17th Sunday after Pentecost

September 27, 2020


1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection
and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be 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, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:1-18 ESV)

Paul is under house arrest writing his letter back to the Philippians because they had sent Epaphroditus to help him with their financial support. Last week we heard how chains might limit him – and bind the soldier on guard to him – but the Gospel is not bound, is not chained, and words when spoken are ‘out there’ and many in the Praetorian Guard, it seems, were being converted to Christ. Together, Paul in Rome and they in Philippi, were involved in the same life in Christ, the same suffering, as they face the future whether he lives or dies – a future we all face each day.

And concerned as he is about them, Paul now encourages them to live well together, to stay together, and to be a
united, unified, a unity – he uses the words ‘being of the same mind, having the same love’ – because living in this
world which is not neutral to Jesus and means Christians are subject to struggles from those who would chain them up – but also from within. And we all know that a good way for a congregation to fracture and to disintegrate is to be plagued by selfishness and conceit, one-upmanship, and arrogance which makes other people feel less because they are treated as less. I recently heard the year 2020 described as the ‘year that keeps taking’ and if we meet that in people then we don’t want to be near such people.

But it is a funny thing to emphasise humility. To praise it isn’t so bad. And to encourage it is ok. But how do you
monitor it? Just the measuring of humility smacks of false humility – hey, look, I’m great at being more humble
than you?! Which perhaps is the reason that Paul doesn’t say that Christians don’t look to our own interests only –
of course we need be aware of our own interests – but it is when we stop looking at others, at those around us and
their needs that trouble brews. Humility is about seeing those around us and seeking their interests and it is with
that in mind that Paul points the Philippians and us to Jesus and to one of the most mentioned poems or hymns of
the Early Church and one we hear a lot in our lectionary.

Jesus is the example par excellence of humility and service – great and secure in himself – God who doesn’t cling
to his divinity but takes on humanity – empties himself to the point of death on a cross – and who is then raised and exalted by God the Father to glory and honour as Lord and who will be worshipped by all in heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth. Jesus’ life and action were totally focused on the needs of others and we live because of it. We are not the Saviour for others but we can serve them in Jesus’ name – and when a congregation lives like that, it
remains together and united. Paul saw that among them when he was there and he writes about it while he is
physically absent. God is working with us to bring about what is good in the world – for them in Philippi and for us
in our congregation and in our community.

Paul calls us to not grumble and dispute and here the words have a background which leads us to the people in the
wilderness grumbling about God not providing or when some people grumbled against Moses and Aaron (who
were not perfect to be sure but they were targets for grumbling with God). As the years rolled on in Paul’s life the
message of and about the Word of God, Jesus, was changed by people who wanted something from it, other than
Jesus and growing in him. Today nearly 2,000 years later it is infinitely worse where there are so many pedlars of
God’s Word preaching for all sorts of reasons and now it is a case of knowing the speaker by their message, their
fruit, or to put it another way, how much they point to Jesus and his cross while getting out of the way and not
wanting people to look at them.

What needs to be central in this world, for each person, and in relationships in this world – but most especially in
the Church! – is the clear message of Law and Gospel – the story of who human beings are, who God is, and what
God has done about us in Jesus Christ, and what that means for us and the world today – and it is lived out simply – I can describe it quickly and easily – but it takes a lifetime of doing and we never get it right each day – of serving others and trying to keep our selfish selves from speaking and acting. When we are young, we may not be too caring about others as we are so focused on ourselves. The older we get, there can be a more ‘take me as you find me, I’m not changing for anyone’ attitude. Both are selfish ways of behaving – whether blind or uncaring or arrogant who knows – but such attitudes and behaviour do not build relationships or communities or congregations. And it is only in looking to Jesus that we might see this and we might repent and amend our behaviour.

We all want to live life with as little stress as possible. Our selfish self believes deep down the less stressed life
happens when we are in control and everyone does what we say – and presto, we have less stress! However the
consequences for us and for those around us, I think, are usually pretty miserable quickly and long term.

If you want to have joy and peace as well as little stress as possible than fight your selfish self and follow Jesus and
be secure in his love, be confident that you are loved by God and never abandoned by him, and then choose to look
around and serve those around you. I don’t mean as a slave or being abused but as people, obedient to Christ,
analysing the people and the needs around us and attending to them. This means we may, at times, not meet
people’s wants because we are always focused on their needs. This sort of living in a community means we also are
served by others – supported by them – at church, online, phone calls, a chat at the door, and millions other ways – and joy and community grow.

This working out of daily discipleship is what Paul is on about when he mentioned ‘working out your own
salvation with fear and trembling’. Paul doesn’t mean that we contribute to our salvation but rather that we do
choose how to behave each day and following Jesus is the way his disciples want to go – and yes, that, too, is a
struggle, at times, at many times. But it is something we can stick with because Jesus doesn’t stop serving his
people and the experience of joy and support in community encourages us.

When we have eyes for Jesus who serves and eyes for those around us and we want to serve them then we won’t
have time to worry about being humble!

Bible References

  • Philippians 2:1 - 18