A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.

Philippians 2:1-18

October 20, 2013

There is an old Jewish joke that says if you’ve got two rabbis, you’ve probably got three opinions.  The church often seems like that as well, doesn’t it?  We read about church fights and squabbles all the way back to the book of 1 Corinthians, even to the most recent news.

Even this year, the headlines of The Christian Post read:  “Violent Fistfight Over Church Seat Lands Utah Man in Jail.”  This particular group of worshipers had gathered for a missionary farewell and a baby blessing, and by the end of the service, a 51-year-old congregant was placed in jail.  According to the sheriff department’s Lt. Mark Lowther, a family which didn’t normally attend the church was in the packed chapel on that particular Sunday to support the baby that was being blessed.  They were saving seats on a pew for other family members who were late in arriving.  When regular member, 51-year-old Wayne Dodge showed up and someone was saving the seat he normally sat in, he chose to go ahead and sit down in the pew, which upset the family that was celebrating the baby dedication.  Hot words were exchanged.  Cooler minds did not prevail, and they decided just to take the fight outside after the service was over.

The regular member, who was upset that his seat was taken, ended up throwing a couple of punches at one of the visiting family members.  The man was injured and went into the church to wipe off the blood.  But when he exited the church, Dodge was in his car, and he allegedly hit the man with his vehicle.  At the end of the day, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s office said the victim ended up on the hood of Dodge’s car.  Dodge was arrested for aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.

One of the church members worshiping that day said, “From personal experience, I know how frustrating it can be, when I show up for church on time and cannot sit in the chapel because families are saving seats for others who don’t show up until some time later, often after the meeting has started.  It seems so unfair.  I can understand what may have motivated Bro. Dodge to sit in the open seats.”  (www.christianpost.com, 7/3/13)

I can only assume that the sermon that day was not about turning the other cheek, nor did they sing “Peace Like a River” that particular day. 

The bishop said he was saddened by the fight and was trying to counsel both families and bring his church back together.  In fact, this case is still going on, with Dodge pleading “not guilty,” according to one web source.  (http://mormonism-unveiled.blogspot.com/2013/07/fight-over-saved-seats-after-lds.html)

What a mess.

I want us to notice some things about the first eighteen verses of Philippians 2.

I.  Unity through one purpose (v. 2)

Paul is urging them to make his joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being united in spirit and intent on one purpose.  The reality is, if we are ever to find true meaning in life, each one of us must be focused on something bigger and greater than ourselves.  That something is Jesus Christ – the King, the Lord – and the Good News which has come to take the world over in His name.


Paul begins by asking a series of questions, for which he expects, by the construction, an affirmative answer.  “If we are friends,” I might say to you – and we are – then I give the next assertion:  “Then let me buy you dinner.”  He’s asking questions like that, questions that clearly have a positive answer.  “If there is any encouragement in the Christ….”  Or we might read it this way, “If there is any encouragement in the Messiah….”  And of course there is.

“If love brings us any comfort….”  And of course it does.

“If the Spirit dwells within God’s people, bringing us together….”

If there is any affection…

If there is any compassion…

If…. If…. Then.

The “thens” are about unity – unity of purpose.

Now unity in itself is not a great goal.  It can never be our final aim.  In fact, one of the beautiful things about being a Baptist is we don’t have a creed and no one thinks me infallible.  We’re all committed to Christ, but I would say where they are two Baptists, you have five opinions.  And that’s okay.  But even in the midst of differing views and positions, in the church there is to be a unity through purpose.

Even a group of thieves can have unity.  Drug dealers can get together and be unified on a common cause or deal.  Those who commit genocide, as the Nazis showed us when killing millions, can run one big, unified campaign.  But that doesn’t make any of those things good. 

How are they to show their unity of purpose?  Paul gives them three examples – three negatives:

•Nothing from selfishness (v. 3).

That’s hard, isn’t it?  Our most base motivation is to always do what is best for No. 1.

•Nothing, he adds, from empty conceit.

This is literally translated “empty glory.”  Isn’t that a beautiful hint?  Paul is about to tell us about the Christ who emptied Himself of all claims of glory.  Look at verse 7:  “Christ emptied Himself.”  Therefore, we are to do nothing for empty glory.

•Do not look after your own interest (v. 4).

Rather, look after the interest of others.

One New Testament scholar remembers that he was invited to a lunch with a friend who had invited about twenty or thirty people.  Some of them were quite well-known public figures.  As he said grace at the start of the meal, his host also said, very firmly, “Remember, the most interesting person in the room is the one you’re sitting next to.”  Multiply that up a big, into a congregation, and we get somewhere near what Paul is saying.

Paul is saying this:  In the body of Christ, there is no room for the selfish eye, the pompous mind, the ear hungry for compliments and the mouth that speaks none, the heart that has little room for others, and the hand that only serves the self.  The church is to have unity through one purpose.

II.  Humility through example.

Unity through one purpose, and humility through example.

Verses 5-8

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Since 1927, to be exact, most New Testament scholars have seen this particular part of Philippians as a hymn, a Christ-hymn.  The hymn is found in verse 6-11.  It’s beautiful.  It’s poetic.  It’s powerful.  It’s theologically rich.  It tells us exactly what we need to know about Jesus.  Some argue that Paul composed the hymn, but the majority claim that this was a very early Christian hymn written by someone else.  Paul had learned it, and he quoted it – much like I might use the lyrics of “Amazing Grace” in a sermon.  So had Paul used lyrics from a hymn in the midst of his letter.

In fact, Paul seems to do this quite often: 1 Corinthians 8:16; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Colossians 1:15-20; and others.

The movement goes through three stages in regard to understanding Jesus – His pre-existence, His existence, and His post-existence.

His pre-existence is in verse 6:  “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

And His existence in verses 7-8:  He had emptied Himself and, even in the likeness of a man, had humbled Himself to the obedience of death.

Humility through example.

In the ancient world, when people thought about heroic leaders, they didn’t really get a picture of humility but, rather, one of arrogance.  Maybe they were thinking of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.).  At age 20, he took over the throne of his father, Philip, quickly made himself master of all of Greece, and set out on a task – to him, it seemed quite small – of conquering the rest of the world.  By the time he died at age 33, he’d succeeded to such an extent that he and others began to think that he was a god.

Or maybe the Emperor Augustus in mind, something closer to their day – the one who had put an end to the long-running Roman civil war and who had brought peace to the whole known world.  It wasn’t long until grateful subjects also began to regard him as divine.  The military might, the organizational skills, holding the Empire together.  It was a natural conclusion:  he had to be more than a man.

It sounded something like Paul’s gospel, because his story declared his rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, was actually – as we will see in a moment in his post-existence – the resurrected Lord and King.  The true Lord of the whole cosmos, both living and dead.  He was, in reality, what Alexander and Augustus had been in caricature.

But what did true sovereignty look like?  Not like Alexander.  Not like Augustus.  Not like arrogance.  But, rather, one who was obedient to the point of emptying Himself.  Even Adam himself grasped at being like God.  Remember the story in Genesis 3?  What did tihe serpent say?  “The day you eat [the fruit] you will be like God.”  Alexander, Augustus, Adam, me, and you – we all take a fistful of air trying to grab God-ness.  Jesus, indeed, in pre-existence, Paul says, was already equal with God (v. 6), but he made the decision to become human, to go on that long road of obedience – obedience to the plan of Divine salvation, a journey that would lead to the cross, to death.  And it wasn’t a decision necessarily to stop being divine.  He was always the Christ.  But it was a decision that showed us what it meant to love as God loves.

God in the flesh, dying on the cross.  The most powerful thought that we can possibly think is “This is God, the God of self-sacrificing love.”  Paul elsewhere says (2 Corinthians 5:19), “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.”  In the incarnation, in the cross, in the obedience and humiliation of the cross, God has done what only God could do – die that we might live.

Our world has been full of men with megalomaniacal egos.  Alfred Hitchcock was one of them, they say.  The towering genius of cinema was particularly trying for screenwriters and notoriously hard on actors.  He was once quoted as saying, “Actors are cattle.”  It stirred up a huge outcry from the Actors Guild.  In response, he issued this correction:  “I have been misquoted.  What I really said is, ‘Actors should be treated as cattle.’”  Hitchcock made it a trademark of  his ego to appear in his own films, amassing a total of 37 cameos throughout his career.

Or then there is the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, the brains behind Fallingwater, the Guggenheim, and countless other design benchmarks.  Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably the genius of 20th-century architecture.  And he knew it.  He was notorious for believing he was superior to mere mortals.  In fact, the architectural egomaniac frequently acted as though the rules – even those of geography and climate – did not apply to him or his designs.  When you’re Wright, you’re right.  In 1935, the department store magnate, Stanley Marcus (of Neiman-Marcus fame) commissioned the architect to design his Dallas home, but the project quickly went sour.  Wright’s avant-garde floor plan included sleeping porches that required his client to sleep outdoors year-round.  In addition, Marcus’s small bedroom cubicles came equipped with almost no closet space.  When Stanley Marcus respectfully explained that temperatures during summer nights in Dallas often exceed 80 degrees and a high-fashion tastemaker might need bigger closers, Wright threw a series of tantrums.  Those tantrums took place in letter form and are actually preserved and occasionally displayed at the Dallas Museum of Art, and they make for delicious reading.  (“Full-of-themselves-famous-people,” www.cnn.com/2007/Living/ worklife/09/28/mf.prima.donnas)

Do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, and never regard yourself as more important than others.  But be like the Christ who, in pre-existence, was equal with God but emptied Himself, becoming a servant, putting on flesh in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself all the way to the point of ultimate humiliation – death on a cross.

The God of glory died a naked criminal on the cross.  The Creator, crucified by His creation.

III.  Confession through recognition.

He doesn’t stop with Jesus on the cross.  There is finally His post-existence.

Verses 9-11

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on  Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we read the letters and writings of the earliest Christians, we discover the source of what they held to be true about God, God’s creation, and the relationship between God and His creation.  Everything they believed and all that they held dear could be summarized in the most profound statement ever articulated in human history.  Three words:  “Jesus is Lord.”  All of Christian history, every word of scripture, revolves around this central confession of the Lordship of Jesus.  Confession through recognition that Jesus is Lord.

Robert Mounce, New Testament scholar, said that “Jesus is Lord” was the “earliest single-clause Christological confession of primitive Christianity.”  George E. Ladd, another New Testament scholar, agreed:  “The heart of the early Christian confession is the Lordship of Christ.”

Paul elsewhere writes, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9).  Confession equals salvation when it comes to the Lordship of Jesus.  In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3b, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  And then our passage today (Philippians 2:11), “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Don Harp, a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, has a tender heart for kids who take their first plunge into the free enterprise system via the “good ol’ lemonade stand.”  Like the rest of us who try to turn sad smiles into gleeful gleams for the small sum of a quarter, Don stopped at the Kool-Aid stand managed by pigtails and bows.  As he sat sipping his sugary, watered-down syrup, one of the little girls inquired, “Are you done yet?”  He still had some goo to gulp, so he replied, “No, why?”  The little girl set the record straight, “ ‘Cause that’s our only cup!”

Likewise, the only cup from which all can drink is the cup of Christ’s Lordship.  There is no alternative for this foundation for Jesus’ followers.  To follow Christ is to call Him Lord.  If we understand the Lordship of Jesus, we will understand that good news has come into the world.  Not only was there a pre-existence in His equality with God and an existence with His death on the cross, there is a post-existence in His glorious resurrection.

But before you made the confession of His Lordship, you need to know it’s a potent cup.  It’s a powerful concoction.  Indeed, calling Jesus “Lord” can be a very dangerous cup.  But it is, after all, the only cup we have.

Good news has come into the world.  God is love and Jesus has died and has risen again as both Lord and King.  God has placed upon Him a name that is above every name, so when you say the name “Jesus,” every knee will bow, whether you’re in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, and one day every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And that brings glory to God the Father.

Therefore, Paul comes back around in verse 14, stop your quarreling.  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  Be like the Christ who emptied Himself, modeled humility.

If you and I read and apply Philippians 2 to our lives, we will be different men and women.  Indeed, there is unity through one purpose.  There is humility through example.  And there is confession through recognition of who Jesus is.

What if we lived this passage out?  What if we lived as people intent on one purpose – that is, living and telling the good news of what God has done in Jesus?  What if next week in the office, at the bank, in the hospital, in the school, in the church – what if we did nothing out of selfishness and did nothing out of empty conceit?  What if – this is a hard one – what if we regarded each other as more important than ourselves?  What if we didn’t look out for our own personal interests but were looking out for our brother?  It would change the world, wouldn’t it?  What if we had the attitude in ourselves which was in Christ Jesus.  It’s a hard verse, verse 5.

The One who emptied himself for the good of others.  Hard words.

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