Began with informal series introduction//background to Saint Paul. Script below is from preacher's notes therefore there may be slight differences to sermon on the day.
Of all the churches Paul had a hand in starting, Philippi seems to have been his favourite. It was where he made his first foray West towards Europe into Macedonia.
And according to the Biblical author, Luke, Paul was staying in a place called Troas when he had a vision. Luke writes:
“There was a man of Macedonia standing, begging him, and saying, ‘Come over into Macedonia and help us.’ … immediately we sought to go out to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Good News to them.” (Acts 16:9-10)
And so Paul woke up, packed his belongings, and hit the road. And by all accounts it got off to a great start.
On the Sabbath, he and his cohort, Silas, went looking for a place of prayer. They found a group of women gathered on the banks of a nearby river. They invited him to speak, and he told them all about Jesus and that he was the Promised Messiah of the Jewish faith.
And as he spoke, a woman named Lydia opened her heart to Jesus. She accepted Jesus as her saviour and asked to be baptized; and not only her, but her whole household.
Then she invited Paul and Silas to stay in her home as long as they were in Philippi. It became his base of operation and, I suspect, the home of the Philippian church.
But despite this great start, it wasn’t long before Paul ran into trouble.
Long story short, he and Silas were accused of sedition and thrown into jail. But rather than end in disaster, this (I imagine scary) experience gave God an opportunity to show his glory. Here’s what happened:
Paul and Silas were arrested and put in jail.
At around midnight, there came an earthquake. The prison doors broke open. And they were set free. But instead of running for their lives, they sat tight.
When the jailer found them, he realized he owed them his life (because he would be held accountable for any escaped inmates).
He cried out, “What must I do to be saved?”
To which Paul replied: believe in Jesus, and he did. Then he invited Paul and Silas to his home and he and his whole household were baptized that very night.
Now, eventually, Paul and Silas got out of prison, but they didn’t stay in the area for long.
The first seeds of faith were firmly planted through Lydia, her household, her friends, and now the jailer and his extended whanau.
So, they said their goodbyes, promised to come back, and (in the meantime) promised to stay in touch by letter. And that brings us to our text for today. Where it begins:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”(Philippians 2:1-2)
Now, to understand what Paul is getting at we need to realise that the fledgling church in Philippi had a problem.
You see, they were deeply divided on all sorts of things. Outside of their shared faith in Jesus they only seemed to have one thing in common: Self-interest.
One wanted this, another wanted that, and another wanted something else.
Which (to be honest) reminds me of the state of our own worldwide church at the moment. The Church of England has just produced a book of prayers for the blessing of same-sex relationships at the same time as the church in East Africa has doubled down on it’s support of the Ugandan Government’s ban on homosexuality. While back home we bicker about access to Trust Funds across the different Tikanga of our church.
One group want one-thing, the other something different.
And just like us, Paul knew the church in Philippi would never reach their potential to be Jesus’ holy people carrying on his transformative mission in the world until they overcame their division.
And so, at the heart of our reading today we hear him appeal to them to be of one heart, and one mind.
Well, Paul says, start by building on your strengths.
Paul knows there’s some measure of Jesus at play among them, some consolation of love, some fellowship of the Spirit, some tender mercy and compassion. So, he says, start with what you’ve got and build on your strengths.
Now, you may have heard the old saying that: Within the best of saints, there’s a vestige of sin, and within the vilest of sinners there’s a twinge of virtue.
Well, the same holds true for groups and organizations, including the church. Some congregations are more loving than others; some are more mission-minded; some are better at planning community events; some are better at intercessory prayer.
My point is:
Some churches have greater strengths than others;
yet, every congregation has strengths to build on.
Which raises the question: what are our strengths here at St Andrew’s Redcliffs?
One, for sure, is the way we respond in love to those in need.
We’ve had a number of people suffer illness recently. We’ve farewelled a number of dear friends who have gone to Glory. And over the last few months, what I’ve observed is that, when there’s a tragedy, a death, or a life-threatening prognosis, you are all so quick to offer help and strength and support. And to reach out to God inprayer.
So, according to Paul, if we want to overcome divisions (either now or in the future) our best bet is to focus on and buildup our strengths. But (Paul hastens to add) don’t let human nature get in the way:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
His point being:
No church will ever fulfil its mission to be the Body of Christ in the world today until every person who makes up the congregation lays aside their competitive spirit and self-interest.
Yet, Paul says, even that’s not enough.
Paul knows that, even the best Christians with the best intentions will become divided and at odds with each other, if left to their own good will.
And so, he asks us not only to be of one mind, but to look for a power greater than ourselves when he writes:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made inhuman likeness.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
But what is it about the mind of Christ that sets Jesus so far above the rest of us and brings us together as one?
Well, first, there’s self-denial.
Jesus didn’t strive to be on par with God. Instead, he subjected his divine power and wisdom to God’s authority and God’s will for his life. He lived a life of self-denial. What he did, he did for others. What he said, he said for the benefit of others. Where he went, he went to help others. And when it came to the end, he didn’t fight back and try to save his own life.
Rather, he subjected himself to the cruelest form of persecution and suffering and death in order to redeem us from sin. To share the mind of Christ (therefore) is to let go of your self-interest and put others first. It’s to seek what’s best for all in every situation. It’s to lose yourself in pursuit of God’s kingdom and (in so doing so), experience the fullness of God’s peace, joy and love.
Jesus lived a life of surrender and self-denial. He emptied himself.
And he also humbled himself and bore the burdens of others.
In one of the most beautiful passages of scripture: he put a towel around his neck and took a basin of water and, one by one, he knelt before his disciples and washed their dirty, cracked, sweaty feet.
Then he looked up and said to them:
“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
And then later, when they got into a big argument about who was the greatest, Jesus said:
“… he who is greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
Jesus’ life was a portrait of humility. It was also a model of obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was his daily mantra:
“Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
That- that is the mind of Christ.
And that’s how Jesus would have us live our lives, not only at the end, but in each and every moment of each and every day: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
And you know, if everyone who follows Jesus simply lived by this simple rule-of-thumb, I think we’d never experience division as a church again. Maybe that’s naïve but I genuinely believe it’s true. We’d find our Christ-like humility, our Christ-like love, our Christ-like mindset would help us overcome our natural, sinful, desires to focus on our own agendas, our own wants, our own out comes.
And so, bringing this back to our text for this morning, Paul ends this passage with a solemn charge:
“… not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling …” (Philippians 2:12)
In other words:
Don’t rest on your laurels just because I’m not there.
Work together, look to God for strength and hope and common purpose.
Trust God to lead the way.
Pray with humility that God’s Holy Spirit will work within you to conform you more fully into the likeness of Christ everyday. So that, together, we might be a holy, united, love-filled, missionally-minded people representing our Lord Jesus in a world that increasingly needs to hear the Good News of Jesus (even if it doesn’t know it).
The transcript of our Philippians series at our 9am service at St Andrew's Church, Redcliffs.
October 15, 2023