Gospel attitude - Philippians 2:1-11

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 17th October 2004.

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In the early 1990's the fashion world discovered a new designer accessory: the cross. Top designers like Bill Blass draped crosses around manikins on display in high street shop windows. Jewellers offered crosses in every conceivable size and style. And to go along with the crosses, designers came up with what they called 'the monastic look. 'So Ralph Lauren introduced long black dresses with demure white collars that made models look like convent novices. Calvin Kline showed long dark coats and tunics, reminiscent of the Amish community in the United States. Now of course this was no new revival in religion, it was simply a new trend in fashion. In fact I would suspect that many people no longer know of the original significance of the cross. This is illustrated by the true story told of a jeweller whose customer asked to see a cross. He replied: 'Do you want to see an ordinary one or one with a little man on it?' In other words, the jeweller simply had no idea who the 'little man' on the cross was. Now, friends, that is our mission field today.

So the question is: how are Christians going to penetrate such a tough mission field so that the message of the cross does become meaningful? What is it that will motivate Christians into getting on with the costly business of sharing that message- being partners in the Gospel? The answer: Christians are to model the cross: not by adorning their bodies with symbols, but by adorning their lives with goodness. The non-Christian world with its demands of self: self-image, self-gratification, self-ambition and all the division and enmity that brings in its wake- is meant to be able to turn to the Christian community and see something radically different, something which would bring joy to the heart of any apostle. What is that? Well, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:1 'If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship (partnership) with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.'

So tell us Paul. What are the marks this supernatural life which Christian believers are meant to be exhibiting which should cause the world to sit up and take notice? 'OK, I will tell you' says, Paul. 'No, better still I will show you. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. In fact I will paint the portrait in the words of a song- the song of the Gospel. For the attitude we are to adopt is nothing less than the attitude of Christ. So let us hear the song of heaven and allow God's Spirit to move us to humble adoration and costly obedience as we look together at the hymn written out for us in Philippians 2:5-11.

Our attitude is to be like that of Christ Jesus:

'Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped'-v6. Now could you wish for a clearer statement of who Jesus is than that? He is in the form of God, having equality with God. This 'form of God' of which Paul speaks, is equivalent to what the OT describes as God's glory. That is, from eternity past to eternity future Christ is clothed in the garments of divine majesty and splendour. He radiates the divine being, calling forth from the angels a constant song of adoration and praise as they gaze upon his dazzling holiness. The brightest star, the most resplendent sunset pales into shades of grey beside the form of the divine Son. And when Paul goes on to speak of his equality with God that is just another way of saying he truly is God- God the Son. In other words, all the divine attributes reside in him, so he is all knowing, all powerful, all wise and all pure. As we say in our creed-he is 'Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made.' That is the divine identity.

But then what are we to make of this peculiar phrase-that he 'did not count equality with God something to be grasped'? Now the verb translated 'to be grasped'-'harpagmos' is not found anywhere else in the NT and that is why folk have found it very difficult to put it into English. Now without going into all the details, it is a phrase which speaks of using something which is at one's disposal and exploiting it, but in this case it is a refusal to exploit something. So what was it that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, refused to take advantage of? Well, it was his divinity. Jesus did not behave as we might have expected God to behave. He did not flaunt his power in an act of divine pyrotechnics. He did not strut this earth demanding homage. But nonetheless he did behave in a way which was consistent with his divine nature, but his divinity as it truly is and not as we mortals imagine it to be. For, you see, God in his own being is -a humble God. He is a God who is more concerned with giving rather than with getting. Let me ask: Why did God create the universe in the first place? Have you ever pondered that question? Was it because, as some have suggested, he was a lonely god and wanted a bit of company? Of course not! Loneliness is not an option for God because in the family of the Trinity God the Father always had God the Son both loving each other through the agency of God the Holy Spirit. No, he created so that others could benefit from his being .He wanted to share his goodness. He wanted to give away his glory-that is why he made us, for our benefit not his. He wanted creatures who would reflect something of his image to the world, who would delight in praising him, and discover meaning and purpose in relation to him, who would have the ability to comprehend that the whole cosmos is but the theatre in which he displays his unfailing love for the creatures he has made. But God goes even beyond this. For he is not just content to create us, he is determined to redeem us and so we come to the divine humility-v7.

'He emptied himself, taking the form of servant, being born in the likeness of men.' Tell me: How do you describe the indescribable? Well, you do it by using picture language-metaphors. That is what Paul is doing here when he speaks of Christ emptying himself. He doesn't mean that God the Son ceased to be God at the incarnation. When he became man he didn't leave behind something of his divinity in heaven locked in a trunk only to be collected again later at the ascension. One writer John Calvin, puts it like this: 'Here is something marvellous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be born in the virgin's womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning.' Do you know what that actually means? It means that the little feotus embedded in the wall of that young girl, Mary's uterus was at the same time sustaining the sun and the other 100 billion stars which make up the Milky way galaxy together with the other 100 billion galaxies dispersed throughout the universe. It means that the one who later lay in the wooden manger was the one whose genius and power brought into being the mighty cedars from which that little box was made. This, emptying then, is not so much a matter of taking something off but more of a putting something on- emptying himself into something. What is that? Paul tells us - the form of a servant. ' Actually, the word is slave. In other words, he hid the form of God under the form of a slave. His emptying was not so much a subtraction but an addition, taking to himself our humanity. Sp the One who played marbles with the stars learnt what it meant to play marbles with marbles. The One who hung galaxies in space, was to learn to hang doors on a frame. The One who is Lord of all, discovered what it meant to be the servant of all and that is how he emptied himself.

Now let me just pause at this point and ask to what extent do we have that mind of Christ? How do we measure up in the 'self-emptying' business? Or as Paul says in v4 'Looking not to his own interests but the interests of others'? Remember the context is set by v 27 'Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.' What sort of things should we be doing, what attitudes should we be exhibiting, which are in line with the Gospel and will commend the Gospel to others? Well, sometimes we say. 'I find it difficult talking to people-newcomers to the church or the CU, let alone folk on my street or at work about Christianity. Some of these people are frankly not my type. I wouldn't know what to say to them.' I know how you feel. But do you not see the lengths to which God went to make us welcome into his family? He didn't just bridge the generation gap or the culture gap-he bridged the divine-human gap. He made himself available, he put himself out in order to get close to people so he could share his love. In order to reach us he became one of us. Is it therefore too great a thing for God to ask us to do the same? What is it that stops us talking of Christ? Fear? That is often the thing isn't it?-what would people think of us? What might people do to us? We might to suffer the censure of the politically correct thought police if we start claiming Christianity is true and exclusive. Well, we follow the one who knew only too well what it was like to be rejected, hence the divine rescue-v8

'And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.' Now there is the shock. We might well have expected the phrase 'he humbled himself 'following on from what we have seen already, but the cross was such a place of utter contempt and disgrace that it is kept to this point in the hymn, the low point, the central point before it is mentioned at all. In our society the cross is a piece of jewellery, in Roman society it was an obscenity. The first century Jew or Roman could no more have a symbol of a cross around his neck than we would have a dogs entrails around ours-it was that gross. And Paul wants to rub that in. That is why the poem is so abrupt at this point. Poetically it should simply have read 'he became obedient to death.' But Paul spoils the scanning by putting in the phrase 'even death on a cross' like an exclamation mark-scrawling the obscenity on the wall. You want to know how humble God is?-asks Paul-I will show you-he goes to a cross!

You see, in his coming God the Son became a slave, in his death he became a curse. In the one he descended to earth, in the other he descended to hell. Here is the heart of God's mission then, to bear away the guilt of sinners, to absorb into his pure and sinless body the divine wrath we deserve because of our impure and sinful acts. This is the divine rescue which plumbs the pitiful depths of divine condescension, as stripped naked, bruised and bleeding, his shame is displayed before a watching world-God's own Son is splayed on a cross and left to die. We worship the sin-bearing God and no other religion on earth does that.

Now do we not think that if God thought it worthwhile going to such lengths to save us, then we might go to some lengths to let other people know he has actually done this for them and so be effective Gospel partners? Let me tell you something. When I find myself flagging in my evangelistic zeal, as we all do from time to time -I find these words of the Puritan Richard Baxter, which very much echo this passage, provide the necessary spur I need. This is what he says: 'Let us then hear the words of Christ, whenever we feel the tendency growing in us to become dull and careless." Did I die for them and you will not look after them? Were they worthy of my blood and yet they are not worthy of your labour? Did I come down from heaven to seek and save that which was lost, and you will not go next door or to the next street to seek after them? Compared with mine, how small is your labour and condescension. I debased myself to do this, but it is your honour to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation, and was I willing to make you a co-worker with me? And yet you refuse that little which lies within your hands.'

As you look at the cross don't you see how much God loves the people in our Universities, in our City, down our streets? So tell me, just how is he going to reach them with the saving message of his love? By coming to earth? But he has already done that. By sending an angel? He has done that too. No, his means are now different as by his Spirit he uses people like you and me-so we become, as it were, his hands, and his feet and his mouth-looking out for others interests you see, having the mind of Christ.

But there is one more further motive which causes the followers of Jesus Christ to go down this route of service, there it is in -vv 9-11 the divine triumph: 'Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.'

One of the reasons why the West simply cannot get its head around what is happening with so called militant Islam- 911 and all that, is because religion has been banished from the public sphere of life to the private. But Islam does not function like that. It is a total world view which is to be worked out in the whole of life- including politics. So if you really believe that it is for the world's good that the corrupting influence of the secular West is to be resisted and the cause of Islam promoted then you will do whatever you think is necessary to promote the cause.

Well, Christianity is also a total world view, but sees God working out his purposes in a different way, through proclamation not persecution. But that Christianity is to affect the whole of life- is integral to what Christianity is. For it is the claim of Christianity that it is Jesus who walked this earth as a Galilean peasant 2000 years ago who is now ruler of everything. Jesus is King. That is what we see here. There aren't any no go areas for Christ.

Having descended to the depths of hell Jesus is raised to the heights of heaven. He is declared to have the title which out passes all other titles-he is LORD-echoing Is 45:21-23. Back there we read: 'There is salvation to be found in no one else, everyone must turn to the Lord (Yahweh) and be saved. Now, in the light of the coming of Jesus and the cross, that means everyone must turn to Jesus and be saved for he is LORD. If it were possible for people to be forgiven by any other means than the cross do you not think that God would have scoured the universe to find it? If it were possible that our good deeds and our religious devotion could ensure eternal life, do you not think God would accept it? There is only one way of salvation and this is it. People will bow before Jesus one day, either as grateful believers or unwilling rebels, but bow they will.

So here is another reason we are to display the attitude of Christ, for not only is it through evangelism are people saved, but by introducing people to Jesus he is supremely glorified. You know, the Father wants to exalt his Son and display him before the universe as an object of love and devotion. But that only comes when people realise who he is and what he has done for them. Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer 'hallowed be your name' we are committing ourselves afresh to mission. Some folk think that it is in our praises that Jesus is exalted, and to some extent that is true. But according to what Paul says here it is in our proclamation-by our words as well as our corporate lives- standing together being 'one in spirit and purpose', that Jesus is really lifted up.

Throughout this passage Paul has been making an implicit contrast. Did you spot it? On the one hand there is Adam and all of us who have copied him ever since. Remember, he sought equality with God as something to be snatched at. He disobeyed God's command and ate of the tree bringing the whole of the human race tumbling down with him in judgement. But then there is Jesus, the new Adam, who was God and obeyed his Father to the last by taking our judgement upon himself and so restoring the new human race back into friendship with God. And when we, even as Christians, make all our petty demands, what I want in church, what I need with no thought of anyone else- we repeat Adam's sin all over again. But when we stop and say, 'It is not what I want, but what God wants, what will forward this wonderful Gospel? And here am I Lord', then we have the mind of Christ.

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