Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sermon: Philippians 2:1-11 The Mind of Christ

It’s been another Six Nations weekend, with the international rugby teams taking to the pitch. The team is always trying to work together, but nowhere is it more important than in the scrum. Eight players, tightly packed together, pressing forward. To beat the other team’s scrum, they need to work together. Otherwise they’ll be pushed back and defeated. They need partnership.

As we’ve already seen, Philippians is all about partnership. Paul is writing this thank you note to the church at Philippi for their kind gift. They have been partners with Paul in the work of the gospel, supporting him financially and with prayer.

But it can be really easy to be in partnership with someone far away. It’s easy to partner with someone you don’t have to deal with all the time - just remember to keep praying for them and to send money every so often and Paul and the Philippians are in partnership.

The difficulty comes because Paul doesn’t just want the Philippians to be in partnership with him. He also wants them to be in partnership with each other. And it’s here that the demand gets a little harder. I think I’ve shared the little verse before: ‘Living above with the saints we love, O that will be glory. Living below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story.’

But that’s the essence of our passage tonight. How can we be in partnership among a local church? Paul has already urged the Philippians to ‘stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.’ Now, he goes on to look at the practicalities of partnership. How do we do it?

Yet Paul knows that to just blarge in and demand that we get on with one another won’t cut it. It’s a bit like the poor mother in the supermarket whose children are playing up - the raised voice might work (for a moment or two) but it’ll not bring lasting change.

Instead, Paul begins by giving us a checklist of encouragements. It’s almost as if Paul wants his readers to get out a pen and mark off all the things they’ve received - an opportunity to count your blessings. ‘So if there is any encouragement in Christ’ - have you been encouraged by coming to know Christ? Received any blessings from him? ‘any comfort from love’ - have you been on the receiving end of love - from God, or from other Christians? ‘any participation in the Spirit’ - have you received the Holy Spirit and known his presence in your life as he dwells within you? ‘any affection and sympathy’ - do you care for Paul? Have any heart at all?

Well, if you have answered yes to all of these - and Christians should be scoring a full house - then here’s what to do: make an old man happy. ‘Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.’ Now, really, what he is saying there is the same thing four times, just to make sure we grasp it. Same mind, same love, full accord, one mind - be partners together. Get on with one another. Love one another.

He gets practical again in verses 3 and 4. Here’s what standing together will look like: ‘Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ It’s so different from the way we want to be, isn’t it? From birth we’re out for ourselves, but life as a Christian is to be different, recognising that we’re part of a body, we’re in partnership with others. And not just partnership, but active care and concern for other people, regarding them as more important than myself.

It comes from realising that we’re not the only person to be loved by God or to have the Holy Spirit - the encouragements and blessings that we are to count in verse 1 are things that everyone in the church has shared. They too are in relationship with God. They too are called into partnership, because the church exists for everyone, not just my preferences.

But in order to seal what he’s saying; in order to be very clear as to what he’s calling us to; Paul then gives us a model of servant-heartedness.

As you might have heard, the Primary School are holding a fashion show in a couple of weeks. Some of the local ministers are going to change vocations for one night one, and become catwalk models. The idea of models is to show you what the fashion looks like, to entice you to buy.

Paul sets before us the model of the Lord Jesus. But rather than walking along a catwalk, and doing a little turn, the Lord Jesus descends. We’re called to have the mind of Christ - the mind of self-giving servant-heartedness that led him to give up his place in glory, not holding on to what was rightfully his, in order to take the form of a servant. Down, down, down, born as a man, humble by being obedient, even to the death of the cross.

He didn’t get caught up in his rights. He didn’t look down on others or regard himself as too important to worry about them. He looked to our interests as he was obedient to the Father, dying in order to save us.

This is the mind we’re to have. This is the mind we are to practice, more and more. Because this is what saved us - the actions of the Lord Jesus. Now that we are saved, we are to follow the pattern of self-giving.

For Jesus, his descent into greatness was followed by his exaltation. The one who went down, down, down, has been lifted up, with the name above every name and the place of honour. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. At the heart of the universe is this honouring of the selfless one. All who are selfish will honour the selfless one.

So how do we follow the model? For a budding footballer, they’ve practice, and pretend to be their hero. For a budding model, they’ll watch their supermodel star and try to copy their moves. They can only focus on externals - the moves, the kicks, the actions.

But Paul says that we have an extra something to help us. This mind of Christ, the mind that willingly obeyed and submitted, is ours in Christ Jesus. He gives it to us. He enables us to think his thoughts, to do what he would do.

It’s a bit like when you’re learning to drive and you see the dual control cars. The driving instructor can brake if needs be or can take over. The question for us is this - who is in control in my life? In my mind? Who am I living for?

To have the mind of Christ is to live in the way that pleases Christ. For his thoughts to be our thoughts as we look at those around us. To see them with his eyes of love and mercy. To give ourselves for them, because it is for him. Paul says it will complete his joy. Actually, it will complete our joy as well, as we follow the Master, and love as he loves.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 9th March 2014.

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