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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Look to the Interests of Others in Humility and Love
Text:Philippians 2:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Pentecost
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-02-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 48:1,3                                                                                     

Ps 24:2,3

Reading – Philippians 1:1 - 2:11

Ps 122:1,2,3

Sermon – Philippians 2:1-4

Ps 133:1,2

Hy 23:1,2,3,4,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, whenever we celebrate the Holy Supper there’s a serious obligation placed on us. The LORD God commands us, and that command is that we, brothers and sisters, have to be one. The Form quotes from 1 Corinthians 10:17, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” There is one Saviour for us all, so all who share in Christ must be united, and love each other, “not just in words but also in deeds.” Though Holy Supper is only once every couple months, it teaches that we should always be unified in our Lord, and that we show this through serving one another.

In so many letters of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit insists that those who’ve been saved by Christ must join in Christ: uniting as one fellowship, carrying each other’s burdens, and being living members of the body. Also in the letter to the believers in the town of Philippi, Paul lays this down as our obligation: you must be one, and live as one.

When Paul writes this letter, he’s in prison. And though it appears he’s about to be executed, Paul is full of joy. In chapter 1 he rejoices over the Philippians, for they received the gospel in faith, and put faith into action: through praying, supporting the ministry, even enduring opposition. It warmed Paul’s heart in that cold prison, to hear how God was at work among them! He also gives thanks that they stand “in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). They were bonded in Christ, and joined around a holy purpose.

Yet there is work to do. In our text he goes on to say that the Philippians need to have greater unity, and stronger fellowship, and more humility. We don’t know what was troubling the congregation, but it seems there was the danger of division and disharmony. With sinful pride hiding in every heart, these believers are exhorted to accept each other.

Many of these same things—both the good and the bad—can be said of us. God is working among us by his Holy Spirit, for faith is being put into action, and fellowship is being enjoyed, and gifts are being used for the benefit of others. But our pride hasn’t gone away. Our selfishness lingers. We still favour one person over another, and in our weakness, we fail one another—also those who most need our help. So as church of Christ we need to listen to his command in Philippians 2:1-4,

  Look to the interests of others in Christ-like humility and love:

  1. the firm basis of unity
  2. the real need for humility
  3. the active display of love

 

1) the firm basis of unity: So how is it that a church can unite? We have things in common, to be sure. But we also have differences, in views and opinions and personalities. We notice these differences between ourselves—also differences in age, in abilities, in position and appearance—and sometimes that becomes all we see. Maybe we like the people at church who think the same as us, and we criticize those who don’t.

So where does unity come from? God tells us in our text. Now, take a look at the first two verses. You see that they’re put together in the form of a long conditional sentence. Verse 1 is a series of four “if” statements: “If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship…” And verse 2 are the “then” statements, those commands that we should be like-minded, have the same love, and so on. For the foundation of our unity then, we can look to those conditions in verse 1. This is how life together is possible.

When we talk about conditions like in verse 1, we understand that a condition is usually something yet to be done. It’s like a dad saying to one of his kids: “If you wash the car on Saturday, then I’ll give you $2.” When Saturday arrives, it remains to be seen whether that condition will be carried out and the money handed over. But when Paul keeps saying “if” in verse 1, there’s actually nothing uncertain. The way he puts it in the Greek original, all these conditions are assumed to be true.  

We could translate verse 1 this way: “If you have any consolation in Christ—and you do! If you have any comfort of love—and you do! If you have any fellowship of the Spirit—and you do!” All these conditions are realities already. And that makes sense: Paul is talking to a believing community, a church who has received Jesus as Lord. Already they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and were experiencing the “affection and mercy” of God.

Maybe you can see what Paul is doing. By recounting God’s goodness in verse 1, he’s driving home the obligation that’s placed on every one of his children: You have received grace, now live in grace toward others! You have been richly loved, now love your brothers and sisters! The strength of our unity and service is what we already have in Christ.

To begin with these gifts of God, look at the first part of verse 1. It’s as if Paul asks us, “You have consolation from being in Christ, don’t you?” Again, if you’re a believer, you most certainly have this encouragement. Only now we should think about what it means. When we’re “in Christ,” we’re actually guaranteed the blessings of God, because being “in Christ” means that the Father looks at us in the same way that He looks at his own Son! When we’re united to Christ by faith, God considers us his own dear children, so He’ll always care for us deeply, and throughout our life He will never forsake us.

So how have you experienced the Father’s consolation and goodness? For example, has He given you help in trouble? Has He provided for your life? Has the Father strengthened you in a time of loss? And already now it’s worth thinking: If you have received God’s consolation, how can you share this consolation with the people around you, with your fellow believers?

Paul follows the first condition with a second: “If you have any comfort of love—and you do!” Let’s see what this comfort is. It’s the comfort of knowing the love of Christ your Saviour. He’s the one who lifts you out of your guilt. He’s the one who helps you to pray. It’s his Word that brings you the beginning of peace and joy. In any way, have you experienced the riches of Christ’s love?

And if you have, then you’re called to the activity of loving your brothers and sisters. I point you to what Paul says in verse 2, that this is one of our obligations: “Then have the same love!” What’s this “same love?” It’s the same kind as God’s love, a love that is free, without restraint, but a love in action and truth—that kind of love must live among us, his church.

We’re reminded about the basis of our unity with a third condition, “If you have any fellowship of the Spirit…” (v 1). “And I know you do,” says Paul to the Philippians, and also to us. For if we enjoy God’s encouragement and guidance, we most certainly have the Spirit dwelling in us. You can see the Spirit’s presence in your life in other ways too. When you pray for the Spirit, do you receive his gift of strength? Does He bless you with insight into Scripture? Does He give you courage for difficult days?

If you have the Holy Spirit, then He is also moving you to love your fellow believers. For we’re not just a collection of distinct and isolated members, each doing our own thing, each busy with our own concerns. We’re the one body of Christ, says Paul somewhere else (1 Cor 12), and filled with the “one Spirit” of Christ (Eph 4:4). If you have fellowship with Him, you must also have fellowship with your brothers and sisters, a fellowship that is full of the fruit of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness.

Paul draws out another consequence of unity in verse 2, “[Then] be like-minded.” If the Spirit is filling us, then He is renewing our minds, transforming our thoughts into God-pleasing thoughts and into holy ways of thinking. And when our minds our renewed like this, we’ll also agree with one another. This doesn’t mean we’ll all share the same opinions—among us there’s certainly a diversity of viewpoints on a wide range of issues. Keeps church life interesting, right?

But being “like-minded” means that we share a basic outlook, a fundamental understanding. How do we look at the world? What do we think of God and Christ? How do we view ourselves? What’s our calling in this world? Despite diversity and sometimes even disagreement, we stand together on the foundation, for we all have the same Spirit, we read the same Bible, and love the same God. In Him our unity can be strong.

In this unity we’ll also “be of one accord, of one mind” (v 2). Literally, it says that we’ll be of “one soul.” For even our heart’s inner desires must be the same. Now, with a church made up of many diverse people, that sounds like an impossible thing to achieve. But it’s all about our direction and purpose as the body of Christ. As a believer in Him, what do you desire more than anything? Where do you want to go? What’s your greatest joy? When we’re united in Christ, we’re all headed in the same direction, we’re moved by the same thing. That’s something to remind each other about: “We’re on this earth to serve God, to glorify Christ, and make his Kingdom come.”

To return again to what binds us together, this is the final condition: “If [you have] any affection and mercy…” (v 1). And remember the answer Paul expects us to give. Have you received God’s affection through his blessings? Of course you have. Or are you receiving any of his mercies? You are, every day.

Now think about the implications for unity. If you’ve been blessed by God’s affection and mercy, you need to show affection and mercy. We’d all agree with that, of course—we want to love others. But love doesn’t just happen, does it? If we’re not paying attention, we’ll skip it. For us to love, it takes thought and effort. One suggestion about how to begin is by reflecting for a moment on the people who are sitting near you in church, or to take a look at the church membership list. Who can you bless with kindness?

Some of the first people we should think about are those who suffer. Some in the church family might suffer because of injuries, illnesses, chronic conditions. Others might be suffering with depression or anxiety or loneliness. There can be difficulties with money, or with work. Or think about the pain some have over children who are unfaithful, or because of loved ones who have passed away in the last few years. Be sure of it: there is pain all around you in Christ’s body. Yet it’s a pain that can be shared, a burden carried together. And this is our privilege, to care for one another. Having received God’s affection and mercy, we must give affection and mercy.

We need to ask, then: Are we, as church of Christ, united in Him as we should be? Are we, brothers and sisters in the Lord, one in spirit and purpose? And then is mutual love, affection and mercy, alive among us? There is no doubt that we’ve got a lot of work to do. So let’s consider a second point,

 

2) the real need for humility: Sometimes you see a church ripped apart, when the body of Christ undergoes a painful and public division, and it takes years to heal. Other times there’s a church where outwardly everyone has the same creed and commitment, but when you scratch the surface, you find no true love or concern for each other. In verse 3 Paul targets something that so often kills church unity like this, and he calls it “selfish ambition or conceit.”

“Selfish ambition” is an attitude that has no concept of serving others, but is only aimed at personal gain. You know how it can go when you have goals, plans for your life or career or family, and you want to bring them about. So essentially you forget about others around you, and you only seek to benefit yourself, or you’re only busy with your own family.

This isn’t some unusual event. Individualism is our default worldview, where we see ourselves as the centre of the universe, and everyone else in an orbit around us—everyone else in a supporting role. And frankly, it’s hard to care about other people. We’re too busy dealing with our own stuff, and our hearts just don’t have enough room to be that concerned.

We might say a prayer for those who are in the hospital, or we offer a token prayer for the lonely and the handicapped. But what about those other troubles we hear about? What about the hints of a struggle with sin that people drop in conversation? Or what about the obvious opportunities to help in the church? We’re too busy to react. Too busy talking to really listen. Too self-absorbed to want to give anything away. Christ says that this kind of spirit shouldn’t live in his church. It’s an enemy to fellowship, and a hindrance to unity.

So Christ turns our universe around: Because Christ loves us, we are called to make him the centre, to love Him above all. And because Christ loves us, we’re called to love each other. Having life in Christ means a life together with all who believe in him. If we’re part of Christ’s body, we need to work for the care and health of the whole body. Not just ourselves, and those immediately around us, but work for the good of all.

Selfish ambition has a close relative, and it’s called “conceit” (v 3). Conceit—or arrogance, pride, haughtiness—is when we’re full of ourselves. Conceit too, is a unity-killer in the church. When we’re proud, disagreements are almost guaranteed to become entrenched. Because when we’re proud, we don’t want to admit we’re wrong, or acknowledge that it’s not such a big deal, after all. When we’re proud, we look down on others for their failures and irritations, and there’s a flourishing of gossip and unfair criticism. And there’s no loving service.

But here’s the sure remedy for pride and selfishness: remember God’s great kindness towards you, a lowly sinner! You live by grace, and so does everyone else. We don’t know what our fellow church members needed forgiveness for, and we’ll probably never know, but we do know they were forgiven, just like we were. Let that give you a different spirit! A believer knows he’s nothing without Christ—so how can he look down someone else? A child of God knows he’s received everything from God’s kindness—so how can he withhold kindness from anyone? Humility will solidify our unity, and help our love to endure.

That comes out so clearly in the next command: “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (v 3). This too goes against the grain. We act humble, but we usually have an immensely high regard for ourselves, and not so much for others. But imagine turning that around, and you esteem others better than yourself. Where we make it our practice to say, “What I think, and what I want, are not so important. How can I serve you? You’re my brother, you’re my sister, and I want to help you.”

 

3) the active display of love: In the final verse, the Holy Spirit speaks some more about putting unity and humility into action: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (v 4). Notice again what Christian love is like. It’s not self-absorbed and ingrown, but it’s outward-facing, with a regular focus on the other. So how can you find out what are “the interests of others?” Two things are needed: “eyes” to see one another in their circumstances, and “ears” to hear them.

First, those ears. If we’ll function well as the body of Christ, we need to talk about how we’re struggling. None of us can read minds. So what’s troubling you? What’s on your heart? How is Satan tempting you? We love to project the sense that everything’s well with us: no hurts and no hang-ups, no bad habits. We’d be terrified if anyone knew the state of our heart, or embarrassed about this minor trouble. But we’re all weak, involved in a daily battle against our own flesh, this world, and the devil. We need help, and we have to be ready to receive help. Part of our calling is to let other people help us! It’s good for them, and it’s good for us. So share your burden with someone—tell them, so they can start to bless you.

We need “ears” to hear each other, we said, and also “eyes” to see. Sometimes we only have a sense that something is wrong with our brother or sister. A pained look on the face. A sag in the shoulders. A quick escape after church. Do we see this? Do we notice? And when we do, how do we respond? Having eyes to see, and a heart for their interests, means a brother’s cause should become our own cause. A sister’s concern is our concern. The point is, we need to look for opportunities to help one another. How can you respond to the blessings, troubles, joys, sins and burdens of others?

Once more, let’s acknowledge that it’s hard to do this. If we’re not looking, we won’t see each other. But God’s Word in Philippians 2 says it must be done: “Look to the interests of others.” For think again about the bond we have in Christ. We share his life-giving gospel. We share his life-renewing Spirit.

And God has also given the perfect example of how to carry one another’s burdens: it’s the example of our Saviour. That’s how the chapter continues, with those powerful and challenging words: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (v 5).

And then Paul describes the deep humbling of our Saviour, who—even though He was holy God himself—came down to earth as a man, and then took on the interests of sinners, people who were his own enemies. He sympathized with our suffering. He considered others better than himself, and served us, even at the cost of his own life. His cross saves us, and gives us free access to all the comfort and fellowship and affection and mercy of God. In deep gratitude to Him, to honour Him, we should have the mind of Christ, the same spirit of Christ—yielding humbly, loving truly, and serving gladly.

In that Christ-like spirit, our response to each other will be as varied as the circumstances that each person is in. To an elderly couple or a single sister you reach out, and you invite them up for lunch. For another person you realise that you must simply pray, and pray often. That sister needs encouragement, even more than once. That family would be blessed by a meal.

Sometimes this kind of helping is short-term: there’s an operation to recover from, there’s a passing challenge at work, but soon all is well. Other times, we’re in it for the long-haul: there’s a chronic illness, a family situation that is badly broken and can’t be repaired, a young brother who needs months or years of mentoring. We like service to be done quickly, but most often it’s not.

So when you’re seeking the interests of others, and you feel drained by walking alongside someone month after month, then know this: you’re in good company. This is what Jesus did. He poured himself out. That was his life, and through Him it can be our life: service, for the good of others, and the honour of God.

This, Paul says in verse 2, will “fulfill my joy.” Paul has already told the Philippians how much joy he had because of them. But now he wants even greater joy. As a dedicated minister of Christ, Paul desires nothing more than for the church to thrive. Yes, when a church is united in faith, in love, in humble spirit and sure purpose, it’s a joy. It’s a joy for those who lead the church, like Paul did. It’s a joy also for the church as a whole, because we get to reap the blessings of this spirit, for then there is harmony among us, and peace, and mutual care and the warmth of fellowship.

But most importantly, when a church has unity and humility in Christ, it’s a joy for God. For it’s his will that we’re brought together in Christ, and that we stay together. So let us fulfill the joy of our God! In the gospel of our salvation, He has given us encouragement. He has given us love. He has given us his Spirit, and lavished on us affection and mercy.

Let us then be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let us do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness let us consider others better than ourselves. May each of us look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of our brothers and sisters. May we do all this for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for the glory of our Triune God!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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