Have you ever faced opposition while on your Christian walk of faith? If so, you’re not alone. Opposition to the Christian way of doing things has existed since Christianity began. In the passage from Philippians 2:1-13, Paul is trying to deal with a rift that has occurred within the church at Philippi. He argues that the people of God have an incentive to come together for hope and comfort.
Paul emphasizes three characteristics of love: Harmony, humility and helpfulness. The church at Philippi needed to submit to Christ’s will and serve others. They, like all believers, needed to come together and agree in doctrine and creed, but not at the cost of the truth. Each believer has a responsibility for unity. Each believer has to take ownership of his or her own spirit and disposition. Ambition and conflict are empty works of the flesh. Christ has taught us how to submit to one another out of love instead of fear. We are to care for the interests of others more than we care about our own interests. There is a hurting world full of hurting people. They need our help, even if it is only a hug or a sympathetic ear. We are to do so with humility. When we serve Jesus with humility, he will lift us up and exalt us just like he was exalted and lifted up. When we care for others as much as we care about ourselves, mutual service causes disunity to vanish.
Jesus is the perfect example of Christian unity. Paul tells the story of the crucifixion from Jesus’ viewpoint so that his followers can see that the price of unity was Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus gave up his deity and heavenly position to become a servant. If he could waive his rights, so can we as Christians. He did this because he cared more about the human condition than he cared about his own benefit. Christ showed his humility by pouring out his life both literally and figuratively for us. He submitted himself to God’s authority, especially during his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. When he returns, everyone will submit humbly to his authority-believers in joy, unbelievers in sorrow and remorse.
Not everyone has heard of Jesus, and that’s sad. Today, knowledge of the Bible has been steadily declining. Some people think that Jesus was just a religious leader. Some people think that he was a prophet, and others think that he was a good person, but as believers we know the truth. Jesus was God in the flesh. He gave up his position in heaven to take the form of a humble human in order to save us. Paul invites us to turn away from worldly influences and focus on Jesus’ example of humility. We are to persevere in faith in the face of opposition.
Why would he become a human and give up his life for us? The answer is simple. He did that because he loved us and wanted to give us our lives back. God puts Jesus in our lives through his living word-the Bible. He calls us his own through baptism. He forgives us and lives in us through the Eucharist. He is with us always. Jesus still reaches out to us today. He calls on us to trust him He tells us that we are still precious to him. He’s more than a hero-he’s our Lord and Saviour.
Christ didn’t see his godly position and authority as something to be kept for his own benefit. He was willing to sacrifice them so that he could be the sacrifice that was needed to save humankind. That was hard for the people to accept in Old Testament times, and it’s still hard for us to accept today. Christ left his heavenly position, but he was exalted by his resurrection and ascension. His exaltation will culminate with his Second Coming, when he will judge all the people and separate the saved from the unsaved. Jesus’ name and reputation create his power. That power will cause everyone to pay homage to him when he returns. The people will submit to his power and honour him. When they honour Jesus, they will honour God the Father. Jesus’ power exceeds earthly powers. Nothing is too difficult for him. No prayer is too hard for him to answer. His humble powers restored our broken relationship with God. There was a cost-his life-but to Jesus the cost was worth it.
Jesus is unique. He can’t be imitated. Instead, we must recognize the gifts God has given us, and we must think about each other in the same way that we think about Jesus. We have to look at situations with a mind that is informed by Christ and filled with his Spirit. We can do this because Jesus stirs our hearts, minds, emotions and wills. His name has spiritual power and can’t be mentioned in a neutral way. People either accept him or reject him.
There are some denominations, usually ones that are more fundamental or strict in nature, that claim that the only way we can be lifted up by Jesus is if we follow the denomination’s rules and traditions. This leads to prejudice. When people of different denominations fail to love and understand each other, they fail to show Christian love, and our Christian witness is marred. Instead of focusing on theological differences, Christian denominations need to focus on the basics of the Gospel. The way we treat others affects everyone. If they see us being mean, they will likely copy our behaviour. If they see us loving others, they will hopefully copy the same behaviour.
Our one motive must be to follow him. God wants to walk with us during our journey through life. He will strengthen us during that journey. He will strengthen us when we face hard times and bring us joy through the blessings he will give us. He pays attention to us even if we ignore him, and even when we pray to him. God is at work in the ordinary, mundane things. God is working in our lives right now just like he worked in the lives of the first disciples and his first followers.
Being Christ-like is caused not by imitation but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us through the choices we make. We choose to follow Jesus in all situations and trust God’s Holy Spirit to give us the power, strength, love, faith and wisdom to do it. These gifts are always available for the asking because the Holy Spirit lives in us.
Jesus put our needs before his own, and he calls on us to do the same. Jesus calls on us to be servants, which means that we have to give up our right to be in charge. When we give up that right, we experience great freedom. We become available and vulnerable. We lose our fear of being taken advantage of. True humility is one of the most costly and life-enhancing of all Christian virtues and a powerful part of a spiritually solid believer. That’s why Paul encourages us to imitate Christ and the humility that characterized his life of service. We are to engage the world with three expectations in mind:
- Unity. We are to engage the world together as Christians.
- Respect. We are to respect other people even if we can’t stand them.
- Regard. We must strive to understand and respond to the needs of other people.
A minister was sitting on an airplane when a family of three came aboard. They had purchased their tickets late and could not get seats in the same row. The flight attendant assured them that there were several empty seats, so surely someone would be willing to change seats with them.
In front of the minister were two empty seats, middle and window, and on the other side in the same row the middle and aisle seats were open. The family asked the gentleman sitting in the aisle seat in a courteous manner if he would be willing to move from the right side aisle seat to the left side aisle seat. He refused. He wasn’t even courteous enough to answer verbally. He just stared straight ahead as he shook his head firmly.
There are three stages to the service path for Christians. The first stage is charity. Charity is our emotional response to human need. We want to give something to alleviate the immediate problem. Charity can literally mean the difference between life and death. It is not insignificant. All of us can participate in this work of charity through our willingness to give.
The second stage is advocacy. Advocacy emerges from charity. In this stage of service we work and speak on behalf of others with the goal of changing social and political conditions so that the long term needs of the people can better be met. Advocacy is, by definition, a more controversial stage along the service path. Mother Teresa couldn’t help but move from the work of charity to the poorest of the poor to becoming an international advocate for children—the born and unborn—and women. If God is calling you to participate in the work of advocacy, you’ll not believe the impact it will have for those in need.
And the third stage is justice. We work for justice when we strive to change systems and processes that create the conditions for poverty or limit self-determination. Justice work naturally progresses from charity and advocacy. Justice means standing with the poor, with those in need.
When we focus our attention on Jesus’ humble sacrifice, we see human pride and sin. It’s only when we depend on God that we receive salvation. God calls us to humility each and every day. He calls on us to live out the love and life of Christ to a watching, hurting world around us.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Pastor Gregory Seltz, “A Hero? No, a Saviour!” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Exegesis for Philippians 2:5-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Pastor Bobby Schuller, “There is No Name.” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
- Jim Burns, “Responding with Love.” Retrieved from www.homewoed.org
- Dannah Gresh, “Am I a Mean Girl?” Retrieved from www.proverbs31.org
- Pastor D. Geedvadhus, “Humility.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- The Rev. Dr. Michael Foss, “A Passion for Christ’s World.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Sharing 101.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
- Dave Branon, “Winners and Losers.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
- Stephen Davey, “Invisibly Involved.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor Rick Warren, “Allow Christ to Live Through You.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)