Friday, 6 October 2017

Gospel Examples to Live By (Philippians 1:27-2:30)

This is the third talk I gave at my church's youth camp last week. I found that Philippians has a few little hotchpotch sections to it. I don't know how well I dealt with Phil 2:12-18, as I thought this section kinda sticks out a bit. In my mind, it would have been easier (for me) to go from the example of Jesus and then the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus. But I am sure the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing when inspiring Paul to put that section in. Hopefully, I did it a little bit of justice.

Yesterday we saw how Paul made it his life’s work to say the Gospel and to live different. Today we are going to be looking at how we are to live in response to the Gospel. Yesterday was about “Jesus first”, and today it is “others second”[1]. How has the Gospel impacted your life? Do you live a life worthy of the message of salvation? Do you know someone who does?

A manner worthy of the Gospel (1:27-2:4)

This section starts with the line “conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). This is the main theme of this whole book. We will see in a moment what the Gospel is, but throughout this letter, Paul is on about encouraging the Philippians to live their lives in response to the Gospel. They are to live different.

Paul encourages the Philippians to stand firm in their struggles and suffering. He encourages them to live together as one people, to have the same faith, spirit and mind. In short, they are to be united. When there is outside pressure for you not to be a Christian, what you need is a community, or friends to help encourage you, and to be examples for you to copy. We all need Christian friends to put their own interests aside and to look after us, but likewise, we too need to be that example, to be the one looking after your mates, putting aside your needs for theirs. We are to love and help each other with this Christian living thing because it is hard.

It is counter-cultural. It is different. But we are not to be frightened by what others say or do to us (1:28) instead a loving and united community sends a signal to all who do not believe that they will not be intimidated by the pressures of the world[2]. What I find interesting in this passage is that in verse 29 it says that the Philippian's belief and suffering has been granted to them. Now I get the belief part, that is the whole, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” bit that we saw yesterday. God is a completer-finisher. But this suffering bit is a bit strange. God has granted that the Philippians will suffer for Him.

Paul is in chains for Christ when he is writing this letter. He is suffering for God. We may not know the exact situation the Philippians are going through, but they too were facing opposition because of their faith. Today it is easy to be intimidated by the current anti-Christian ideas of this world, it is easy to go with the crowd. It’s hard to say that Jesus is the only way to be saved from judgement, that all other religions are wrong, that sex outside of marriage is wrong, that dressing up in different clothes doesn’t actually change your gender, that your feelings are not the source of truth. People will not like you if you say that and you may suffer. You may suffer because you hold to the standard historical belief in Jesus and His teachings and the world doesn’t like that.

Paul wants the Philippian church to be internally united, so that they will together, as a community, as a little city, face the world together, supporting one another to live differently. Paul says a Christian community is to have love for each other and everyone is to do nothing out of selfish ambition but instead they are to be humble, valuing others above themselves. Not putting their own interests before others, but others interests before their own. Yesterday we saw this in Paul with his willingness to serve others over his own desires.

This is a call for humility. Paul then thinks of pretty much the best example there is when it comes to humility. When it comes to serving others, we are to have the same mindset as Jesus. This is huge. This is one of the highest callings a Christian is to have. They are to imitate God, and we see that God is humble.

Verse 6-11 are taken to be a Gospel song. It is broken up into two sections. It kinda has a U shape to it. The first section of the song, from 6-8 is about how Jesus descends into humiliation and from 9-11 it is how Jesus is then raised, exalted as Lord. This is not a rags to riches song, it’s a riches to rags to more riches song. This is all about the Gospel and is the centrepiece of the letter, everything flows from here, so I want to spend most of my time in this song, and then we will briefly look at Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Jesus’ self-humbling (2:6-8)

In this first section see if you can catch the descent into humiliation:
6 Who [Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
We see that Jesus was in very nature God. He was made up of the same stuff as God. Jesus was truly and fully God. But Jesus didn’t use His position for His own advantage. He didn’t use his position as God for gain or glory, but rather He gave it all up[3].

Instead, Jesus came as a man. Not a pretend man, but an actual real-life person. This alone is staggering. God voluntarily chose to be limited by time and space. He was connected to a placenta in the womb, he had earlobes that you could flick, and when walking along a dusty path, his nose would get blocked.

Not only was God limited by just being a man, he was a weak man. He had no power or riches, he made himself low and took on the nature of a servant. A servant is deprived of certain rights and freedoms. This is crazy. The God who made the laws of the universe became subject to the laws of the universe. The God who made people became subject to people.

But it was more than that. Jesus humbled himself to death, and not a quick and easy death at the end of a happy life, but death on a cross. This is ridiculous. God died as a servant on a cross. This is pretty much rock bottom. Crucifixion was such a nasty way to die that people in the upper and middle classes wouldn’t speak about it. On rare occasions when they would crucify women, they would turn her away from the crowd so people didn’t have to see the pain in her face. In fact, they made up a word to describe the pain on a cross: “excruciating”. Origin, who lived a bit after Paul said crucifixion was an “utterly vile death”[4].

And what is crazy with all this, is that Paul is saying we are to have the same mindset as Jesus. Here, on the gruesome cross, we see the character of God. He pours Himself out for others. He took on the role of a servant or slave. He did not use His position for gain or glory, but gave himself up for others. Do we do this for others? Do we put off our own needs and interests for the interest of others? How different do you live? What are you willing to give up, for other?

Jesus’ exaltation (2:9-11)

But Jesus did not stay dead on the cross. He rose again and this has universal impact on all things. From verse 9:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Because of Jesus’ great act for us, because of His self-humbling, God exalted him above everything else, Jesus is Lord of all. All knees will bow before Jesus, all tongues will say that Jesus is Lord.

God the Father intervenes directly to exalt his Son. This was a response to the Son’s self-humiliation. The Fathers response is one of validation and approval[5]. This wasn’t done in stages like Jesus’ humiliation, it was immediate. Jesus was given the name or title of Lord or King. Jesus humbled himself to this world and its people and through that He is now exalted as King over this world and its people. And one day, everyone is going to say that Jesus is Lord. Some may not like it, but on that last day, when King Jesus returns, it will be impossible for people not to say that Jesus is the true King and ruler over everything.

This means, that Jesus isn’t just a good guy for Christians. Jesus isn’t just your personal saviour, He is Lord over everything. Jesus isn’t anxiously waiting for someone to accept him. He is no some girl in year 10 hoping someone will pick them to go to the formal - He is Lord over everything, like it or not. You either admit now that Jesus is King over everything or later when it is too late. So you have to ask yourself: do you live in a way worthy of this message about Jesus? What will the true King say about you and your conduct? Does it align with His character and His message?

What does living different look like? (2:12-18)

Paul then goes on to tell the Philippians to be obedient in verse 12. We just saw that Jesus was obedient to the point of death, but here the Philippians are to be obedient in working out their salvation. This is not working for salvation, this isn’t working at salvation, it is working out our salvation[6]. The working out in verse 12 is more about getting the Philippians to think how they are going to live differently by showing the grace of Jesus in their lives in the here and now. It is about how they are going to fulfil their responsibilities to others around them[7]. And in verse 13 it is God who is working in them. God gives us new desires and motivation to fulfil his good purposes. We work out our salvation, God works in our salvation.

Do you notice different desires and motivations that others do not have? Do you enjoy reading the Bible? Do you try not to self-promote but instead enjoy giving others glory and not yourself? Is church a drag or an exciting place? Do you feel united to other Christians simply because they worship Jesus and not because of similar interests?

One example Paul gives in how the Philippians are to live differently is to do everything without grumbling or complaining in verse 14. They are to live like shining stars and to rejoice because regardless of circumstances, they have much to rejoice in. This is one clear way you can live differently. It is hard to be glad and to also be grumbling. It is hard to rejoice while also complaining. If someone listened to every conversation you said over the past day or past week, would they think you are a complainer and grumbler, or would they hear rejoicing? In living different we are to be a beacon of hope, a sign of life in a world of death[8]. God has saved us in Jesus. You don’t have to rejoice, but you can.

Two examples (2:19-30)

Paul holds up two people as examples to copy. It is one thing to have some standard of what living different looks like, it is another to point to real-life examples of what to copy. Here you see that it is possible, and see how it looks and works in reality. These two people Paul turns to are people the Philippians know, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Timothy (2:19-24)

Timothy was a bit of a cool dude. He was around when the Philippian church was planted, so they too know him and probably have strong feelings for him. Paul wants to send Timothy to them for their encouragement and also, from verse 20, because he shows genuine concern for their welfare, not putting his own interests first, but those of Jesus. This seems to be a big theme here. Don’t miss it. We are to have the same mindset of Jesus who humbled Himself for us. Paul puts off his desires for others. Timothy is held up as an example in this area as well. So again, are you a humble person? Do you put others needs before yourself?

Now, humility isn’t wallowing in your own self-pity or playing the victim or saying how bad your own circumstances are. That is the very opposite of humility because you are drawing attention to yourself. Do you have a problem with your I’s, that is do you say “I did this”, “I did that” too much? A humble person doesn’t say how they are a nobody, instead, a humble person may seem like a cheerful intelligent person who takes a real interest in others[9] and not themselves.

Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

The second example Paul gives for a life worth imitating is Epaphroditus. This is the guy who has caused this letter in the first place. His task was to bring a gift to Paul, probably money for food, but in the end, he got sick and nearly died. He then hears the Philippians know he is sick. His concern is for the people in his home church and worried how they are feeling when they heard news about him. Again, you can see how other person-centred he is. Epaphroditus isn’t looking for sympathy, he is hoping that his church will be reassured that he is better. Paul holds Epaphroditus as an example because he was prepared to die for the Gospel[10]. While it may not have seemed that glamourous getting sick and nearly dying, Paul holds up Epaphroditus as an example of showing self-sacrificing service for others. While Epaphroditus may not have planned it, he was willing to use his life, and give it up if necessary for the sake of the Gospel. But Jesus went further, he actually did give his life up for the Gospel. Epaphroditus self-sacrifice is an imitation of Jesus’ ultimate self-sacrifice for us. We too are to imitate Jesus in this way.

Wrap up

To wrap up this section we see that

As Christians, we are called to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

We are to live differently by having the same mindset of Jesus who humbled himself for the sake of others

We are to live different by being united and showing each other love, even in the face of opposition

We are to live different by not grumbling or complaining.

We are to live different, because God is at work in us.

We are to live different, because God is the true King over everything and is worthy of following.

[1] Wiersbe, Warren W. (1974), Be Joyful: Even when things go wrong, you can have joy

[2] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[3] O’Brien, Peter T. (1991), The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] John MacArthur from one of his talks on Philippians

[7] O’Brien, Peter T. (1991), The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)

[8] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[9] Kinda C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

[10] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters


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