Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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The Most Important Verse for Christians

Philippians 2:1-11

As we?ve been discussing?the Philippian church was experiencing some bumps in the road. There were apparently some false teachers that had come in and were causing problems (Phil 3:1-3) and there were some folks on the inside who were disagreeing with one another (Phil 4:1-3). All this was causing them to take their eyes off the goal: sharing the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Last time Paul pleaded with them to not let external opposition to the gospel stop them from reflecting the character of Christ through their lives. In Chapter 2 he pleads with them to deal with internal opposition, which is human pride. As Christians we see churches experience divisions and we wonder what?s up. The church breaks apart or implodes. We wonder what terrible thing must have happened. The truth is that we become our own worst enemy when pride sets in.

We?re going to talk about pride, and its opposite: humility, today. Let me first say what pride is not. Pride isn?t being happy that you?ve done a good job, or being pleased with something. Pride is when we put ourselves in God?s place and the focus of our lives is inward, rather than outward. Pride is when we have more confidence in ourselves than in God; when we put us on the throne of our lives.

This section of Philippians contains what I believe is probably the most significant verse in the Bible when it comes to how Christians should live their lives. As we go through this section I want to re-introduce the idea of agape love, which has humility at its core. Agape, or God?s, love is: self-sacrificing, other-centered affection. We?ll see how this plays out as we go through verses 1 ? 11.

1 ? 2

Paul gives four phrases in the form of ?if? statements ? then calls them to four actions. The ?if? statements said in another way would be: ?If Jesus comes alongside you to help, if you find comfort in the love He brings, if you feel that close connection to Him through His Spirit?if God?s love and compassion have made a huge difference in your life?? Jesus didn?t come to simply provide us with a ?Get Out of Jail Free? card. He came to invade the human race and re-infect us with a character we lost in the Garden of Eden through our rebellion.

To become like God in His character, not His position, is the goal. This is what we are called to. Sadly, we get the two mixed up. Paul says that if they turn this attitude around it would ?fulfill my joy? or in other words: ?bless my socks off!? You want to make God happy? Here?s how?the secret contained in the following verses.

The four actions are:

  • Think the same way
  • Have the same love
  • Share the same feelings
  • Focus on the same goal

?Thinking? and ?focusing on? are the same word in Greek: phroneo: to think. What Paul is calling his friends to do here goes beyond parroting the same words, but it is to have shared values and a shared goal?and that is to allow God to use us to bring His love and healing to others. If we work this part of the verse backwards it makes sense: if our goal is the gospel and our part in it, then that goal helps our values, thoughts, emotions, and actions to fall in line.

But what Paul is addressing here is when that gets out of whack?when the self short-circuits the work of the Spirit to infuse us with God?s character and agape love. Paul gets to the nut of it in the next two verses:

3 ? 4

These two verses are among the most important in the entire Bible for the Christian. If more disciples of Jesus would take these words to heart and employ them in their lives, we would see church divisions diminish and the kingdom of God grow. But they come with a warning label: doing this is not easy and your mind will fight against you every step of the way.

Verse 3 has two contrasting ways of behaving: the default human way, and the kingdom of God way.

?Do nothing out of conceit?? ? the word means: ?groundless self esteem.? In essence it says: ?I?m more important than you.? It?s what Lucifer declared?he wasn?t satisfied being the chief of God?s created beings?he wanted to sit on God?s throne. He pride had gone beyond his position?grasping for something that was not his to take (Ezekiel 28:11-19).

??or rivalry ? comes from a word that means: ?to spin yarn.? You?ve heard of ?spinmeisters?? Those people who always say the thing that gets you to do what they want? The Greek word came to be used of one who used trickery to electioneer for office. ?Slimy politician? could be a way we would use it today. The idea is to put into action our attitude that ?I?m more important than you.? It?s the way we put ourselves over others.

These two characteristics, which came to us from Lucifer via Adam and Eve, find their antidote in the character of Jesus:

?But in humility??: This is an unusual word used in the Greek New Testament, and by some other contemporary authors. It essentially means to have a humble opinion of yourself. I?m reminded of what Paul said in Romans 12:3: ?For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.? The ESV says to think with ?sober judgment? or ?soberly? (NKJV). Jesus Himself, in one of His few autobiographical statements, said: ?All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves? (Matt. 11:29).

Humility is about the one in whom you put your confidence. Overweening confidence in your goodness and ability and lack of confidence in God?s goodness and ability in you is pride. Humility is trusting God more than you trust yourself. Humility isn?t so much about how you feel about yourself, it?s how you feel about others.

??consider others more important than yourselves.? The word ?important? is sometimes translated ?better?. The ESV translates it ?significant? and I think they are onto something. It isn?t that we rate ourselves against others, it?s that we focus not on what?s in it for us but how we can help others. Jesus could have had an ego the size of the whole universe?and deserved it. But instead the Scriptures tell us that His attitude was not about being served but to serve (we?ll get more to that in a moment in verses 6 - 11).

Warren Wiersby says it this way: ?The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all.? The humble person knows him or herself, realizes they are weak?but under God?s grace?and then freely allows themselves to be used to the benefit of others. It doesn?t mean we just do whatever anyone tells us to do either; we are to be tools in God?s hands to do His work in His timing to help others know and love Jesus. He is the one in charge, not others?but we let Him use us; let Him pour us out to serve others.

That?s why Paul ends with verse 4: yes, we need to take care of ourselves. But the default human behavior is to stop there. The humble person goes beyond his or her own interests and because of the agape love of Christ in our hearts?reaches out and allows themself to focus outward in a new way. In every interaction we should say to ourselves: what can I do here that will help this person love Jesus more?

So Paul goes on to give us the chief example of how this kind of other-centered, self-sacrificing affection is played out?and that is in the author of love Himself: Jesus.

5 ? 11

Verses 5 ? 11 are difficult to understand?but it is thought they make up an early Christian hymn, that?s why they are set off in stanzas. Verses 6 through 8 show us that Jesus let no obstacle come between Him and serving us selflessly. He was God yet freely gave up that privilege to permanently become human and then die in our place on the cross. Jesus could have used His position as God to judge humanity, but instead He gave up that authority temporarily to serve humanity. What privileges are we willing to give up in order to lay down our lives for others? Position? Power? Wealth? Intellect? Being right? Admiration? Jesus said: ?No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends? (John 15:13).

(9-10) Jesus was ridiculed, mocked, made fun of, tortured, murdered and buried. But that ended what man could do to Him. Verses 9-11 show us what God did?exalted Him, gave Him a new name, and put everyone and everything?saved and condemned, under Him. This is not some formula for us: be humble and you?ll be exalted and have lots of glory?no, not at all. The end here is that even when we are self-sacrificing and other-centered, it is Christ who should get the credit and be the focus. Our aim is not for ourselves, but for Jesus to be exalted. Let me be clear again, though. When something goes right, when you do a good job, it?s okay to feel good about it?to take pride in your work. God is partnering with you in the gospel?it?s you and God working together.

(10-11) And just a point of emphasis here: verses 10-11 are true, whether we believe them or not. The only difference between those who reject Jesus and us is that we bow willingly?they will not.

Conclusions

So why did Paul say these things? Here are some ideas: I think the Apostle is noticing that something is stopping them from being focused on the gospel and causing them to turn inward. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Apostle has been jailed?and some are using that as an excuse to shame them.

But Paul is saying: ?Look at Jesus as your example. He was arrested and shamed and even killed. But it resulted in great glory. It doesn?t matter what seemingly bad thing happens to you or me?what matters is that we are presenting ourselves as humble servants to be used in God?s incredible plan to bring salvation to a dark age.

Don?t let anything stop you from that cause. Humility now will also lead to glory later in your life. 1 Peter 5:6 says: ?Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.? (1Pet. 5:6) 

Living with God?s character pouring out of your life to benefit others through humility will result in God being glorified through you:

??so that the genuineness of your faith?more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire?may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ? (1Pet. 1:7).

I want that?how about you?

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