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Sunday, September 14, 2014

We Belong to God (Philippians 2:1-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 14, 2014
Text: Philippians 2:1-8

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: jazz piano, Rick Bean
Song of Praise: "In My Life, Lord" (Bob Kilpatrick)
Hymn of Praise: "Before the Throne of God Above" (Bancroft/Cook; ref. Barnard)
Offering of Music: jazz piano, Rick Bean
Song of Sending: "He is Lord" (Word Music)
Postlude: jazz piano, Rick Bean

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)

Two weeks ago, we looked at a passage from 1 Corinthians 3 as we talked about the ministries of Good Shepherd belonging to God through you, the members. The passage you heard today as the call to worship is the conclusion of that great chapter:
21 …For all things belong to you, 22 whether…the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
I said then that we would spend this fall looking at what it means to belong to God, individually and as a church. If we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God, then our best indication of what it means to belong to God is to look at Christ. And there is no better or more foundational text for that than Philippians 2:1-8, which describes the character of Christ in terms that we are to emulate.

So today we begin a series called, “We Belong to God.” In today’s foundational text of belonging, Paul challenges us to be like Jesus… that is, to live in humility. To do so, says Paul, will have extraordinary results, not only in our life, but in other’s lives, and in relation to God.

Since These Things are True… (v. 1)

Our text begins with a series of “IFS”. But Paul is not raising a question of whether these things exist, but using the certainty of their existence to then challenge us to be like Christ. Let’s look first at this list to understand what it looks and feels like to belong to Christ. I also want to turn them around to state them positively as true claims for your life in Christ. If you ever find yourself doubting Christ, these are the kinds of tangible expressions of Christ’s presence in his Church that we can latch onto. We will then turn to the question of HOW exactly we are to be like the one to whom we belong.

There is encouragement in Christ (v. 1) – Have you ever felt the encouragement of being a Christian? Maybe someone from church has called to check up on you or given you a hug on Sunday morning. Maybe you’ve received the letter from the church staff at just the right time, saying that we’ve prayed for you. Maybe you’ve heard a song or hymn or read some scripture that encouraged you when you were discouraged. Encouragement is one of the tangible ways in which Christians experience God’s presence.

There is consolation of love (v. 1) – This is an extension of the encouragement in Christ. This is also something I hope you have tasted in your life, particularly here at Good Shepherd. Consolation of love is the knowledge that you are not alone. God loves you and is with you. Your brothers and sisters in this church family love you and are with you. That is the consolation of love – extended when you are in crisis, offered when you are in need and needing support, given freely out of Christian love. It is a tangible expression of God’s presence.

There is fellowship of the Spirit (v. 1) – Building on the consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit is the constant connection Christians feel with one another, particular as they gather to worship in community. The fellowship of the Spirit is the Bible’s way of talking about what is so tangible here – the quality of community that we often call “church family.” It’s why our call to community time runs so full and free, even more than the social time around the snack table. We are bonded together because of the Holy Spirit and we are having fellowship – community together because of Christ. This is a supportive and tangible way we experience God’s presence.

There is affection and compassion (of the Spirit, in Christ) (v. 1) – Paul goes on to describe two of the qualities of living and worshiping together with one another in the Holy Spirit. There is true affection for one another. I think that is one of the most evident proofs of the presence of Christ here (Good Shepherd). There is also compassion, toward one another and outwardly towards the community and world around us. As we come to know God’s presence in our own lives, we become able to take note of those around us and extend the good news of Jesus Christ and the peace of God to others. This is what Paul describes in vv. 3-4 as humility – regarding others as more important than ourselves – and then as compassion – looking out for the interests of others. When God is at work in our lives, we turn the inward joys of encouragement, consolation, fellowship, and love outward to others. This is what fuels our searchlight ministry!

Each of these qualities – encouragement, consolation, fellowship, affection, and compassion – is descriptive of what happens when we share the mind, love, spirit, and purpose of Jesus Christ. Verses 2-4 expand on what those traits look like in community.
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
This is what happens when we emulate and follow Jesus in humility and obedience to God. Let’s look at HOW we do this.

Little Christs

You may have heard before that the word “Christian” means “little Christs.” My understanding is that this name was originally given to the followers of Jesus by the Roman emperors who were killing these people who declared a Lord greater than Caesar. It was their commitment and obedience to this Jesus Christ that led to the name “little Christs” or “Christians.”

That is at the heart of how we are to experience God’s presence and blessing in our lives. Paul says we are to be like Jesus. It’s so simple and so foreign to us! But Paul says it twice in this passage:

    …[be] of the same mind (v. 2)

    Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus… (v. 5)

Let’s look first at what attitude was in Jesus, then we’ll consider how we might share the same attitude, with the result that we might experience the blessings of God’s active presence in our life, which we’ve already talked about.

What was Jesus’ attitude? It was complete and perfect humility. Look at three different acts of humility.

Humility before God – he “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (v. 6)

Though Jesus was fully God, fully divine, he did not reach or cling to divinity as Adam was tempted to do, but “released” his place and right as God in order to do God’s will and serve God’s purpose.

Service to God – he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (v. 7)

This humility translated into obedience and service to God, whereby Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a human being, a servant of God. Jesus demonstrated this humble obedience in a living parable to his disciples when he, their teacher, donned the towel and washed their feet.

Humility and compassion towards human beings – “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (v. 8)

That humility become obedience then became acted out obedience and compassion toward the human race, as Jesus suffered and died, fulfilling God’s saving plan for the world.

Belonging to Jesus, Belonging to God

I wonder if you are asking yourself, “Which comes first… knowing and belonging to Christ or imitating and following him?” It sounds here like Paul is somehow saying both; and I think he is. It’s not contradictory; it’s a self-sustaining and faith-building dynamic. Do you already know Christ? Then imitate him. Do you want to know Christ or know him more? Then imitate him!

What we imitate about Jesus is not just his attitude but also his actions. And while we do not act to save the world from sin, we do act to show God’s compassion and grace to our neighbors. We are to be “little Christs” to the world around us.

So, like Jesus, we are to have the attitude of HUMILITY before God. We are to let go of the tendency to create false gods and set ourselves up as #1 in the universe. We are to recognize God’s divinity and utter right to be God over us.

That Christian attitude of humility produces the attitude of OBEDIENCE and SERVICE, which is also an action. We obey God by listening to His Word and following it. We obey God by serving and worshiping God. We obey God by joining in His mission to the world – to seek and save the lost. We “empty ourselves” of all that would keep us from God, confessing sin to God and turning from darkness to God’s face.

And this humility, obedience, and service is manifest most clearly in a COMPASSION and LOVE towards fellow human beings. Even as Jesus was willing to suffer and die for humanity, so we are to go all out in caring for those around us. This is our mission and it is our privilege.

If you know or have known what it is to belong to Jesus, live out those things! If you want to know and belong to Jesus or know him more, live out those things! And hear this good news: through Jesus, you belong to God! Amen.

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