This past Sunday, I continued my month-long series through Philippians on the topic of joy. For the sermon, I looked at 2:1-18—a rather lengthy chunk, and focused on the idea of having joy by living in the humility of Christ.
In that passage, Paul calls us to be unified and to be servants. These things bring joy to both church leaders (2:2) and church members (2:17-18). In the passage, Paul wrote one of the most succinct yet beautiful Christological statements we find in scripture, and it’s all to the point of encouraging us to be humble servants just as our Lord.
Paul reminds us that Jesus is God, yet when he lived on earth he did not make much of his godness. Instead, he took on our form and weaknesses. The God who never tires became tired. The God who needs nothing to eat became hungry. The God who is living water grew thirsty. The God who cannot be tempted was tempted in every way we are (yet without sin). It is a beautiful mystery in the incarnation where fully God and fully man came together in the one person of Jesus.
Then as the supreme act of selfless love, the God who is life and the giver of life died on a cross for the sake of our sin. In humble obedience, Jesus, God the Son, defeated death and was exalted as Lord of all by God the Father.
In this, Paul says: “Have the same mind”—a phrase he prefaced with don’t be selfish or solely self-focused, but consider others to be more significant than you and look out for their needs as well. In other words: love as Jesus loved and sacrifice as he sacrificed (as much as we are able).
Then in 2:12-13, Paul lays out our source of strength for this. The whole reason we’re able to obey as Jesus obeyed and the reason we can love and serve as Jesus did is because God is at work in us (echoing 1:6). Therefore, we can work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. To be more like Christ and to be able to pour ourselves out in service to others, we have to spend time with God—the working out of our salvation in the Word, prayer, and worship. It is just like Jesus did, time and time again, getting off alone with the Father that he could then go and give himself to serve others.
All of this serves as the foundation of the main thing I want to focus on with this post: having joy in the humility of Christ means we have to keep a check on our attitude.
In 2:14-18, Paul describes the attitude we are to have: holding fast to the word of Christ, we are to be joyful no matter the situation, and not be people who grumble, complain, or dispute. And why is this so important? Because having a good attitude is essential to being a witness for Jesus in the world. Paul writes that the world is dark—we live amongst a crooked and twisted generation. Too easily, if we don’t keep a check on ourselves, we can fall right into the trap of a sour and dour outlook that feeds the negativity. But Paul says: no, you’re to be lights in the darkness.
This is true, no matter our situation. That’s part of Paul’s point in 2:17. Again, he was in prison. He still had a few years left, but the end was growing near. His life felt like a sacrificial drink offering being poured out for the faith of others. It’s not fun to be the sacrifice—there is a loss of freedom and a loss of life. Yet, Paul says: “I’m going to rejoice in this. Just hold fast to the word of Christ (what I have taught you), that way when we all stand before Jesus I can be proud and say: ‘Here are your sheep from Philippi. They have followed you well!’”
So no matter what’s going on, we’re to choose to think and to act differently in Christ. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14).
What are “all things”? All things. So what are we free to grumble, complain, and dispute about? Nothing. And we all know, this is easier said than done, right? So how can we keep a check on our attitude, remain joyful, and be lights in the darkness? Seven suggestions:
1. Keep focused on Christ and what is good. In Philippians 4:8, Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Jesus is all of these. So think about Jesus and his ways, and think about what is good in life. The more we do that, the less time (and less heart) we’ll have to grumble and dispute.
2. Think the best about people and situations unless evidence shows otherwise (1 Corinthians 13:6-7). Of course, love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Love will not seek to ignore sin and sweep scandalous and hurtful things under the rug. Love will protect victims and involve authorities when necessary. But love also believes all things and hopes all things. Love first looks for the best in a person and in a situation, and it doesn’t default to seeing the worst. Love will not ignore evidence of wrongdoing, but love will believe the best until shown otherwise.
3. Talk to, not about, people (Romans 1:24, Matthew 18:15). When someone offends us or does something we think is wrong, one of our first instincts is to get on the phone (or facebook or twitter or texts), rally our friends, and tell our side to defend ourselves. They’re our friends, so they’ll want to believe and support us, even though they’re only hearing our side. The Bible calls this gossip and says it is a sin worthy of death and hell just like murder and sexual immorality.
Again, we are to call authorities when they need to be called. But in normal situations of sin and offense, we’re to go and talk to the person not gab to someone else. Which means, maybe instead of rallying the troops, we need to spend some time in prayer and some time meditating on scripture, and then go talk to the person and not about them.
4. Flowing from #3: deal graciously with sin; defer on preference (Matthew 18, Romans 14). If another has committed a sin, we need to confront that in love and grace. First in private, and if that doesn’t work then with another person or two, and if that doesn’t work then taking it before the church. Sin leads to hell, we’re to be in the business of pointing people away from hell and to Christ.
But then there are times where we get a bit miffed not because someone else has sinned, but because they have a different understanding or preference. In Romans 14, Paul teaches that the more spiritually mature person is to give deference in such things. So if we think ourselves mature, we need to respond to matters of preference by saying: “It might not be my thing, but I’m okay with that because Jesus is greater and better than my preferences.”
5. Find ways to encourage others (Ephesians 4:29). Paul was straightforward in his other letter: don’t let anything unwholesome come from your mouth, but only that which builds up other people. Think about what you say (or type) before you say it. Are you seeking to build up or to tear down? If the latter, then bite your tongue and repent of the attitude.
6. Don’t assume or try to judge motives (1 Corinthians 4:5). Neither you nor I are God. We cannot see into a person’s heart or mind. We can make assumptions about it, but assumptions about a person’s heart are rarely a good thing. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to judge each others’ actions, but let God be the judge of the heart. This, I believe, is part of why Jesus said elsewhere: if your brother sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes and says, “I repent,” then you must forgive him. We’re prone to want to say, “Well he didn’t mean it.” That’s not our place to judge.
7. Finally, remember: you too are imperfect and prone to sin, so deal with your life first (Matthew 7:1-5). Yes, help your brother or sister with the speck in their eye; but don’t whack them across the head with the plank sticking out of yours. Be dealing with your sin and your attitude, and you’ll be in a good position to help them with theirs.