exist. He is using a form of “if…then” terminology that is a common way of speaking to motivate people… If all of these things have been given to you or done for you, then this is what you ought to do. For example, consider this phrase, “If there is any common decency in you, you will not do this.” This example, I think, shows the kind of force behind statements like this. Paul’s plea is similar in a sense. He is appealing to the Philippians based on all of these great blessings that they have being in Christ as motivation for their striving for unity amongst themselves.
Just think of the great encouragement we have in Christ, or the great love of the Father that we have been blessed to enjoy; or how about the fellowship that we have and enjoy because the Spirit of God who dwells among us and brings us into fellowship with God in Christ. The entire Godhead has been active in making it possible for us to be one in Christ and to be able to have the kind of relationships that we enjoy as Christians. Then Paul adds, if you have any affection and compassion within yourself towards one another, you need to be motivated to have unity. Shouldn’t these blessings be motivation for us to be at unity in our relationships; amongst our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and in our marriages and families? God has given us all of the motivation we need to strive for unity in every relationship we have.
After he says, “If we have these things from God,” then he says in verses 2-4 to make his joy complete by “ 2 …being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Wow! What a command to apply to our lives to strive for unity, and he hasn’t even gotten to the toughest part of the chapter yet in showing how Jesus is the example for us in the things which he mentions in this passage!
What Paul commands in this passage is not too different than other teachings in scripture where we are commanded to be servants, or passages such as where Jesus tells us that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him in . And the things which are commanded here make sense if we desire to have unity. How difficult will it be to get along and be united if we are being self-centered, think too highly of ourselves, and have a desire to exalt ourselves and to be the master of everyone else? How united would we be if we did not look outside of ourselves in order to meet the needs of our brethren? It would be very difficult, if not impossible to be unified with these attitudes. But these are attitudes that, if we were honest, we would all say that we struggle with. We all struggle with the sinful attitudes that can get in the way of unity.
I am nowhere near where I need to be in these attitudes Paul shares here. I need to have a more realistic view of myself, remembering that without the grace of God, there is no hope for me. We are all in this same boat. Remembering that the things happening in me now are the work of God first and foremost and that God is doing the same work in all of us will help us each to have a better, humbler view of self. Also, it is much easier to look out for my own interests instead of the interests of others, and if I do look out for the interests of others, the scope of my concern is often way too limited. I may look out for the interests of others, such as my wife and daughter, or even one or two brothers, but then just expect that someone else is taking care of the needs of the others who I am not thinking of enough or spending enough time with. I think we all would agree that there is much work to do in making sure we are looking outside of ourselves more and looking to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am sure we would all agree that we have work to do in having a better, much more realistic view of ourselves which is much humbler. Instead of comparing ourselves to one another, which can lead to pride, selfish ambition, and conceit, we need to compare ourselves to the standard for humility: the Lord Jesus.
If there is anyone who gives us THE standard of humility that can bring unity among God’s people. It is our Lord. His example shows us in verses 6-8 what it means to have no selfish ambition or empty conceit. He gives us the example of what it looks like to have the interests of others at heart, even if that means total self-denial. Let’s go ahead and read this section:
“5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Have this mind (or this attitude) in yourselves! I don’t believe it is possible to humble oneself as far as Christ did. The contrast comes out so clearly in this text. He went from being in the form of God to being in the form of a slave or bond-servant. He goes from the highest possible position to one of the lowliest of positions. To have this equality with God in the glories of Heaven, and then to deny yourself to come to the earth to be in the form of a slave is a great display of humility, but that was not enough for our Lord. In His earthly body, He came to suffer and die; to be emptied of life as we know it and experience it. That is so humble, but Jesus did not stop there either in lowering Himself. He submitted Himself willfully to the worst form of capital punishment man could think up. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus takes humility and self-denial to the highest possible level. And He does this as an example for us to show us how we can live in a way that honors the Gospel (or is worthy of the Gospel), lacking selfish ambition and conceit while looking out for the interests of others. “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ.”
I originally titled this point “The reward for Humility”, but that title didn’t seem right. The person who is trying to grow in humility doesn’t use what they can get out of it as their sole motivation. That would be selfish ambition. As we saw earlier, we already have more than enough motivation to grow in humility and to strive for unity. Our motivation is what God has done. With this said, there are great blessings that I think we need to recognize for humility. There is a natural outcome that is achieved by those who seek to lower themselves and serve.
We see this in the example of Jesus in verses 9-11, and many times in the teachings of Christ. Let’s read verses 9-11:
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.
It makes sense that, in the case of Christ, that the end of the greatest possible example of humility would be the greatest of exaltations. He was resurrected from His tomb, was seated at the right hand of God to reign. His name is worthy of the greatest honor and respect now and in the future, and every person at some point WILL confess Jesus as Lord, whether in this life or in the next life. Jesus’s humbling of self and subsequent glorification fulfilled what he said after the parable of the rich man and the tax collector, “I tell you, this man (speaking of the tax collector who humbled himself before God) went to his house justified rather than the other (the proud Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (). Jesus was surely willing to practice what He preached, and the outcome of His humility was exaltation.
There is great blessing for us as the people of God as we grow in humility both in the present and in the future. There is great blessing for us as we learn to have a realistic view of ourselves before God. The blessings should be obvious to us: we grow to be more like Christ. We grow in our love and concern for each other. There is forgiveness of sin when we humble ourselves before God and men in confession. There is help from God when we realize that we cannot get through the things that we endure in this life alone. There is blessing for us when we see ourselves as being totally dependent on God in every area of our lives. And of course, there is the greatest of blessings of our future glorification in Heaven as coheirs of Christ. When God’s people humble themselves in these kind of ways, God exalts them. This is a key point to keep in mind: we need to leave the work of ‘exalting’ to God. That is not our work to do. Our job is to grow in humility. When we are doing this, He promises to exalt His people.
There is much at stake regarding this issue of humility. Our relationships with God and one another are impacted. Pride puts us in opposition with God, and breaks the unity and fellowship that we have with one another. If God’s people are not getting along; if there is division within a church, if there is turmoil and fighting between you or your spouse or between you and your family, it is the case that one party, or more often than not, both parties, are not being humble and are violating what Paul teaches us in this passage. They are willfully choosing to reject having the mind of Christ.
So as we bring this lesson to a close, I have one more passage I would like you to consider. I am sure you will not be surprised which passage it is:
“The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” -
Desire to live a Gospel-honoring, gospel centered life; a life that reflects the humility and sacrificial love of Christ. As fellow believers and fellow soldiers in the church here, stand fast together in ONE spirit, strive together with ONE mind. And to make this a possibility, be like Christ in humility: treat others as being more important than yourself, keep your eyes open to see the needs of others; and have the compassion to deny self and show the love of Christ to one another in meeting those needs. It is this kind of life that Paul was striving to have, as we saw in our study of chapter 1. It is this kind of life that brings honor to Christ and brings blessing from God.
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