The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in February 2022*
Sermon Audio: What the Gospel Creates (Phil 2:1-5)
*This week, I am attempting something new with my sermon notes. Rather than writing an extensive manuscript, I attempted to just use an outline of brief notes. The formatting doesn’t map over great, but these are my notes as I preached. Time will tell whether or not I stick with this or go back to a full manuscript. If you prefer the manuscript, please let me know.
“Try to imagine an American president who controlled not only the executive branch—including the FBI, CIA, and NSA—but also Congress and the judiciary; The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, and all of the other newspapers; and all major businesses, including Exxon, Apple, Google, and General Motors…[His] control comes without legal limits. He and the people around him operate without checks and balances, without ethics rules, without transparency of any kind. They determine who can be a candidate in elections, and who is allowed to speak in public. They can make decisions from one day to the next…after consulting no one and taking no advice. When [he] contemplates an invasion, he does not have to consider the interest of [his country’s] businesses or consumers who might suffer from economic sanctions. He doesn’t have to take into account the families of [the] soldiers who might die in a conflict that they don’t want. They have no choice, and no voice.” – Anne Applebaum on Putin
The danger of power
Power in service of truth = blessing
Truth in service of power = curse
“‘Exploitation’ belongs to the essence of what lives,” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)
In 1967, The Beatles performed “All you need is love” for the BBC’s first ever live global TV production, an anthem of the flower-power movement, of the 60’s
Augustine, if God is triune reality is built on love, not power
The gospel awakens us to reality, takes the virtual reality goggles off
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,” (Phil 2:1-5).
What’s Our Problem?
Nearly a century ago, a London newspaper was looking to write to different authors and thinkers about what was wrong with the world. Different authors responded with essays reflecting on shifting economic policies, religious decline, religious indoctrination, global trends, etc. G.K. Chesterton, one of the writers asked to submit his own essay reflecting on what was wrong with the world simply wrote back, “Dear sir, I am.”
The danger of focusing too much “out there” and not ‘in here”
In the previous section of Philippians Paul exhorted us to “stand firm” together for the gospel and to not be frightened by our opponents. We need unity in resisting false teaching. But here, Paul turns to what can unravel our witness: our own selfish pride.
Let’s not be the 21st century equivalent of the Pharisee who thanks God that he isn’t like those wicked tax collectors over there.
So we need to see what our problem is. Judgment begins with the house of the Lord (1 Pet 4:17).
We can see what our problem is by looking at what Paul is warning against in verses 3 and 4. In verse 3 we are told, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,” and in verse 4 we are told, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests.” So, the problem that Paul is zooming in on here is selfish ambition, conceit, and looking only to your own interests.
What is selfish ambition? Well, it is what motivates the false preachers who “preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely,” (Phil 1:17). These are individuals who are attempting to capitalize on Paul’s imprisonment to build their own platforms and recognition.
“the despicable nature of those…who think only of immediate gain, or a…base self-seeking, the nature of those who cannot lift their gaze to higher things,” (TDNT, ἐριθεία).
The word is used in a work by Aristotle, “where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means,” (BDAG).
Selfish ambition is the transformation of everything and everyone around you into a calculation of what they do for you. It is the willingness to bend the rules so that you can get what you want.
In the book of James, we are warned, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice,” (James 3:16). Just one verse earlier (3:15), James views the source of a life given over to “selfish ambition” as explicitly demonic!
What about conceit? The story of Narcissus
The word for conceit brings together two words in Greek—the word for “empty” (κενός) and the word for “glory” (δόξα)
In the Hebrew Bible, the word for “glory” also means “weight” or “heaviness” (כָּבַד), which is why Paul can refer to the “weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17).
So, to have “empty” glory, is almost an oxymoron. It is like a Styrofoam boulder or a paper-mâché mountain. It is the appearance of significance, but the void of substance. It is all whip-cream and no cake.
“Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” – Gal 5:26
Looking only to your own interests
Selfish ambition + conceit = looking only to your own interests.
Other people become tools or barriers to achieving your own ends
You can see who this becomes a threat to unity. When my wife and I got married, the best marriage advice we received was from my old mentor who wrote, “The honeymoon is only over once your needs become more important than your spouse’s, Phil 2:3-4.”
What makes marriage hard? We are the center of our own universe.
What makes parenting hard?
What makes church hard?
We are selfish, we are sinners.
Martin Luther’s definition of sin: Homo incurvatus in se, Man turned in upon himself
What’s God’s Answer?
“…if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,” (Phil 2:1).
“complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind,” Phil 2:2
It is an if-then clause. If these things are true, then complete my joy by being united together.
What is verse 1 talking about? The benefits of the gospel.
This, Paul assumes, is the ground and motivation of why we turn away from selfish ambition and conceit.
In every kids movie, there is the obnoxious character who is full of themselves, selfish, conceited, self-important. And at some point, they get their comeuppance. And we love it.
And yet, God doesn’t respond to us that way.
Paul doesn’t ask, “If there is any shame in your sin, if there is any fear of judgment, if there is any bit of common decency among you, then get your act together you doofuses. Don’t be so selfish!”
What does God offer in response to our own selfishness and silliness?
Encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.
The encouragement and love is a given, it is there, and it becomes the ground on which the correction is given.
Here is bad parenting: You should be ashamed of yourself, or You are so annoying! or I’m going to make you pay for that.
Here is good parenting: Sweety, I love you, and because I love you, I am not going to let you do that.
God doesn’t shame us into obedience. He gives us encouragement, love, and fellowship. He offers us Himself.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” Phil 2:5
What does it mean to be “in Christ”?
Who are you? Consider yourself as surrounding by layers:
Interests, hobbies, entertainment choices
Career, aspirations, goals
Relationships, family, friends
Values, convictions, beliefs
Sin, guilt, shame
At your deepest core, Christ
And in Christ we find encouragement, love, comfort, fellowship, affection, and sympathy.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” – 2 Cor 5:17
There is a version of yourself that you don’t want others to see. That is the person that Jesus sees, redeems, and folds into Himself.
Here the sinful, the vile, the guilty, the unworthy, the poor, the penniless, may come. Here too the weary spirit may bring its burden, the broken spirit its sorrow, the guilty spirit its sin, the backsliding spirit its wandering. All are welcome here. The death of Jesus was the opening and the emptying of the full heart of God. It was the outgushing of that ocean of infinite mercy that heaved and panted and longed for an outlet. It was God showing how he could love a poor, guilty sinner. What more could he have done than this? – Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (Banner of Truth, 1962), pages 183-184.
Jesus’ death and resurrection forgives us of our sin, so all are welcome.
Phil 2:5 also calls us to take the union of Christ and to pursue holiness anew.
The “mind” of Phil 2:3-4 is ours “in Christ”, but we are commanded to “have it”
What’s Our Response?
“complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. – Phil 2:2
This is the reality that Jesus has created.
“Is Christ divided?” – 1 Cor 1:13
“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” – 1 Cor 10:17
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.– 1 Cor 12:13
We do not “create” unity, we “preserve” the unity that God has already created by our union with Christ.
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. – Phil 2:3-4
“Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” – The Message
The Christian community lays aside a desire to wield truth in service to power—we go out of our way to surrender power!
The truth is that God has made us to love and serve one another.
What does this mean for us?
Our lives are not about us
We forget ourselves
We treat others the way Christ has treated us
We preserve the unity through going above and beyond
What kind of community does the gospel create?
A people who have been humbled to their core, who know they are sinful, but loved. Who are not marked by the pushiness and one-up’s-manship of the world, who consider the needs of others as more important than their own.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?