Philippians 2:1-11

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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.

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Being in Christ, finding comfort in his love, the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life, and godly affection will lead us toward a lifestyle oriented toward unity, humility, selflessness, and an attitude reflective of Jesus himself. Jesus’ rule and reign have such a profound impact because the manner by which he achieved it was so dramatically different.

God took on human flesh in an act of humility and servanthood that is unheard of. This isn’t just the CEO cleaning the restrooms. It’s not merely the President collecting garbage. It’s more than the Queen Mother doing dishes. This is the Eternal Son of God serving, suffering, and dying. It is God’s manifestation of love by means of sacrificing his Son for our sake.

Jesus did this for you. Now he is exalted to the place of highest glory. Now his name is above every name. To him every knee will bow. Sunday morning worship may well be an opportunity to bow the knee to Jesus. But our knees bow best when Jesus’ followers unite in his sacrificial humility, compassionate faith, and encouraging affection in our daily lives.

Philippians 1:27-30

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, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

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David was acting like a tyrannical authoritarian. He was snapping orders to his subjects and demanding strict and prompt obedience, all the while waving a pointing stick back and forth like a menacing sword. Suddenly the stick flew from his hands and headed straight for me! I dodged the missile (which was actually rather harmless) and the whole congregation erupted in laughter. I laughed with delight as well, but not at David or his shocked and worried expression. I was rejoicing in the moment of unity and brotherly affection we were all experiencing in that Sunday morning’s mishap during the chancel drama. We were united with one mind and spirit, rejoicing in the favor of God and the fellowship of gospel. Together we were rejoicing that God is not the crazed tyrant that David was portraying. It was a sweet moment.

I’ve seen on the other end of that spectrum. I’ve suffered disunity and ill will within the fellowship of the redeemed. Believe me, it is no fun. Conflict takes over when people get distracted by their own fears and selfish desires, becoming turned in on themselves. It is not a manner of life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul speaks of a different kind of conflict, and a unity that transcends suffering and turmoil. It grows out of a deep conviction in the goodness and faithfulness of God. It may be tested by tribulation brought on by those who are opposed to the message of God’s rule and reign in Jesus. But this unity remains strong in those who know that the rule and reign of Jesus Christ is good and gracious, and who delight in his presence and calling in their lives.

But not everyone knows or believes that Jesus’ rule and reign is good. We may have to stand in conflict with the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh when these war against the gospel. Such is a worthy conflict. Any other disruption is not only unworthy of Jesus’ followers, but destructive of the gifts and peace of Christ.

Philippians 1:19-26

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

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Not too many years ago I was quite significantly ill. My body ached, I had pain that wouldn’t go away. It was so severe that I wondered if I would lose consciousness. I remember wondering if that was what it was like to die. Thankfully I was able to make it through, and recovered from what I believe must have been a gallbladder attack.

Paul’s close encounters with death were far more severe and extreme:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

Yet Paul’s words here, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” do not come as a desire to end his suffering, or an expression of defeat. His life was so defined by his mission of sharing Christ that he was willing to suffer greatly for the sake of the Philippian Christians. His desire was for their progress and joy in the faith. He looked forward to celebrating the goodness of God with them. He lived for the glory of Christ.

If I could keep my eye on the prize of helping others celebrate the goodness of God and seeing others progress and grow in joy in their faith in Jesus Christ, I’m sure I could put whatever difficulty or challenge I face in better context. I am not facing anything near the challenges of Paul, but I do have the same Savior, the same hope, the same joy to share. Whatever difficulty I face, I hope I might say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. That kind of hopeful confidence will stand us in good stead whatever challenges we may face in life.

Philippians 1:12-18

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

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Maybe you’ve said it: “All that matters is that you’re OK.” Whether it is after a car accident, a destructive tornado, a personal disaster, the idea is that what matters most is that we, personally, are unharmed. Others will say, “When you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.” Neither of these are necessarily or universally true.

Paul is testimony to that; he was suffering, in prison, and being harassed by his enemies. Would he say that all that matters is that he still had hope? Or would he say that as long as he would one day be freed from prison all would be well? That would be the response of many. Others of us would say we would be OK once we got out, or as soon as our detractors lightened up on us.

Paul’s touch stone, however, was that the gospel was being proclaimed. Even if people were preaching Christ out of selfish ambition, he was not distressed. His only concern was that Christ was proclaimed.

If I examine my life, I’m not certain I can make that bold statement. I still have concerns for my family, my health, my grandchildren, and the church I serve. It’s not OK with me if these things are taken from me or if I seem them harmed.

I’m sure Paul cared about his friends and fellow believers. After all that’s why he wrote this letter to them. But he knew something from which we might all benefit. He knew that when we are brought close to Christ, all the cares of the world, the worries of this life, and distractions from eternal matters tend to lessen in importance. He realized also that when we are brought to the end of ourselves and our own ability to cope, there we most appreciate God’s goodness and love, his grace and salvation through Jesus Christ.

What matters most to you? Is that a worthy cause? Can you rejoice in the Good News of Jesus even in this moment?

Rev. Max Phillips shared a quote from Martin Luther that is worthy of our reflection and embrace regarding vocation.

“Our foolishness consists in laying too much stress upon the show of works and when these do not glitter as something extraordinary we regard them as of no value; and poor fools that we are, we do not see that God has attached and bound this precious treasure, namely His Word, to such common works as filial obedience, external, domestic, or civil affairs, so as to include them in His order and command, which He wishes us to accept, the same as though He Himself had appeared from heaven. What would you do if Christ Himself with all the angels were visibly to descend, and command you in your home to sweep your house and wash the pans and kettles? How happy you would feel, and would not know how to act for joy, not for the work’s sake, but that you knew that thereby you were serving Him, who is greater than heaven and earth.”

Philippians 1:3-6

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

 

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When I looked outside my hotel door, I discovered this unexpected beauty. This and several roses were in bloom now here in California.

The path by which Paul ended up in Philippi was curious and informative. Curious, because Paul and his companions had thought to go into southern Asia during their second missionary journey, but were prevented from doing so. In the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia inviting them to “come on over and help us.” You can read that account in Acts 16:1-10.

Paul’s path to Macedonia (and thus Philippi) is informative because of the significant blessings Paul experienced from the people of that city. Paul’s first encounter with Lydia proved to be momentous: Philippi was the site of the first convert/church on European soil. And despite his imprisonment there, Paul’s encounter with the Philippian jailer was the occasion of an entire family being brought into the kingdom of God. Now years later the love he has for this church and people still marks their relationship. Their love for him and the mission of God is seen in their financial gifts mentioned in this letter.

This is a reminder for me personally as we had hoped that our first call for an associate pastor would be accepted and a partner in the mission of God would be on board with us at St. John perhaps by Easter. That not being the case (having learned recently that he declined the Call to St. John), I am waiting to see who God brings to help us pursue the rule and reign of God in Cypress, Texas. I wonder who is seeking to go elsewhere when God’s path is to have him come to Cypress. I am confident that God has begun a good work at St. John, and look forward to what he has in store for us in the future here.

It may be that you are experiencing a similar disappointment. Whether it is finding the right job, a future spouse, a balance of health, or a best friend, the hand of God guides to places of blessing and goodness.The people of Philippi became people of blessings that were unanticipated and unplanned from Paul’s point of view. But God’s intent is always to bless and bring us to a good place. When we seek his rule and reign, we seek a good thing, and he will guide our steps accordingly.

Read Philippians 1:1-11

John 15:9-11

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

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Mary just didn’t feel Mike’s love. No matter how he tried to reassure her that he loved her, she just didn’t feel it. The fact was Mike didn’t love her. His claims to do so were only a cover up for his affair with a woman with whom he worked.

Tom didn’t feel Sarah’s love. No matter what Sarah said or did, he was unmoved. He was sure she had no respect for him, and didn’t really care if he came or went. Sarah, however, did love Tom. He couldn’t see that because his picture of love was misshapen by the terrible experiences he had when his mom and dad had divorced. He could never shake the feelings of insecurity he had from the age of 10 years, when that had happened. So he hardened his heart, and he never even knew it.

Josh kept forgiving Mary. Time after time, she betrayed him. Again and again he would forgive her. She would sneak off for clandestine affairs with nameless men. He would take her back She would betray his secrets to her friends. He would forgive her.

Love is a mysterious thing, moving people to do outlandish things. But nothing is more outlandish than what Jesus did. He died for the sins of the world. He embraced the wrath of God by his death on the cross. He did that because he loved us and his Father who sent him on that rescue mission 2000 years ago.

We are called to abide in that love; to live in the atmosphere of kindness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. That means we forgive again and again. That means we embrace even the unlovable with Christ’s love. That means we honor God by living according to his law. Those things don’t engender God’s love; they reflect it. Those things don’t make God love us, the prove that we have embraced his love for us. That is our calling. That is our place: right in the center of God’s love.

 

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