Date: December 16, 2018
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Series: The Christmas Revolution
Scripture: Philippians 2:1–2:11
How would you persuade a group of people from diverse backgrounds and a tendency to be a little selfish to live in a way that reflects loving service of others?
This was one of the issues facing Paul in Philippians chapter 2. We learn this pride festered and created a lack of unity. Selfishness blossomed and there was a tendency toward conceit and isolationism. I find some encouragement in the fact that the issues haven’t changed very much in 2,000 years. If we are being honest, we are still trending toward selfishness at the expense of service. It’s hard to be humble.
How do you deal with issue? How does Paul do it? It’s interesting. He deals with it be dropping one of the most profound and powerful Christological teachings in the entire Bible on them. He gives them rich and weighty theology. In other words, the doctrine in the Bible is meant to affect how we live.
This morning it is my goal to persuade you that Jesus’s sacrificial love is the model and motivation for our love. That is, if we want to love in a way that reflects God’s love then we must consider —and continue to consider — who Jesus is and what he has done.
We'll consider requirements for reflecting Christ-like love
This is where we begin to see why love is so difficult.The issue is not that we don’t know how to love, but that we have a hard time not loving ourselves so much. In other words, love is hard because humility is hard. It is hard to set ourselves aside for the sake of others.
But this is exactly what we see here this passage. Look again at verses 3-4, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”
Let’s think about this together. Paul writes to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.
Notice that this is comprehensive. We are not here considering simply an occasional action or some type of unusual display of virtue. No, this is type of humility and willful setting aside of ourselves is to be the characteristic of our lives.
Notice also that we are talking about the motives. These are the matters of the heart. To be sure, there are actions that will take place. But we are to see here that the actions are sourced first in the heart. They are in the hidden places of the motive.
We see that the Bible prohibits doing anything from selfish ambition or conceit.
What does this mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean that we never do anything that would benefit ourselves. The Bible is not here forbidding doing things in self-interest. Each day we all do things in our own self-interest. We eat food, bathe, work, and other things. To do such things is not selfish. Going to university to learn or splitting wood to burn for heat are matters of self-interest. They are not here prohibited by the Bible as selfish ambition.
But there is a selfishness that is prohibited. One person observed, concerning this verse that the Bible is referring to a wrong attitude toward yourself in what you are aiming for and toward how you assess things. In other words, with ourselves in the center, we have an attitude of self-seeking and then when we assess things we have ourselves as the primary concern. It’s about vainglory or conceit. We do this so naturally, it’s like we have a predisposition towards it. It’s like when you see a picture with yourself in a group of people. Who are you drawn to look at first? There’s nothing wrong with this of course. But, it serves to illustrate the way we are naturally drawn to consider ourselves first. When we remember that our internal navigation system is inherently flawed — we aim at the wrong thing and then assess it improperly — then we can likely see the danger that is about us.
What is so unnatural is what we read in the next verse. We are to look out not primarily for ourselves but for others first. This is so hard because our reflex is “me first” not others first.
But this is what the Bible is commanding all of those who follow Jesus to do.
Think about what a revolutionary statement this is. “Count others more significant than yourselves.” How in the world can we do this? Well, he gives us the answer: in verse 3. In humility.
What a word. Humility. It stands in stark contrast to selfishness. One has said humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It’s not diminishing your personal dignity but it is reordering your personal priorities. Instead of bearing the sour milk of selfishness it has sweet fruit of self-forgetfulness.
Imagine a world where everyone considered the interests of others over themselves? What a wonderful place it would be where people joyfully and willingly set themselves aside in order to bless others with their own sacrificial service. Can you imagine this? No one would lack because everyone would care for each other. There would be no arguments, slander, gossip, or hurtful speech.
This sounds like heaven. It is the new creation breaking in and dawning. It is the characteristic of the new creation. It’s what the church is to be and do. We are to be people who set ourselves aside.
Why? Because we follow Jesus. And as we see here in these verses, he is the one who set himself aside and considered the interests of others, even us. To follow him then means we live like he did.
Jesus sacrificial love is the model and motivation for how we live and love.
Let’s move on to our second requirement for reflecting Christ-like love: see that nothing is beneath you.
In order to instruct and motivate people towards humility, Paul shines a spotlight on Jesus. As we will see, not only is Jesus the greatest model he is theperfect motivation.
First, he tells us to share the mind of Christ. We are too think like Jesus. We are to think Christianity. How does Jesus think? How does Jesus evaluate things?
This is why I titled this point, see that nothing is beneath you. We have to have it in our minds before we can put it into practice. I suppose it would also be helpful to note that this is not natural. As we’ve already seen, to live in humility is to live in a way that goes against the grain of our natural inclinations. We tend to go towards ourselves not others. Therefore, to do this requires that you and I work at it. It’s intentional. We cannot rely on instinct to accomplish things that are foreign to us.
How then do we go about thinking like Christ? Well, we have to revisit the details of the gospel. We have to flip over the boulders of grace and inspect them to learn about them. We must spend time in the university of Jesus to learn why he did what he did even as we think about what he actually did.
As we walk through these verses and rehearse the incarnation we’ll see the sacrificial love of Christ on display. Also, as we walk through this I want you to think about progressing down a flight of stairs. With each detail, it is as if we are walking further down the steps of humility.
Let’s walk down these steps together. To do this, we need to start at the top. And we must get this in order to have the rest of the frame in focus.
Look at verse 6: though he was in the form of God
Though he was in the form of God. This is where it begins. This is the pinnacle. The text here is teaching that Jesus is and forever has been God. In his being, his essence, he is God. The Bible teaches there is only one God. And this one God exists in three coequal and coeternal persons who love, enjoy, and glorify one another, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Within the one God there are three distinct persons.
Here Paul is reminding us, at the top of the pinnacle that Jesus is God. You can’t start off any higher than this.
Then we begin to make our descent down. And remember, we are talking about learning the mind of Christ and reflecting it ourselves. We are to see how love is expressed through sacrifice. Watch and learn from Christ.
Consideration. Jesus did not consider or count equality with God a thing to be grasped. There is a consideration of this. As we have noted before, Jesus as God, existed prior to the creation of the World. Therefore he is outside of time. And it was here in God’s mind that he chose to initiate his love upon others—prior to the creation of the world. In order for this to happen, to be successful, Christ had to embrace his role.
We read that he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. This word can refer to grabbing something like a robber or clinging to something to protect or hold onto. I think it’s referring to this second sense here. Jesus, though he himself is eternal God with all of the rights and privileges of divinity, his attitude was not one of clinging to this or clutching it. He was willing to loosen his clutch upon his divine privileges for a season. It is very important to be clear here. The Bible is not teaching (nor am I saying) that Jesus was willing to lay aside his divine nature for a season but rather he was willing to set aside some of the privileges associated with him being God. Jesus never stopped being God, he simply gave up some of his rights in order to serve. He sacrificed himself in order to serve us. The king took off the crown and robe to put on the apron of service.
This is what we see here in verse 7, but emptied himself. This is a very important step down in humility. What does it mean that Jesus emptied himself?
Well, as I said it does not mean that he emptied himself of his deity. He never stopped being God. This is clear throughout the Scriptures. Jesus and the Apostles maintain that he is God throughout the Bible. And it is important to note that they did.
In simple terms, the emptying has to do with a self-self-renunciation or a setting aside of himself and his rights. Jesus became a man. This is what’s involved in this emptying. To become a man he had to set aside certain privileges. What are they? Here are some, briefly.
Jesus gave up the glory of heaven. Remember, he was enthroned in the glory of heaven and enveloped in the praise of all prior to coming. He enjoyed the face to face glory and relationship within the Trinity (Jn. 17:3).
Jesus gave up eternal riches. Jesus goes from riches to rags. He was homeless and poor. This is the eternal God we are talking about.
Jesus gave up the independent use of his attributes. We see Jesus as a man living in voluntary submission to the Holy Spirit’s direction and even embracing what seems like limitations on him. Simply by virtue of taking up human flesh, he is limited in his omnipresence. But also, we see Jesus sleeping, eating, and even at times not using the full arsenal of his divinity in order to fulfill his role. This humanity is his emptying.
Jesus gave up the privilege of uninterrupted Trinitarian joy. In the garden, prior to the cross, Jesus is sweating drops of blood as he looks ahead to the cross. He is anticipating the impending wrath. The coming doom of Calvary. He is anticipating seeing God face to face, not in the joyful reflection of the Trinity, but in the wrathful expression of a judge. This he would do for us.
And so it was. Prior to the creation of the world, Christ Jesus agreed to take on this position of a servant. The infinite and holy God agreed to this work. He would walk down these steps of humiliation. Because love sacrifices.
Well, the steps continue to progress further down in humble, loving, sacrifice. We have seen the consideration, the emptying, now let’s think about the humanity of Christ.
Humanity. We read in verse 7 that this emptying resulted in Jesus being born in the likeness of men and that he was, verse 8, in human form. Jesus really did become a human. Though he retained his divinity he also added humanity. It’s a very difficult concept, but the Son of God, Jesus, had two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. He was very God of very God and fully man. Not 99% man and 1% God. He was not a man who became God. He was 100% God and 100% God. If it’s difficult to understand, that’s okay. It’s supposed to. It’s not routine. It’s a miracle.
Andrew talked about this last week in his sermon on the incarnation. But in short, Jesus took on all of the essential attributes of humanity. He was tired, ate, slept, sweat, cried, felt hunger—everything we feel and encounter. With one exception—he never sinned. He entered into humanity and identified with all of the basic needs of being a man including our weaknesses, yet without sin. He was truly God and fully man.
Servant. The steps continue to go down. Verse 7 says he took the form of a servant. More literally this reads he became a slave.
Who does he serve?
In one sense he serves God. He accomplishes his will and work. He does this perfectly.
In another sense he serves people. He comes to serve us.
A perfect illustration of this is found in John’s gospel. In the 13th chapter we read:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus here is doing the service that no one would do. He is the king and he stoops down to do the work of foot washing. His whole life was a washing of the feet. He set himself aside in order to serve others.
Death. But not only his life, but also his death was service. We march down these steps of Christ’s service into the dungeon of humiliation and we are struck by the spacing in between these steps. There seems to be quite a drop off from service to death. Isn’t it? But when we see this all in light of who is doing it, it is all an infinite step-down.
As God, he is the author of life. Now, he, the mighty maker would die. Why did he have to die?
He did not die of old age. He wasn’t surprised and murdered. No, he had to die because of our sin. He did this in humility. It was in love that he did this.
Cross. We take another step down here. Jesus did not die privately in a home. He was not peacefully laid to rest after dying in jail. No. Jesus died in the most public, gruesome, and shameful way known to man. It was barbaric and brutal. The cross was a public monument to Rome’s power. It testified to the fate of all who would oppose them. If you oppose us you get this. It was intended to make a point.
And so it did.
After being beaten almost to death. Jesus was stripped naked. And he had spikes driven into his hands and feet to hold him upon this cross. Then he was hoisted upright, suspended in air but affixed to the cross. Feeling the weight of his body down upon the nails he would have adjusted on his flayed back against the splintery wood of the cross. Up and down he would go gasping for breath amid the unspeakable horror that is the cross.
And why? He was loving. He was sacrificing. He was serving.
There on the cross, there was something invisible happening. Behind the gruesome human torture, there was invisible divine judgment.
The wages of sin or the paycheck of sin is death. Since all of us have sinned against God we deserve death. We deserve divine judgment.
Jesus on the cross was suffering and dying for the penalty of our sins.
You might say, How did Jesus pay for sin in such a short time? The cross lasted only a day while hell lasts forever?
The answer lies in the fact that Christ, by virtue of the fact that he was divine was able to offer an infinite and perfect sacrifice. If we were to go and suffer in hell for our sins we would never be able to pay for our sin. Because God is infinite he requires and infinite payment. This is why hell must last forever. And, it is why Christ’s payment on the cross was sufficient.
Nobody has given up more than Christ has.
We have not walked down the steps of humiliation and loving sacrificial service.
And as we stand together in the shadow of verse 8, the shadow of the cross is upon us. We are meant to be hushed and made to feel small there, even as he appears so large.
We think about others in the Bible where there has been an attempt to snatch glory from God (consider Satan, Babel, Nebuchadnezzar, and even us).
Two quick items to consider.
First, have you ever considered that this service described here was for you? This love, this sacrifice. No one has loved you like this. Maybe you think you don’t deserve love like this. The truth is, we don’t. It’s a gift. It’s grace. It’s the gospel, the good news. Have you received his love?
Second, if you are a Christian, how will Jesus’ humble, sacrificial love affect your service of others?
How could we as Christians ever say that any sacrifice or service is beneath us?
How could we as Christians ever say that anyone is not worthy of our service or love?
What have you sacrificed to love like Jesus?
His example of service is the perfect model.
Christmas is about sacrifice. The king took off the crown and his royal robe in order to be a servant who stoops down to wash feet. In his service, this king would be crowned and robed though. He wore a crown of thorns and the garments of our unrighteousness. The one who deserves all creatures of our God and king to bow before him stooped down to wash our feet.
We find here that the humiliation was not the end of the story. There are other clauses in that divine contract. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made an eternal covenant or an oath with obligation. And part of this covenant was that Christ would be resurrected or raised from the dead and that he would be exalted as the King.
Christ humbled himself for the work of sacrificial service and then was exalted by God.
This teaches us something theologically, but it also teaches us an important axiom of the Christian life: the way down is the way up.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)
It puts everything in perspective.
There is coming a day when every knee will bow before Christ.
We see here also the motivation for our service. Not that we ourselves would be exalted but that Christ would be.
In our loving service of others—when we sacrifice in a way that reflects Christ and points to his worth—we are glorifying God. We are saying, “Christ is King!” We are in effect bowing our knee before him.
However, when we are selfish we are saying something very different, aren’t we?
The one who poured himself out for us desires and deserves that we pour ourselves out in service of him and one another.
Jesus’s sacrificial love is the model and motivation for our love. That is, if we want to love in a way that reflects God’s love then we must consider —and continue to consider — who Jesus is and what he has done.
Nothing is beneath us because nothing was beneath him.
We set ourselves aside, knowing the way down is the way up.
May our lives be a blank check to God in Christ.