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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Christ's example of humble service
Text:Philippians 2:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2013-01-20
Added:2013-03-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


Christ’s example of humble service 

Ps. 147: 1, 6

Ps. 119: 13, 15, 24

Hymn 19: 1 – 3

Ps. 122: 1 – 3

Ps. 133: 1, 2

 

Scripture reading:       Phil. 1: 27 – 2: 18

Text:                              Phil. 2: 1 – 11

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

The apostle Paul suffers persecution, but he is not at all concerned about his own circumstances.   As long as it is well with the church of Christ and the cause of Christ is making progress, he rejoices.  

He is not much concerned about his own interest; he seeks the interest of Christ and of His church.

We saw this already in chapter 1.  

 

But now he wants the congregation to be of the same mind and to think alike.   And for this purpose he points them to the example of Christ, who did not cling to His own glory or sought His own interest, but who, with self-sacrificing love humbled Himself and came down to serve us.  

The apostle reminds the congregation of Christ’s self-sacrificing love and humble service, so that they too may be of the same mind and follow His example, that they may not seek each their own interest, but that the saints in Philippi may become humble servants united in the same love, making themselves one another’s servants.

 

Now, when the apostle calls them to be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”, he is not only calling them to be united, but to be united in having the same mind.   In order to be united they need to have the same mind “which was also in Christ Jesus”.  

And then he explains this mind of Christ.   He left His heavenly glory and came down as a humble servant to suffer and die for our sake.  

It is this mind of self-denial and humble service to which he calls us.     

 

And thus, from this text, I preach God’s Word to you with the theme:

Be united in Christ and serve one another in humbleness

 

We will note…


1.      The exhortation to unity and humble service

2.      The example of Christ’s self-sacrificing love and humility

3.      The comfort of Christ’s exaltation


In the first place we note…

The exhortation to unity and humble service

 

There was some disunity in the congregation.   And now the apostle comes with a serious exhortation to be like-minded, to have the same love, to be of one accord and of one mind.   He already mentioned this in chapter 1: 27 where he exhorted them to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”.

And now he comes back to it here in chapter 2.

And again in chapter 3 he says:

 

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.   Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” – 3: 14 – 16.

 

Again he urges the saints to live according to the same rule, having the same mind.

 

And again in the fourth chapter we read:

 

            “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” – 4: 2

 

From this last example it is clear that there was some disunity, or at least the danger of disunity, between some members in the congregation.

 

Reading through this epistle it becomes clear that the apostle, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places a lot of emphasis on being “of the same mind”, to have the same goal in life, and thus to serve the Lord together with one accord with one mind and soul.

 

This expression, to be of “the same mind”, he repeats 5 times in this short epistle.   And thus it becomes clear that it is an important theme that runs through the whole epistle.   

The exhortation to be like-minded, and to be of one mind, comes to us with urgency.

Here in our text the apostle starts by saying:

 

“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like-minded…”

 

He says: if you know the consolation of being in Christ, if you experienced the comfort of His love, if you have any fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit, if you know His affection and mercy towards you, fulfil my joy by being like-minded.

 

That will make my joy complete, he says.

 

He already said in chapter 1 that he prays for them with joy.   He rejoices because of their fellowship in the gospel.   But there was room for improvement.   His joy would be fuller, yes, complete, if they would all be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind in Christ.

 

Now, as you know, while the apostle Paul writes this letter, he is in chains.  Possibly he will have to die.  Yet, as long as it is well with the congregation of Christ, he rejoices.   His own interests do not concern him.   He is gladly willing to pour out his life for their sake (2: 17).   As long as it is well with them, his joy is full.   Their wellbeing is his greatest concern.

And this he reckons to be a sign of their wellbeing: when there is mutual agreement among them and brotherly harmony.

 

We see then how high he rates the importance of unity within the congregation – a unity where all the members are like-minded, have the same love, are of one accord and of one mind!

 

Dear congregation, the Lord is also addressing us this morning.   Be like-minded, be of one mind.  

Do you know the consolation in Christ, and the comfort of His love, and the fellowship of His Spirit that joins us together in tender care and love for one another?

In our heart and soul, in our deepest being, we should all be one, as we are indeed one in Christ.  

The whole congregation has to act like one man, all together following Christ.

In the body of Christ there is no room for individualism where everyone may do his own thing as he sees fit.

To be like-minded means, at least in this context, that we must all together set our mind on Christ, and be one mind with Him.  

And to have “the same love” means, at least in this context, that we are united in the love of Christ, loving Him and loving one another in the way He loved us.  

 

With one accord – the Greek may also be translated: being united in soul.

 

The whole congregation must be of one mind and one soul.

 

Now, as we said before, the apostle says this in a context where there has been some disunity in the congregation.  

And therefore he also adds what they should not be doing:

 

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.   Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 

The apostle identifies the problem.   There were some members in Philippi who were driven by selfish ambition and conceit, or at least in danger such behaviour.

Conceit means: self-importance, pride. 

To do something out of conceit means to seek your own glory.

 

Over against such pride and vain glory, the apostle calls the saints to be lowly.  

 

            “…in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

 

And over against selfish ambition, seeking only your own interest, he calls the saints to seek the interests of one another.

 

Now, for both diseases, selfish ambition and vain glory, he prescribes one remedy: the humility that we see in Christ.

 

But before we come to the example of Christ, let us first note the detail of his instruction.

He says:

 

            “…in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

 

Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, it is this.   True humility is indeed a rare virtue.

We are all proud by nature.  

There is no one that is not eager to have superiority.  

Fooling ourselves with vain glory, we look down on others with contempt.   We are quick to criticise others, and to flatter ourselves. 

Our own pride is the cause of strife.  

Yes, our vain glory, which by nature we all have in abundance, will destroy the unity in the congregation, except if we listen carefully to this instruction.

 

Someone may ask: But how is it possible to reckon myself lower than someone else when I know for sure that I received more gifts and honour than he has?  

Must I truly reckon myself to be the lowest in the congregation?

Brothers and sisters, first of all we have to know our own damnable state before God.  This alone should be enough reason to strip us from all pride: if you know your own depravity and your own corruption. 

When we know our own depravity and our own foolishness, then it is not so hard to see God’s grace in the lives of others.   If we truly know our own corruption and if we truly detest ourselves, as we should, then we will have no difficulty to esteem others higher than ourselves.

And in the second place we have to realise that we have no gifts or talents which we can call our own.   We are only stewards of God’s grace – stewards in order to serve one another, as the apostle Peter says:

 

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” – 1 Peter 4:10.

 

The more gifts you received and the more abilities you have, the greater your responsibility to be a servant to your brother!

 

Did you receive more than your brother?   Then you are called to serve him all the more!

 

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interest, but also for the interests of others”.

 

The interest of my brother should become my interest.

We no longer live for ourselves.  

Love is the opposite of selfishness.   Love wants to give.   Love wants to serve.   Love does not seek its own interest – 1 Cor. 13: 5.

 

But if you act with selfish ambition and in vain glory, if you do something in the congregation in order to be seen by men, then your service will benefit no one.   Then all your talents and all your abilities and all your service will only arouse envy and strife.  

 

There is a different way for Christ’s disciples.

In imitation of Christ we are to become humble servants serving one another in love.

 

We note that in the second place…

The example of Christ’s self-sacrificing love and humility

 

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men.”

 

To exercise humility and to serve one another in love, we need to fix our eyes on Christ.   Now, the comparison is not equal.  

Christ’s humiliation was infinitely greater than any of us can ever experience. 

The Son of God is Himself very God; and we are only men.  

The humiliation of the Son of God was real, for He had to leave behind His divine glory.   Whatever humiliation we may experience is almost nothing in comparison, for we have no glory anyway that can compare to the glory of God.   The Son of God came down from heaven; we are of the dust of the earth already.   Yes, wihat Christ has done is unique, and so the comparison is not equal between Him and us.  He is God, while we are of ourselves only dust.

 

But for this very reason the example of Christ is all the more striking, and the command to follow His example is all the more compelling when we consider what infinite glory He, the Son of God, left behind, to humble Himself and to become a servant for our sake.  

 

Now, while the humiliation of Christ was unique, the comparison that is placed in front of us is one in which we are called to have the same mind as He had and to humble ourselves after His example.

 

Yes, the Son of God humbled Himself, descending from His heavenly glory.   He who was equal with God became the lowest Servant of sinful men, bearing our shame, taking our guilt and punishment on Him, suffering and dying for our sake.

 

Humanly speaking this has been the filthiest job that one can imagine.   He was covered with our filthiness and bore our shame.   Yes, He became the lowest servant of all.

 

The Son of God did not do this for His own sake, to gain any glory for Himself; for what glory could be added to the perfect and divine glory which He already possessed from all eternity?   No, He did this for our sake.

It is divine self-sacrificing love and a humility of such an extent that we cannot even comprehend it.   For what do we know of the glory which He left behind?   What do we understand of the humiliation for God to become a man of sorrows, and for the Son of God to die such a cursed death?

 

Now, if He, the Lord of glory, humbled Himself in this way with self-sacrificing love, who are we to seek our own honour and our own interest?!  

Since the Son of God descended from such a height, how unreasonable will it then be if we, who are nothing, should lift ourselves up with pride!

 

Brothers and sisters, the love and humility of Christ should also characterise the church of Kelmscott.   It comes to us as a command:

 

            “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

 

We are commanded to follow His example in becoming one another’s humble servants.

 

Now, there are some who are very afraid to listen to preaching that exhorts us to follow Christ’s example.   There is a history behind it.   It is a reaction against humanistic and exemplaric preaching where man is seen as good and able to improve himself.   The idea is then that man needs nothing more than a good example to improve himself.  

Such teaching is of course against Scripture.   It does not reckon with the total depravity of man.   Man is then encouraged to pull himself up on his own boot strings, so to speak.   And the examples of Christ and of other good men are then used for this end.   It is then almost presented as if Christ saves us by His example, instead of by His substitution.  

In reaction to such heresy, many do not want to hear anything about following the example of Christ.

 

Yet, brothers and sisters, we need some discernment.    By rejecting one error we must not fall into another error.   We are indeed called to be followers of Christ, and to follow His example.  

 

Now, in our day there is also a new error in this regard.   There are false teachers in our day who try to turn this command, to follow Christ’s example, into a new ethics which replaces the law of God.   It is then said: don’t live according to commandments, just follow Jesus!   To follow Jesus' example is then turned into a new law which has to replace His commandments!   

However, brothers and sisters, to follow Christ, and to live “in the style of the kingdom” – if we want to use that doubtful expression – should be nothing else than a life according to God’s law.   The example of Christ is an example of complete obedience to God’s law.  To follow Christ should not become to us a mystic concept that replaces the clear revelation of God’s law.

We spoke about this before, and so I won’t elaborate any further.

 

Now, after considering the heresies of past and present, we still have to give heed to the lawful exhortation to follow Christ’s example.  

This teaching is also confirmed by the rest of Scripture.

 

Christ washes the feet of His disciples, and then He tells them:

 

“…I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” – John 13: 15.

 

And a little later He adds:

 

i

 

 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” – John 13: 34.

 

The apostle Paul also says:

 

            “…as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” – Col. 3: 13.

 

Or to the Corinthians he says:

 

            “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” – 1 Cor. 11: 1.

 

Or think of the apostle Peter where he encourages us to persevere in persecution, saying:

 

“…Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” – 1 Peter 2: 21.

 

There is no doubt that this is fully Scriptural and part of the gospel.   We are called to imitate Christ and to follow His example in all our conduct.

 

Here in our text, the apostle now focuses in on the humility and the sacrificial love of Christ, exhorting us to have the same mind and spirit, in order that we may serve one another with a humble mind and with a love that removes all pride and selfish ambition, that we may not seek our own honour and our own interest, but become humble servants, serving one another.

 

Knowing, however, how much we fear any humiliation, we are encouraged to follow Christ’s example also by considering His exaltation which followed afterwards.  

We note that in the last place…

The comfort of Christ’s exaltation

 

Because we, by nature, shrink away from such humility and self-denial, the apostle reminds us also of the glory that followed Christ’s humiliation.

 

“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name…” – verse 9.

 

Christ also applies this to us, when He says:

 

“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” – Mt. 23:12.

 

And again:

 

“…whoever humbles himself as this little child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” – Mt. 18:4

 

And again:

 

“…whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” – Mt. 20: 26 – 28.

 

And thus we see, in various passages, how Scripture encourages us to humble ourselves in serving one another, with the promise that those who humble themselves in this way will be exalted by the Lord.

And also the warning: whoever exalts himself will be humbled by the Lord.

 

Now, what does this mean when our text says that God has highly exalted Jesus Christ and has given Him the Name which is above every name?

In Scripture God’s Name is not just a sound, but an expression of His being.   When it says that our Lord Jesus received the Name which is above every name, the meaning is that He received the highest power and honour and glory, and that all of creation is subject to Him.

 

In this regard we may think of the apostle’s words in Ephesians 1 where he says that Christ was seated…

 

“…far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.   And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all…”

 

He humbled Himself and descended to the lowest place for our sake, but for that very reason God also exalted Him to the highest authority and power and glory.

 

Therefore: at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

That every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus does not only mean that all will bow their knees when they hear the Name of Jesus pronounced; it means that all will submit themselves to Jesus Christ, and serve and honour Him.

 

And who will do this?

Not only the believers, but all – those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth.   That includes angels, men, demons, the living and the dead, and all and everything that exists.

That includes also the enemies of Christ.   On the day of Christ’s coming they too will be subjected to Him, and they too will have to serve and honour Him, whether against their will or not.

 

We read this also in the Psalms which pointed to Christ.   He will rule over all, and His enemies will lick the dust (for example Ps. 72: 8, 9).

 

And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

That is: all will have to acknowledge that He is the lawful Ruler over all, appointed by God.

Even His enemies will have to confess and acknowledge Him as the Lord of lords and the King of kings.

 

And Jesus Christ will receive this highest honour and power and dominion with the view of glorifying the Father, who has given it to Him.

 

Now, with these words the apostle gave a summary of Christ’s exaltation.   But he said this for our sake to encourage us to imitate Christ, who did not cling to His own glory, and who did not seek His own interest, but humbled Himself for our sake to serve us.   He reminds us that Christ’s humiliation and humble service was followed by the highest exaltation, in order that we too may expect to be exalted by the Father when we humble ourselves in imitation of Christ.

 

Dear congregation, let none of us then act with selfish ambition seeking his own honour and interest, but let each of us in lowliness of mind esteem others better than himself.  

Let each of us, here in this congregation, look out not only for his own interest, but for the interest of one another.

Yes, let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.  

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Mendel Retief

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