Dear Lord. I begin by giving you the honor and the glory for this evening. God, every Christian in this room has been saved only by your grace even while we were all enemies of you. We know that you saved us for great things, yet so often we settle for so much less. This church, this message, and even the fruit are all yours, Father, and I beg you to take these words--they are not mine; I have nothing to say that anybody should listen to apart from your Word and Spirit--take these words and soften hearts and minds to receive them. In the case that anything that I'm about to teach is not truth, please reveal that. Nevertheless, the portion which by your grace is true to your Word, I pray you would bear fruit by it. That we would better know and love Christ and have his mind in us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
One message. One chance to speak. What a privilege! What a challenge! What could I have to share with a body, with many Christians who have followed Christ much longer than I have? I have chosen to teach on Philippians 2:1-11.
At my church in Arizona, we had heard this message preached, but we did not live it. I thought we didn't have to, that this problem was a problem that other churches had. We knew these verses well because this section of Philippians is great apologetics verse defending the deity of Christ. We never let the truth of this warning, this encouragement, this exortation sink into our hearts. Because of our hard-heartedness, our sinfulness, hundreds of lives have literally been destroyed. Christ has been robbed of glory. I beg you to listen. No matter how hard this message is to enact in your own life, I promise you that it is easier than what will inevitably happen if you are divided.
About a year-and-a-half ago Kiki and I, as leaders in our church in Phoenix, were invited to an emergency meeting where it was announced that because some people had decided that our pastor was not "sober minded" or "self controlled' one of our elders and some leaders were leaving the church. Immediately factions began forming. Those who were leaving began to meet with people in the church to defend their actions and thereby defame the pastor. Those who had decided to stay did likewise and began have lunch with as many people in the church as possible trying to justify their support for the pastor and trying to make the deserters look as foolish as possible. Best friends became enemies speaking about one another but never to one another. False rumors began flying around town. "Did you hear the pastor committed adultery?" "Mary left the church because she is mad at Bob." "Joe is going to leave the church next week." "Did you know?" "I heard..." "Do you think?" An 800 member church was decimated in a matter of weeks over an issue that should have been handled in private. Rumors ruined relationships. Because we did not heed the message of Philippians 2:5 our testimony to other Christians as well as the millions of non-Christians in Phoenix was horribly damaged.
Paul wrote this message to one of the most spiritually mature churches that he knew. It is one of his most encouraging letters to one of his favorite churches. He founded the Church at Philippi on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12-40) and visited not once, but twice on his next trip (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Acts 20:6). The Philippians were some of Paul's biggest supporters. This is really a letter thanking the Philippians for their most recent in a long series of huge financial gifts (2 Cor 8:1-4; Phi 4:10). Nevertheless, despite their maturity and godliness, the church needed to hear a very important message: Be United In Humility. This is the message that our church needed to hear. I think this is a message that every church, every believer needs to hear.
Have this attitude in yourselve which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servants, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on cross.
Stop. Before we even go on, just stand in awe at what that just said. Christ was God, but in order to be obedient to the father and out of love for us, he humbled himself. God humbled himself. The only being in existance who has no reason to be humble, came down from His perfect throne to become a humble servant. The King of Kings, who created every subatomic particle and formed them together in atoms and molecules. He made bacteria, ants, birds, trees, whales, and people. In only a creative Word his power expressed itself by created light. "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Just stand in reverent awe at the God who we serve. YET, this King of Kings, in obedient humility to the Father out of love for us, did not hang onto this position, but he took on a most humble likeness, the likeness of a man.
Lest we still in our arrogance think that being a man is not very far to stoop let me read you a paragraph from one of my favorite author's John Piper on our worth, on the chasm that exists between fallen humanity and our awesome, Holy God:
I have heard it said, "God didn't die for frogs. So he was responding to our value as humans." This turns grace on its head. We are worse off than frogs. They have not sinned. They have not rebelled and treated God witht eh contempt of being inconsequential in their lives. God did not have to die for frogs. They aren't bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great, only a divine sacrifice could pay for it.
"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We didn't deserve sacrifice. So while there was nothing grace-earning about us, he still humbled himself. We deserved divine wrath. We were given divine sacrifice. If we continue reading in Philippians we see that because of His obedience, God the Father exalted the son to the highest place. Our humble, almighty leader who we are to humbly emulate is Jesus Christ the Lord before whom every knee in heaven, on earth, and under the earth shall bow.
Look at the text where we started, chapter 2, verse 5, "What is the command?" Have THIS attitude among yourselves. What attitude? This looks back at verses 1-4. This attitude is Christ's attitude. Motivated by Christ, comforted by His love, united in the Spirit, living affectionately and mercifully with one another, we are commanded to:
- Be Unified (2:2)
- Be Humble (2:3)
- Be Selfless (2:4)
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind. (Philippians 2:2)
We are to think the same way, love the same way, have the same spirit, and have the same purpose. How do we do that? We look to Christ. We think of ourselves last and God's glory first. We love the way Christ loved. Christ's love was a perfect love. A love that worked for the benefit of others. A love that moved Jesus to step down from heaven into flesh and to die. We are to act in one accord, the Greek means "one-souled". The way we live with each other should reflect the reality that we have the same Spirit living inside of us uniting us in Christ. We are to have the same purpose: the Glory of God. There are infinitely many facets to the way that this will play itself out, but I just want to look at one right now, judging charitably. My church failed in this point. I failed in this point. As an example for discussion let me tell you a story that I once heard:
I knew it. I knew he was too proud to take criticism, and now I have proof. The previous Sunday Anne had dropped a prayer card in the offering plate asking her pastor to stop by and pray for her before a minor surgery that she was going to have that week. He did not make it. So he called the church secretary and found out the the pastor was at the hospital that same day visiting another member. "So he has no excuse. He was in the building and he knew that I needed his support, and still he ignored me. He's resented me ever since I told him that his sermons lacked practical application. And he calls himself a shepherd" After brooding over his rejection for 3 days, Ann wrote his pastor an email confronting the pastor about his pride, defensiveness, and hypocrisy. As she sealed the envelope she couldn't help thinking about the conviction that he was going to feel while reading that letter. The moment she walked into chuch the next morning one of the members hurried over and said, "Ann, when I took the prayer cards out of the plate last week I accidentaly left yours in with the offerings. I didn't realize the mistake until last night while I was totally the pledges." Then up walks the pastor with a big smile saying, "Ann, I was thinking about your comment about practical application as I finished my sermon yesterday. I think you'll notice the difference in todays message." All she could think about was clicking the "Send" button. She had judged wrongly.
Now let's read what Paul writes about Agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, the same type of love that he refers to here in Philippians:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
That sounds a lot like Christ, huh? How could Ann's situation have been different if she would have sought unity by loving her pastor for the glory of God? Have you thought negatively about somebody in this church? Was it loving? Did it build unity? Was there any possible way that the negative judgment you made of another person was wrong. This is when we need charitable judgement:
Charitable judgment is when, out of love for others, you believe the best possible thing about somebody else until you have irrefutable facts to prove otherwise. If you can reasonably interpret facts in two or more possible ways, you embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others
Paco, lets say that you were walking by Roberto's tienda and there was a magazine with a picture of Kobe Bryant is the middle of a amazing slam dunk on the cover. You can't help but stop and stare at it in awe. Now let's say that somebody from the church drove by and saw you staring at the magazine rack and assumed that you must be looking at the one that they saw there last week with the girl in the tiny bikini or maybe even a Playboy. When that person comes to accusing you of looking at pornography what are you going to do? You're going to defend yourself; you don't want your character defamed.
Now think of the other side. If somebody comes up to you and tells you that they saw Paco staring at a Playboy at Roberto's tienda, what do you do? Do you go tell all the jovenes the news so that they can be praying for Paco. Do you listen and store that information in your heart in case you need some ammunition against Paco in the future. Or do you say, "Have you gone and talked with Paco yourself?" Do you try to defend Paco.
There's an important concept here. Christ didn't die for us because we deserved it or because He knew that we would fully honor Him in that death. No, he died for us "while we were still sinners" knowing full well that we would take advantage of His grace. Do you only judge charitably when you feel that somebody deserves it? Do you only judge charitably if somebody hasn't betrayed your trust in the past.
I'm not saying at all that discernment and church discipline need to be ignored. But I am saying that when you have the ability to maintain unity by lovingly judging somebody favorably in order to keep unity you should. If somebody sins, especially when they sin against you, the correct plan of action to maintain unity is to go to them. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." (Matthew 18:15). Even in church discipline, the goal is to "gain your brother" to build unity where it has been broken. Far too often our mindset when we go to a fellow believer with whom we have a disagreement, our motives are guided by "rivalry or conceit." Rather than tearing down one another with conceited gossip, let's rather "Love one another with brother affection. Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10).
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
How easy is it to look out for yourself, but how much time do you spend looking out for others? Look at Christ, the only one who indeed was deserving of honor, honored others. He loved the unloved. He honored the dishonored. His gave all to us who had nothing to give in return. We are like the servant in Matthew 18 who was forgiven a debt that he couldn't have repaid in 10,000 lifetimes. Only let us not forget how great a debt that we have been forgiven. We have not been judged according to what we deserve, so let's be quick to give grace. Let be quick to give people what they don't deserve.
We live among sinful people. I'm sure we could make a list 100 items long of the problems with each person in this room. Are you more prone to make that list in your mind or the list of all the good things about the person?
Let's look at how we don't look out for others, how we aren't gracious in our judgment of others:
- We think negatively of the qualities of others.
- We think the worst of their words and actions.
- We think the worst of their motives.
If there is any possibility that their actions can be interpreted in a positive way and you judge negatively, the unity of the body will be damaged and the glory of God diminished. Let's list 3 ways that these harsh judgments do this:
- They damage relationships - "Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends."
- They are cancerous--Harsh judgments spoken aloud breed even more judgmental attitudes among the body. This is like cancer. The body attacks itself until body parts die.
- They can cripple a church--The church can no longer function as the body of Christ.
I thank God even for the horrible pain that our church went through so that I could learn this lesson. I saw, first-hand, how much damage this cancer can cause. Oftentimes in the rush to get rid of sin in the church we sin in a way far more destructive. That's why Paul warns in Galatians 6 that when we are working to restore another believer we look to ourselves first. Sin must be dealt with in the church. But before you are one who can deal with sin you must prayerfuly look at your own heart. "Am I being Christlike?" "Is my goal restoration or punishment?" "Do I count this brother I am judging as more important than myself?" "Is there any way that I could be wrong?" "Could it be better in this instance to overlook the wrong?" If as you analyze your heart in the way that you are thinking or have thought about another believer you realize that you are guilty of sinful critical judgement, what should you do?
- Confess it as sin. Confess that you have sinned against God, insulting his grace to you.
- Teach yourself the Gospel. Remind yourself, or ask another believer to help you remember, how much grace we have been given. Fall in love with God again.
- Ask God to help you judge charitably.We need His help
- Seek forgiveness from those misjudged. Humbly go and ask forgiveness.
- Break the cycle. Repent. Stop it and go to those who you may have shared your harsh judgment with and ask them forgiveness as well.
Read Matthew 18:21-35. Then end it with Colossians 2:13-14.