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We now get to the “enough about me, let’s talk about you” part of Philippians. We saw over the last two weeks how Paul begins his letter talking about the way he feels about his brothers and sisters in Philippi, along with his own situation, imprisoned as he is. He now turns his attention to how his brothers and sisters should live. “Only” is how Paul begins the final part of chapter 1. In other words, “just this.” This is important. This is the answer to the question, “How should we live as followers of Christ?” This is Paul’s ethic, the church’s ethos. How should the church live in a culture that is at worst hostile, and at best, largely indifferent to the gospel of Christ.
It is “in Christ” that our ethic is founded. This is the foundational part of this message that runs throughout this letter, throughout our messages this summer, throughout our lives. This early church was facing pressure from without in the midst of a culture that proclaimed an emperor as Lord. They faced pressure from within from teachers who taught something other than the good news of Christ. They faced pressure from within through disagreements and strife within their community. Paul wants them to be proactive in the face of all these pressures – not merely reacting to the next threat, the next thing that would get in the way of their unity. Let’s take a look at what Paul had to tell his beloved friends in Philippi, and what God may have to say to our hearts this morning through his word.
“Only, live out your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…” The way that Paul usually talks about living in Christ is minding how we walk. This goes back to the word for the collected Jewish written and oral laws – the walk, the way. Early followers of Christ were known as followers of The Way. Writing to this faith community living in a Roman colony in the middle of Macedonia, Paul appeals to the idea of citizenship. We’ve heard that Roman citizenship was a big deal to the people of Philippi. It was something to be sought after, and held with pride. Paul reminds them to live out their citizenship as followers of Christ. This is where their identity is to be found. It’s not to say that Roman citizenship is a bad thing, any more than we would say Canadian citizenship is a bad thing. The foundational point is to live in a manner worthy of our citizenship which is in Christ.
What does this look like? It’s not dependent on a leader. Paul writes “Whether I come to see you or not…” He doesn’t know if he’ll see the people of Philippi again. Either way, their walk, their citizenship, is not dependent on him. There is no room for a cult of personality in church. There is no room for “my way or the highway.” We are to rather be “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” Paul is using military and sports metaphors here – standing firm like a phalanx of soldiers, able to withstand attacks. If one falls out of line the whole line is lost. Striving together like athletes. Like a team. Like the Golden State Warriors. There’s no room for “me first” in a team like that. There’s no room for padding personal stats or the desire to be the main guy. There is only dedication to the system. Dedication to striving together. Dedication to winning. Spirituality was never meant to be a personal thing. Following Christ was never meant to be strictly a personal thing. We do this together, being united by one spirit – the Holy Spirit of God. It doesn’t mean that we all think the same or even that we all agree on the same things all the time. It does mean that we are committed to the gospel of Christ. It means that our stories have been caught up in the story of Christ, and we’ll get to more of that in a little while. This, Paul tells the Philippian church (and by extension us), is who we are. This is the privilege that has been granted to us by grace – to believe in Christ. Winning in Christ might look quite different from what the world and we might consider winning. It might look like suffering. There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the previous 19 combined. Taking up your cross might mean following Christ to the cross in martyrdom. How can this be called grace? Because we know that God redeems suffering for Christ. This is not to say all suffering is for Christ – I’m not talking about illness or accidents or things we simply can’t explain away. I’m talking about this whole thing potentially costing us. We may think we are far away from this but there are people very close to us whose family members and friends are suffering for Christ. We know that God brings life even from death. Have you heard the story of Jim Elliot? He was called to serve among the Huaorini tribe – an indigenous group in Ecuador. In 1959 he and four other missionaries who were killed by a group of Huaorini. Elliot and his companions were armed but refused to use their weapons. In years to come, members of Elliot’s family and others continued the work there, sharing the way of the cross and mercy and grace. Many came to know Christ as a result.
This is who we are. This is what it looks like to live out our citizenship. This is the team that we are on. We’re on this team too. Paul tells the Philippians, “since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” You’re on the team too! This is who we are.
Paul goes on to tell of what we know. We’ve said that Paul knew that faith was to a large extent an act of memory. This is why we get together week after week – to be reminded. Paul reminds the Philippians of what they know, of what they have seen. “If then, there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete.” Usually we see “if” and we read it as a conditional clause – “If it rains tomorrow, we won’t be able to have a picnic. If you loved me, you would…” Paul’s use of “if” here is not conditional. He’s not engaging in emotional blackmail. He’s not questioning whether or not these things are going on with the Philippians. It might be better read as “Since” – Since there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion, sympathy, make my joy complete. This is not simply a “win one for the Gipper” or “let’s do it for Johnny” type of situation. Paul knows these people well and he loves them. They know and love him. He’s not saying “Do this for me.” He saying that his joy is inexorably intertwined with theirs. It is inextricably intertwined with how they are faring, how they are standing firm together in the faith of the gospel of Christ. He knows them and he has seen how these things have been a part of the Philippians story.
What have we known here at Blythwood? Encouragement in Christ? Consolation from love? Comfort in love? Bearing one another’s burdens? Compassion? That word we keep coming back to – splagchnizomai. The compassion of Christ – that visceral suffering along with one another? Sharing in the Spirit? A deep awareness that we are bound together by the same Holy Spirit that filled Christ while he walked this earth? The same spirit that consoles, that comforts, that prays for us when we don’t know how? Have we known these things? I know we have. Remember these things. Think on how our stories here have become intertwined not only with one another’s but in the gospel of Christ.
Is the encouragement in Christ? Is there consolation and comfort from love? Is there sharing in the Spirit? Is there compassion? Is there sympathy? Be of the same mind, having the same love – one mind one love, being in full accord and of one mind. Have the same orientation. The needful thing. Do not operate out of selfish ambition or conceit. This is one thing about the whole post-Christendom world we live in. Not many are coming to church anymore for the social status it might bring. This can only be a good thing yes? Let us not look primarily to our own interests. This is what so much of the world says. Look out for yourself. Look out for yourself, your family and friends if you’re a really good person. Look out primarily not for your own interests but toward the interests of others. This is not something we internalize or psychologize. This is not a call to self-effacement. We are called to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, after all. It’s a call to find our primary identity in Christ and this is the strongest basis for our identity around. A call to look primarily to the interests of others and in so doing to find out what it truly means to be human. This is who we are called to be. This is what we have known. Stand fast in this. One writer puts it like this – “Those who worship this deity reject the quest for status and look to the interests of others as their theology shapes their ethics.”
It comes back to theology for Paul in the most beautiful way. Theology is not just for theologians. All theology is practical. When we consider the nature of God, it has practical and ethical implications – all the way down to how our days are played out, hour by hour, minute by minute. There is some quarrelling in the church. We’ve known that right? We’ve known people who have insisted on having things their own way or they would be gone, perhaps we’ve been one of those people (or are one of those people Lord save us!). Theology shapes our ethics. “What would Jesus do?” was a question that was quite popular not long ago. An ethical question. For Paul it wasn’t so much a question of “What would Jesus do?” as much as “What had Jesus done?” What has Jesus done? Paul keeps referring to the gospel of Christ. The story of Christ.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus, as the note says. This is the story that we are caught up in as followers of Christ. The Christ hymn as it is known. Thought to be an early expression of Christian singing. Two verses, laid out so well in the NRSV Bible. Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
The song coming to a screeching halt there with that word – cross. A shameful humiliating death. One that was reserved for non-citizens. For rebellious slaves. Christ Jesus who saw equality with God not as something to be exploited or grasped or held onto, but emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race. This is what Christ has done friends. Christ did not give up who he was – his own self. His selfhood displayed the nature of God.
Our God is a servant.
Our God is a servant.
Someone has said that self-emptying love is the proper expression of divine status – that we are most completely human when we give ourselves in self-emptying love.
This is our ethic sisters and brothers. This is what it means to be exalted. Not to thirst for honour, or self-glory. Often an endless quest for self-glory is an attempt to remedy a lot of insecurity, a lot of questioning of our identity. Instead we’re invited to rest in Christ and seek honour in Christ whom God highly exalted and gave him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth (because there is nowhere that God’s love does not reach) and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The name that is above every name. To the glory of God the Father.
This is our ground friends. This is our foundation. This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what Christ has done. This is how much you are loved. May God enable us to stand firmly and strongly together in these truths.