Philippians 2:1-13 Common English Bible
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.
We are a people created for relationship. Adam was alone and God saw that he needed companionship, so he created Eve. That was the beginning. Relationships – we have them, all kinds. There is the relationship that exists between a husband and a wife, between friends, among colleagues, with neighbors, even the relationships we share in the Body of Christ. Today, as I offer this sermon, I invite you to be listening from where you are. What are the relationships that are important to you this day? Verse 4 of our opening hymn this morning set the stage. “For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”
Some relationships are better or stronger than others. Take two friends we might all be familiar with. It is Charlie Brown and Lucy. Their relationship is an interesting one. Take their relationship around football. This PowerPoint Slide shows Lucy trying to convince Charlie Brown to kick the football – she will hold it for him! Wait for it ……! Just as Charlie Brown comes full speed at the football … Lucy pulls it away and Charlie Brown goes flying through the air with an “Aaaarrggghhhh!” She is always pictured with a great big grin on her face. Not the best relationship, wouldn’t you agree. Though it is consistent.
Why is it important to have good relationships? Probably at the top of the list is that they feed us. We need good, positive relationships. Beyond that, it is an Invitation for us to care about others. To get out of ourselves and bless someone else. The very best ones are two way relationships – I care for you and you care for me, not out of obligation but from connection. Think about the relationship between a Husband and wife. When there is a mutual caring the relationship is strong. It can endure all the challenges that life throws at it. It adds beauty to life. It strengthens purpose for both in the relationship. The same applies to relationships with children, with co-workers or with neighbors. That very same quality of mutual caring brings out the best in relationships in the Body of Christ, the church. In the context of our passage this morning (and the section just prior in 1:27-30) Paul would say strong relationships help us stay strong together in the struggles of living. They also help us as we are living into the gospel and what it means for living. Paul was speaking to the Christian Community in Philippi. Paul knows the power of good relationships. In Philippians 1:27 he says, “Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel.” Keep in mind “spirit and mind” as we continue throughout our passage. Knowing the struggles that the church was already going through, and the ones yet to come – especially under Roman rule – Paul calls them to good relationships. Relationships built on “united in one mind and spirit.”
So, how did Jesus so easily connect with people? We see people coming to him for all kinds of reasons. Yet none is so poignant than the interaction between Jesus and the woman while he is having dinner in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. (Mark 14:3-9). She comes during dinner, breaks a very expensive jar of perfume and pours it on Jesus’ head. She gave a huge gift that day, indicating how powerfully Jesus had blessed her life. You see, Jesus went to people. He met them as they were and where they were, and not how or where he wanted them to be. He accepted them, and invited them to deeper, more meaningful life. In essence he invited them to a relationship with him. That is the essence of accepting the gospel message – to enter into relationship with Jesus. Hear how Paul describes Jesus in our passage in verses 6-8. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. 7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is exactly what made relationship with Jesus so easy. You met Jesus on a one-to-one basis. He didn’t lord anything over you though, obviously, he could have. We can learn a lot about relationships from Jesus.
The first secret of good relationships is in verse 4 – “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” Do you hear the mutuality expressed there? It changes our perspective on life. It is not about what we can get out of a relationship, it is about what we put in. We don’t care for or about someone else just to feather our bed. Jesus taught in Luke 14:12 that we are to invite folks to dinner to bless them, not so that we will get an invite in return. Looking to the needs of others, we invite them into relationship. Yes, relationships are a two-way street, but we don’t get into relationships for what we can get out of them. We are called to covenant living – each giving 100% to the relationship. As an example, consider the wedding vows. The nature of the covenant is familiar. In the ritual from 1964 both husband and wife are asked the same question. “… will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto her so long as you both shall live?” A newer version says, “Will you take this woman to be your wife, and will you give yourself to her in all love and honor, in all duty and service, in all faith and tenderness, to live with her and cherish her from this moment and forever?” Then in the vows it says, “ I take you to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.” Or in a less traditional sound, “I love you as I love no other. All that I am I share with you. I take you to be my husband through sickness and health, through poverty and plenty, through joy and sorrow, now and forever.” These are words of commitment and the offering of oneself to another – for their good!
The best relationships are based on mutual concern. That is hard sometimes to accomplish. There are times when we have tremendous needs, weights that we are carrying, and we need the other to be there for us. This secret to good relationships is that if we have created a culture of caring for each other, you will be there for them, and they will be there for you.
I’d like to share with you a practical view of “there for you:” Some years ago I heard the story of an Indianapolis Church that was confronted by a big question. They had the opportunity to buy some land that surrounded their church and build a new ministry center. The congregation was divided on the question, and tensions were running high. It seemed as if they were at an impasse. Knowing that making a decision without resolving the tensions would be a disaster, the pastor asked the people in a meeting to pair off with someone of the opposite opinion. Then they were to discuss the issue by arguing from the position that was the opposite of theirs. The clarity that emerged from understanding the opposite opinion more thoroughly was amazing. A decision was reached, and all concerned felt that they had truly been heard and honored. That is what good relationships can do.
I would like you to listen again to verse 2 in both the Common English Bible and the New Revised Standard Version. “… complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.” (CEB) “… make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Paul is not advocating that good relationships imply we will all think alike and agree on everything. Instead, when Paul talks of being of one mind he is talking about having a common attitude or orientation – an attitude of love and one accord. He is speaking of joined souls that seek the best for the other person. Paul’s hope for us is good relationships.
As I said earlier, it is not always easy. Things come up that can test a relationship to the breaking point. This brings me to the second secret of good relationships. In best relationships God is always the third person in the relationship. Listen again to verse 13. “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” It is God’s power that enables us to live in this kind of covenant relationship. When Janna and I were doing a Marriage Encounter Weekend in Grand Junction, Colorado, there was a painting at the head of the bed. It was a picture of three cowboy boots. One was obviously a woman’s boot, one was obviously a man’s boot. But the one in the center had a “cross” in it’s leather upper. It became a powerful symbol for a meditation we did on Saturday morning with the couples. Our marriage stands strong if the Lord is in the middle of it! In relationships with our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our neighbors, our community, our church – If God is in the middle of that relationship it will thrive and be life-giving.
I would like to close with Romans 15:4-6. “Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. 6 That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice.” May our relationships take on the character of Christ, and may we ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Amen
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Pastor Paul Grossman