The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Marty Jacumin's Sermon Delivery class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The only constraints on this sermon were that it be between 15 and 25 minutes long, and be on a text from an epistle. Video is from an old MacBook Pro pointed at the podium.
Good evening. Let’s pray before we begin.
Gracious God, may your word be clear in our hearts. May your Spirit open our minds to see you more clearly and love as you have loved us. May we see you, and may I not obscure you. Thank you for revealing yourself to us.
Our text for this evening is Philippians 2:1–11. It might be a familiar passage to many of you, but I think it might also be a surprising passage to you. It was for me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been walking along someplace familiar and had something prompt you to stop and notice something about your surroundings that you had never seen before. Maybe you went back to the house you grew up in, and the house is the same, but you aren’t—and you notice the little cracks in the ceiling. Were those always there? You look at the wall in your older sister’s bedroom. Was it always that color? I thought it was lighter than that. You go down the stairs into the basement, and “Yup, they always creaked like that,” your mother tells you. You start to ask about the way the basement smells and she just shakes her head at you.
It had been a while since I read this passage, and it kind of felt like thinking you had grown up in a really nice house and going back and discovering that it was mansion. But whether you’ve read this passage a hundred times, or this your first time opening a Bible, God is inviting us into a beautiful mansion tonight.
1. Believers called to humble, selfless, unity (2:1–5)
As we come to Philippians 2, Paul has just spent the first chunk of a letter to these Christians in Philippi—good friends to him, people who have supported his ministry—about his circumstances… which aren’t great, frankly. He wrote this letter from prison. But, one way or another, he has seen a great many people hear the good news about Jesus as a result of his in prison. But he also knows that the Philippians are having a hard time, and he knows that they need encouragement in their faith. He knew that when things get hard—whether that’s persecution, physical or mental illness, death among your friends or family, losing jobs—when life gets hard, we can turn on each other. And Paul called the Philippians, in the midst of their trials—God is calling us, tonight, in the midst of our trials—to something different: to a humble, selfless, unity.
1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Paul opens with four reasons for people to live with this humble, selfless unity. “If there is any…”
- encouragement in Christ
- comfort from love
- participation in [which could also read fellowship in or with] the Spirit
- affection and sympathy
“If there is any,” he says. Is there any? Well, yes. There is encouragement in Christ. We do find comfort from being loved, by God and by each other. As believers, we do have fellowship with the Spirit, and through him with Christ and the Father, and of course with each other too. We do have God-given affection and sympathy for each other, and even for non-believers.
In other words, Paul is using that “if” to quietly point the Philippian believers to a reality. When he asks them to complete his joy if these things are true, he’s saying, “Look, these four things are true.” You do encouragement; comfort; fellowship; affection and sympathy. And just as they did, so do we.
So given those four good reasons, Paul asks them to complete his joy. As he has told them already, earlier in the epistle, he already has great joy—in seeing the gospel go forth. He even rejoices when people preach the gospel in an attempt to make him jealous. But his joy isn’t complete without something else. If these four reasons are the foundation for that completion, the finished building is humble, selfless, unity. But what we might ask: what is the structure of that finished building?
There are three. Four foundation stones, and three pillars on that base. Paul told his friends they would complete his joy—they would fill it up—by:
- being of the same mind
- having the same love
- being in full accord and of one mind
(If you’re worried about my counting: affection and sympathy go together, and so do “being in full accord and of one mind.” If you have true affection for someone, you will feel sympathy for her when she is struggling. If you’re in full accord with someone, it’s like you and he share a mind. So: four foundation stones, and these three pillars.)
And what we see in these three pillars is that these three ways are really one way. They’re one structure. And that one way, is to be one. That one way is unity. Joy, for the apostle, and I think it is fair to say God’s joy in our fellowship, is complete when we are truly unified. Not identical, but unified.
But how? How do we have the same mind? How do we have the same love? How can we be in full accord and of one mind? That seems rather abstract. If I sat down my three-and-a-half year old and my 20-month old and said, “Okay, Ellie and Kate, you need to have unity between you two,” they would just stare at me. Ellie, the older one, might say, “Yes, daddy!” just to be good, but they wouldn’t know what to do with it. Kate, the younger one, would probably yell “No!” because she’s a toddler and we’re working on that right now. And wherever you are: whether you’re saying, “Okay…” but you don’t really get it, or you’re saying “No, no way! Have you met these people?” Paul draws us forward. He gives us some help, makes it a little more concrete.
Paul gives us two pairs of contrasts to help us see a little more clearly what this kind of unity looks like. Capstones to match the foundation, if you will.
3Do nothing [, he says in v. 3,] from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
That’s the first capstone, the first contrast. Not selfish ambition, not conceit, but humility, and counting others more important than yourself. So we see first that this unity is humble unity. It comes becomes I’m valuing you above me. I’m not trying to exalt myself. I’m thinking of how I can make you do well instead.
Verse 4 shows us the second contrast, the second capstone:
4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
This unity, then, is also selfless. When we’re healthy, we don’t just aim to get our own. “Looking out for number one!” No, instead, we help others accomplish their hopes. We give of our time; our money; our sleep; our space – to help others.
So this is the church. This is the kind of building we’re supposed to be. As Paul puts it in Ephesians, we’re being built together into a temple for God—a temple of people known for their humble, selfless, unity—their love.
We have these four foundations: encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, fellowship with the Spirit, and affection and sympathy. We have three pillars of unity: being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. We have two capstones: calls to humility and selflessness.
But you might be asking now, “How? I want that unity; I even want to be selfless and humble, even if that sounds kind of hard. But I don’t know how.” And to that, Paul says, “Don’t worry; I’ll give you an example. In fact, here is the example.” And he shows us Christ—verse 5: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus…”
2. The foundation of humble, selfless, unity (2:6–11)
The mind of Christ! That’s a heady thing to think about. But for Paul, it’s deeply practical, in fact. He gives us a very succinct summary of Jesus’ ministry. And what was Jesus like? He was humble. He was selfless. (And if you’re thinking, “But what about unity?” you’re right. Hold on to that thought. We’ll come back to it.) Let’s start by looking at Christ’s example.
Christ humbled himself
6who [Christ Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [—something to be held onto—], 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
What we see here is one of the great mysteries our faith. God became man. We could take a dozen sermons on this point alone. But Paul has something very specific for us to see from the Incarnation here. Whatever prerogatives we might have—whatever money, whatever fame, whatever position or status—the Son had more. And Jesus Christ lived as a servant. He didn’t hold onto what was his (and it really was his, by right!). He came as one of us. When you read here, “in the likeness of man,” don’t think “he was kind of like us.” Hebrews tells us that he was exactly was we are—yet without sin.
And that degradation goes down and down and down. He became a baby, who needed to be changed. He dealt, like my older daughter does, with younger siblings who tormented him. He was teased by other children. He went through puberty and had his voice go all scratchy. He worked for many years in obscurity. When he started his ministry, he was rejected as often as accepted, loved for his miracles and not for the God he revealed, mocked even by his own family, and wandered around without a home. Remember, the God of all the universe. And ultimately, he died. Died a sinner’s shameful death. He took our humiliation. And through all of it, he did not complain, he just served. So Christ is our model.
A convicting model, at least for me. Jesus, the real flesh-and-blood Jesus who was tempted just like us, is the perfect man. He is what it means to be human rightly. And he served. He’s the rightful king! And he served. Do I serve like that? Do you? Or do we demand our rights?
The Father exalted Christ
Now, as we come into these final verses, we see what at first might seem like a bit of a strange turn. Paul is trying to teach us about this kind of humble, selflessness,—and yes, unity. Hmm. And we were tracking along, as we saw the concrete example of Jesus living and dying selflessly. Feeling conviction, even; I certainly was and am. But then we get to this:
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is, at first blush, a bit of a challenge. “Okay. I mean, it’s good that Jesus is exalted. But how does it fit? Am I going to be exalted? Am I supposed to serve because Jesus was exalted? What’s going on here?”
There are two parts to this. One of them is, yes, that Jesus is Lord. We are citizens of his kingdom, and if his people lived like that, his people should certainly live like that. So that is one part of it.
But there is something else going on here, too.
And this—oh, this! What do we see here? We see the Father exalting the son. He highly exalted him. He gave him the name that is above every other name. The Father wants every one to say, “Jesus is Lord!” The Father wants everyone to bow down and worship Jesus. And Jesus, the Son—he’s doing all of this, he’s becoming a servant, taking on human nature, dying, on a cross to what end? To the glory of the Father!
We have a little glimpse here into something… awesome. We see the Father, saying to the Son, “Let me exalt you!” And Jesus says to the Father, “All the glory is yours!” And the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father, back and forth, and back and forth, forever. This is the life of the trinity. This is the eternal life of the triune God: humble, selfless, unity! Love!
And this is what we’re meant to be. This is what the church is for. This is what humanity is for: men and women made in the image of God—humble, selfless, unity.
The life of the Trinity, in the life of the church. This is the building we’re meant to be. This is the temple. This is the mansion.
Paul has taken our question: “How do I live like that?” and he’s answered it by showing us how the life of the triune God took on flesh, and lived among us. Was our servant. Died for us. He says: “How Christ lived is how we are meant to live.” And he reminds us, back there in v. 1: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit—any fellowship with the Spirit, remember; any affection and sympathy, complete my joy…” We have fellowship with the Spirit. That’s where our unity comes from: not common interests, not shared experiences, not being the same age, or sex, or ethnicity, or social standing, or economic status.
We’re meant to be a little picture, every day, of the Trinity. And the way we do that, is by living like Christ did. We choose, every day, to serve the people around us, instead of ourselves. We choose, every day, not to put ourselves first, but to put others first. We choose, every day, not to make ourselves look great, but to love others.
Brothers and sisters, here is my challenge to you today. Fill up your joy, and fill up my joy, and fill out our Triune God’s joy in you!—by loving one another as he has loved us. This kind of humble, selfless, unity is not a burden. It is what we are for. And yes, in this fallen world, it is hard sometimes. But we have the Spirit. We participate in God’s own love. Mystery— awesome mystery! Let us love one another. Let us count one another more important than ourselves. Let us look not only to our own interests, but to each other’s. Let us live in the humble, selfless, unity of our King’s kingdom.
And friend, if you are not a believer, and you look at this picture, I hope you’re thinking, “Yes. That’s what the world ought to look like.” Because it is. And it’s beautiful. We’re not meant not for self-absorption. We’re meant to live like Christ did. So I challenge you: call Christ lord. Let his death be yours, and his resurrection, too—come walk after him with us.
Let us pray to our loving, selfless, humble God of unity.
God we praise you, who are love and light forever. Thank you for your love—for sharing it with us, humbly and selflessly; for drawing us into your love and restoring us to what you designed us for. Thank you for building us into a temple for your Spirit. Help us walk in this same humble, selfless unity.