REJOICING IN A LIFE LIVED FOR OTHERS
Prayer: Dear Lord, we ask You to work in us so that we will and do Your good pleasure in our life with others. You begin the good work of faith and love in us; we ask You to complete it and strengthen our will to conform to Your will, so that we not only consider others more important than ourselves but even take joy in it and receive joy from it. Amen.
Sermon Text, Philippians 2:1-5, 12-18.
Dear people loved and purchased by God, in Christ, to be His own: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We heard last Sunday that the theme of Philippians is: “Rejoice!” In chapter 2, the apostle Paul says that what will “complete [his] joy” – and he’s speaking from God – is if these Philippians would show love to others.
Really? Does it matter that much to God? Does the joy of others depend in part on you, on your actions, your showing affection, sympathy, and kindness to others? Does what you do matter this much? God says: Yes.
What we’re hearing in Philippians 2 is a specifically Christian teaching about love. We hear lots of people talk about love. We hear lots of talk about empathy and compassion and kindness and community, and about not being selfish or conceited. The world does promote service to others.
But when St. Paul here speaks about “affection and sympathy,” and when he speaks against “selfish ambition and conceit,” and when he promotes “encouragement [and] comfort,” and he speaks of “communion” and being “in full accord and of one mind” – which is true community and oneness – it’s a very different thing from what the world is talking about.
It goes back to this question of whether your works of love matter that much to God, so that another person’s joy even depends in part on you, and whether you show love, affection, and sympathy to others. Out in the world you hear about “random acts of kindness,” but all of it is optional. It’s if you have the time for it, and if you don’t, well at least everything isn’t riding on it.
We get trained by the world in how to think about these things. So perhaps it’s time to let Scripture train us – or re-train us, since I think we either forget what’s taught here or we were never really taught this in the first place.
And here’s the difference in what we’re hearing from St. Paul:
This love is tied to faith. They can’t be separated, faith and love. Though we are saved by faith alone, without our works of love, yet this faith of yours doesn’t exist – can’t exist – without doing the works of love. But unlike in the world, they aren’t works that you decide on, or that are up to you. They’re the works of love God directs you to do; as St. Paul says in Ephesians, which He actually “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
Here St. Paul says: “If there is any encouragement in Christ.” We’re told to encourage, but here it’s specifically encouragement “in Christ.” He also says: “If there is any participation” – the word really means communion or togetherness – “in the Spirit,” which is the Holy Spirit. So there’s a community that isn’t based on flighty things that come and go, but it’s by the doing of the Holy Spirit. And finally, he says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”Or: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (NKJV). So it’s a mind, attitude, or thinking that Jesus had first.
Now we should realize, as we hear St. Paul appealing to them like this, that they needed him to give these appeals. Why? Because they had a problem with all these things. They were notencouraging in Christ, seeing themselves as a communion or community in the Holy Spirit, showing affection and sympathy, and they were doing things from selfish ambition or conceit. And using the language of his encouragements later in this chapter, they weren’t “doing all things without grumbling and disputing,” but they were full of grumbling as they went about their lives with each other.
But they weren’t the only ones. We have a problem with all these things. We have a problem with them in our individual lives. We also have a problem with them as a church, in the visible church on earth.
And our problem is this, that we are selective in our love. We’re selective on whom we give it to. We’re selective in when we give it – if we feel like it, or if we’re not too tired. And we know it. We might defend it, we might not. But underneath we know, we don’t feel good about how we love, we know that we’re lacking, but we’re stuck in the mud on it. You don’t want to keep responding so negatively, but you still do it. You don’t want to ignore or neglect someone, but somehow you don’t pick up the phone. You don’t want to be all about yourself or in your feelings, but you just go on that way.
But what does St. Paul say? “Let this mind be in you which was also” – or was first – “in Christ Jesus.” And then we skip over these verses since we them on Palm Sunday, but Paul goes on to describe how Christ came down from heard heaven and humbled Himself – made Himself nothing! – was obedient to the point of death on the cross, and then was highly exalted when He rose from the dead on the third day.
What St. Paul says about us, that we fail at – “in humility count others more significant than yourself” – Jesus did it perfectly. He did it to count for you! For His sake, you’re considered by God to have never ever failed at this. These sins are forgiven. You’re innocent, holy. Not by doing it yourself, but since Jesus did it for you. It’s by faith in Him that you get the benefit of this.
But then He’s not done. God wants you to do these things too. He wants these works of love from you. It’s not optional. Faith in Christ, and works of love, go together. As you grow in faith, you should be growing in love.
So He inspires St. Paul to say that the way Jesus was in this, the “mind” or attitude He had, that’s actually what God says you can have, with His help. These works of love – to actually give “encouragement in Christ,” to actually give “affection and sympathy,” to “count others more significant than yourself,” to “look not only to [your] own interest, but to the interests of others,” God gives these to you to do, as fruits of faith, what faith produces.
This is so different from the way the world wants to produce love. In the world this is pretty much just “things you do.” But St. Paul points out here, in verses 12 and 13, that they’re not merely “things you do” but it’s actually about “what you are.”
He says: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” It’s about the will, your will. God the Holy Spirit is working all the time, unseen by you, unfelt by you. He’s using His Word on you. He changes your will so that instead of the stubborn, egotistical Old Adam running you, your will conforms to God’s will, you want what God wants.
He softens your heart, He gives you affections and feeling for others, He makes you to be of one mind. The word that’s translated “in full accord” means, literally, “together-souls.” You thought you were just coming to church; but He makes us a church, a communion of the Spirit, “together-souls.”
Doing these works of love is a secondary way to have a good conscience. The first way is that Christ gives you a clean conscience, in His Word and in His Supper. He washes you clean. The second way is that you do His will, with His help. You can sleep well, because you know you’re doing what God wants. Your will conforms to His will. It’s the Holy Spirit who does this.
It’s not a little thing. St. Paul says you are “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” You may go unnoticed here but you shine with the glory God gives you.
We can take joy in this, as we will in heaven. Rejoice in life lived for others, produced by the Holy Spirit, who makes us “together-souls” in Christ. Amen!