09 Jan 2022
The Philippian church was a good church, yet they faced a threat of disunity (Phil 4:2) where the self-focusing values of the Roman Empire had crept into the church. For there to be Gospel Unity, Paul revealed that we need to have a mindset that counts other Christians and their interests more significant than your own, which Christ first demonstrated. As Gospel Lighters, we find ourselves in a similar situation. In Singapore, Gospel Light too faces the same threat with self-focusing values creeping into our church. If a good church like the Philippian church was susceptible to the threat of disunity, what more us. We too must follow Paul’s call to put on the mindset of unity, by considering “one another” more significant than ourselves. Particularly in the areas of forgiveness, serving in church and caring for others midst of the pandemic.
Here's a question that I like to begin with? How can Gospel Light achieve true gospel unity? Is it by printing shirts, matching shirts, so we can all look great in photos? Is it by hanging out with each other more? So, I think Paul in Philippians 2 tells us something drastically different. You see, Paul in Philippians 2 says this. He says that the way to Christian unity is to have a mindset that counts other Christians and their interests, more significant than yours, which Christ first demonstrated. You see in these 11 verses that were read out, Paul uses the word ‘mind’ three times. And this automatically tells us that the mind is crucial to Paul's point of unity. Growing up I am sure we have been told what you set your mind on is very important. It determines everything, the way you live, the goals we set in our life, the things we do in our life, and it affects our entire outlook of our lives. Two years ago, on this very stage, I went through the biggest change of mindset in my life, when I got married. Before that I was really living in my parents’ house as a single man, I could do whatever I want. I could plan my timetable. I could go out at night whenever I wanted to. I could decide the shows I watch; I could decide everything. But suddenly, two years ago on this very stage, my entire mindset had to change. Suddenly, I no longer had the privilege of planning my own schedule. I no longer had the privilege of going out late at night. Now before I plan my schedule, I need to ask my wife, can I go out at this particular timing, will it clash with your plans? I'm also early sleeper and early riser. My mind, my brain turns off at about 1030pm at night, and my wife loves to have our heart to heart talks really late at night. And here's the other fascinating one before I got married, I love to watch Western dramas. And now my Netflix account is filled with Korean dramas. And secretly I watch Descendants of the Sun twice. You see if I were to maintain my own mindset as a single man, it will result in many fights with my wife. To have peace with my wife, to have peace at home, I needed to put away that old single mindset and put on the new mindset as a married man. I put my wife's interests ahead of mine. Can you imagine if I didn't do that I'll have a very, very, very unhappy wife.
And likewise for gospel unity to happen in Gospel Light, just as I had to put off my old mindset as a single man, we too, need to put off the old mindset of selfish ambition and conceit. And put on the new mindset of counting others, counting your brothers and sisters more significant than yourselves. You see, if I had brought my old mindset of the single man into my marriage, and whenever she starts talking late at night in our heart-to-heart talks, I say, let me sleep, it is going to destroy my marriage. But likewise, if you were to bring our own mindset of selfish ambition and conceit, into church, into our relationship with our brothers and sisters, it is sure, it is sure to erode gospel unity.
The Philippian Church
Before I go into the text, I just want us to observe a few things about the Philippian church. So, this is just some background things about the Philippian church. You see, the Philippian church was part of the Roman Empire. The Empire promoted self-exaltation, they promoted self-success, self-ambition, self-care, and doesn't it sound like some of the values that we have in Singapore as well? We're always told to focus on ourselves, do what is best for you, do what is best for your career, your career, your grades, your relationship, everything is about doing what is best for yourself. So, they are quite like us.
Secondly, the Philippian church is a good church, unlike the series that we've been going through in Corinthians, where Paul seems to be scolding them all the time, right? The letter of the Philippians is actually a very, very positive letter. In fact, it is so positive that many people call this letter, the letter of joy. Because Paul constantly says, I rejoice. But here is the catch. Even though the Philippian church was doing well, even though Paul constantly rejoices in them, there was a threat of this unity. You see, the reason that Paul penned a letter to the Philippians was to address this issue of gospel unity. You see, even though the church was doing well, Paul is like this church, I am so proud of you guys, I rejoice in you guys. There is still the problem of this unity. What does this tell us? This tells us that this unity threatens every church, even the best ones, what more us? You see, there was a conflict going on. I don't have this verse here but in Philippians 4:2, there was a conflict going on between two women. Paul knew about this. He wrote through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote this entire letter to address this issue of gospel unity. You see if even a good church will be struggling with gospel unity, what about us?
This brings me to my first point. The best way I would say to follow me in this sermon is if you could take your Bibles out, I want to show you that what I'm saying is not my own ideas, it's really from the Bible is from the text. And if you can follow me, along with me in these 11 verses, I hope to do that.
You see, Paul begins this chapter. With this point, he starts with a series of rhetorical statements, he says, “so if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the spirit, any affection and sympathy,” (Philippians 2:1). What is Paul saying here? Paul says that as Christians, you and I have encouragement and comfort in Christ when we are faced with trials. We have received comfort from God's love. And notice, as Christians, our unity is special, because we have fellowship together in the same Holy Spirit, which means that the Holy Spirit is the one that produces unity from within. And he says there is affection and sympathy within the Christian community. You see, when we became Christians, when I became a Christian, my affections and my emotions and my sympathy towards my brothers and sisters totally change from aliens that I didn't know to people I really want to care about, to people I really care for. And that's what the Holy Spirit does in all of us. In these verses, Paul is really saying, church, unity is possible because of what we have in Christ. Do you catch that? He's not saying that unity needs to be manufactured, he says unity is possible. You already have unity because of what you have in Christ.
I think Paul's logic is crystal clear. He says, Yeah, all these things here, you have it. But I think we need to stop and consider this for a moment. You see if Paul is right, that means as Christians, there is no excuse that we can make for a lack of unity. We cannot stand before God on judgment day and say God, sorry, I didn't have the resources and power to have gospel unity. We can't say that, because it's already given to us. For the rest of the world, and I'm sure many of you are part of school clubs, companies that try to manufacture unity by printing out shirts going on social events, and other means eating together. Paul says as Christians, you have it. Also, look, take note of the comfort that God provides. I think this is crucial, especially in the midst of a pandemic. You see, a Christian is really never in pain alone. He is never uncomforted, God's love comforts him, even in a pandemic, when I know that many of us are struggling. For the rest of the world tells us, hey, you're struggling, focus on yourself, focus on your family, don't look out for other people's needs. God's comfort, God's love, you know what that does? That frees us up to look beyond ourselves, to the needs of others, even when we are in pain, even when we are suffering.
I hear a lot of stories about people struggling in our church during the pandemic. And I know that many of you have been inflicted a lot of pain, maybe a loss of a job, a loss of a loved one, someone in the family contracting COVID and sends the family into a frenzy. But I think Paul can still ask us to pursue gospel unity. Because God has provided everything for us. God provides for our needs. That is what Paul is saying in verse one.
Paul then transits to verse two, he's going to paint a picture of what Unity looks like. If you look at the screen, Paul says “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). The reason why Paul says Complete My joy is because he is already very happy with them. But the one thing that they need to do to complete his joy is to address this issue of gospel unity. You see how gospel unity is so important to Paul. And by doing it, it will complete Paul’s joy for them. The next four phrases, point to what this gospel unity look like. It says the same mind, the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Paul tells the church that you need to be so united to the point that your mind’s function and think as one, that is the high standard that Paul is calling us to today. And that is possible because he has provided everything, we have needed for it.
But the question is now how, how do we do that? How can we even hope to reach this standard as Gospel Light? What are the steps we can take? For Paul is going to outline that in the second point in verses three to four. He says, this is how we are, this is what we are to do. He said, gospel unity happens when Christians humbly count themselves and the interests of others ahead of their own. Observe what Paul says in verses three to four, Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition, 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.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Do you see what Paul is doing here? Paul is going head on to challenge the values of the Roman Empire, the world that the Philippines were living in. He says the value of selfish ambition and conceit which means self-praise, these are values of the world. But similarly, as Singaporeans, as I've mentioned before, we often prize these values, don't we? Self-promotion, self-ambition, self-concern. You know what Paul is saying? Paul is saying here that these values are not Christian values. In fact, these values are obstacles. You heard that right. These values are obstacles to gospel unity. And if we are not careful Gospel Light, I think these values can creep into our church.
Let me give one example. Many of us might come into church with a what's in it for me attitude. I come into church, my needs need to be met, everything needs to be about me. And when my needs are not met, I leave the CG. When my needs are not met, you know what, I'll just go into another ministry or sometimes when you say, this is not for me, no one here meets my needs, I'm going to leave church. Haven't we heard many stories of that before? Church, what I am really saying is that the world is closer to our door than we actually think it is. It has crept into church, and we have been totally clueless that it has been here, some of us maybe even embrace it. But you see, what Paul is saying is he is providing an alternative way of living for gospel unity. Paul says this is the other way to live. He says, live humbly in humility, by counting others more significant than yourself. Instead of only caring about yourself, Paul says care about the interests of others as well.
Take note of what he says, selfish ambition and conceit, are sure to erode the unity in our church. Hey Gospel light, for our church to have gospel unity, we need to cast aside the self-focus, self-exalting values and self-interest and to replace them with the mind of humility, that prioritizes others ahead of yourself. You see, Paul has already revealed the secret to gospel unity, it is a change mindset, a change of priorities, one that is others-focus.
Maybe some of you say hey, you know Luzerne, in a pandemic, it's difficult, we have so many needs to take care of. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to downplay your needs. But I think many of us can look inwards in this time. But I look back in history. And if you look at the early church, this is not the first time a pandemic has hit the church. You know, if you look back in church history, it was during pandemics that the Church used to grow the most. Because you know why the Christians will be the only group, the only religious group, the only group of people that will be placing the needs of others ahead of themselves, they will be the only group that looks out for others instead of themselves. You see trials and suffering and even a pandemic provides the best condition for the church to grow. Because we already have everything we need, while everyone else in this world is worrying about their needs, worrying about comfort and about themselves; God's love, God's comfort has freed us up to love others, to place ourselves below them, to place their needs above ours.
You see, when the non-Christians suffer, many times, they have to suffer alone, they're not sure about what happens. They can't be sure that their needs are met. But there are so many promises in the Bible, promising us that God will take care of us because we are his children, he will take care of our needs, he comforts us in love. And that's why I say we are free to place others and their needs ahead of us. That's what Paul is asking.
And Paul doesn't stop there. In fact, Paul, in the next point, he's going to carry on to the climax of Philippians. The teaching of Philippians that this teaching is coming up is a teaching that the entire letter revolves around. Christ example of humility. Before I come and start talking about this point, just get you to remember what Paul has said before. He has asked us to lay down our lives, put the interests of others ahead of us. And now he's going to tell us the reason and the motivation for that. He said this must be rooted in the example of Jesus. Paul is going to show us at this point that the cross is so central to his understanding of everything, Christian, that Jesus's death on the cross doesn't just have implications for your salvation, but it has implications on gospel unity.
First, Paul says, “Have this mind”, you can see the word mind comes up again, “have this mind that is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) And isn't this verse fascinating? Because Paul once again says, this mind, you already have it. It is yours in Christ Jesus. Paul is going to then explain what this mind is. In verse six to seven, Paul says Jesus “who though was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasp, but he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” In these verses, what Paul is saying is that Jesus is God that comes with glory, majesty, status, he was entitled to be worshipped by the entire world. But even though he was entitled to these things, he did not want them when many would have coveted that these things. You see, Jesus did not see these things as something to be prized. Instead, Jesus hid his glory, His Majesty, his status, when he took on shameful human flesh, to be in the likeness of men. Maybe some of us think about Jesus like those Greek gods. When the Greek gods come down to earth, they need all, everyone on Earth to feed them grapes, to serve them, to be treated like royalty, because they are one tier higher than us. But Jesus is not like that at all. He is the complete opposite. He did not come to earth to be royalty, even though he was royalty. He came to earth to take on the form of a servant to be the lowest of men.
And his point is, let me make a little sidetrack to what this text is not saying. This is not saying that Jesus emptied himself of being God, Jesus, never once stop being God. Because I use the word earlier, I said, Jesus hid his glory, majesty and status. When Jesus came to earth, or what we call the incarnation. He did not stop being God, he never for a moment, stop being God. Think about this, like how the clouds would cover the sun on a rainy day. We might not see the sun. But we know that the sun is still there. Likewise, in Jesus's incarnation, he was still God just that he hid it.
Let me carry on to verse eight. I want you to get the picture here what Paul is really doing. Paul is saying Jesus from God came to be man and now the humbling of Jesus continues. He's going to be the lowest of men, to be hung, to be killed, like the worst of criminals. Paul brings us now to Jesus's death. Can you see the emphasis on the last part, he says, “Being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)? Can see obviously Paul is concerned with the way Jesus died. You hear this every good Friday but let me say it again. The Roman Cross was designed to be the most shameful way to die. It was designed to shame the criminal by hanging the criminal naked in public for everyone to see. To show his weakness on display, his vulnerabilities on display, the entire process is a humiliating one. You see the crucifixion probably never harmed any vital organs. But the way the criminal dies is through suffocation. He dies in weakness, when the muscles used to breathe, eventually tire out so that everyone who is watching would see how weak this man this criminal is. The Romans reserved this for the worst criminals in the world.
Do you see the point here? Jesus, from God to men, to the lowest of men, to be harmed and killed like the worst criminals, total humiliation of the God of all creation. You know what the real humiliation of the incarnation and the cross is, is that the one who himself was God, and never for a moment stop being God throughout the entire process, would embrace such humiliation. Divine selflessness, you see, Jesus is not a selfish person by grasping and seizing all glory, honor and status he could get but he was self-giving, self-denying, for the sake of us, for the sake of others. This self-giving mind as Paul said in verse five is in us. Our mind has been changed. Because we have received salvation from Jesus's selfless act of the cross. No wonder this is the motivation to gospel unity for Christians. We are only able to lay our lives down. We are only able to count others and their needs more significant than ours. Because Jesus has first done that for us so that we could live, so that we could have salvation, so that we will no longer face death. Please let us pause and just consider this for a moment. What does it mean for us that we were saved because of Jesus's selfless act? Think about the cross. Think about the sufferings Jesus had to endure. They were not just mere pain, they were complete humiliation for the one who never for a moment once stop being God, as humiliating as it is for any human to go through that kind of death, what more the God of all creation.
After this, in verse 9 to 11, Jesus didn't just die. He rose again, from his death to his exhortation. Looking at verse 9 to 11, because of Jesus's selfless humility, God lift Jesus up to be exalted. Jesus, who hung in shame, as the lowest of all criminals in the world will be exalted, will be lifted up to the highest place where everyone will worship him. God gave Jesus what he did not covet, what he was willing to cast aside. I'm done going through the texts.
But I think here's where the important bit comes. I just want to piece together everything if there's one central message that I want, and I pray that all of us would take home today is that the way that Gospel Light can have gospel unity is to have a mindset that will count others, other Christians and their needs more significant than ours because of what Christ first demonstrated. The only way we can ever hope to maintain gospel unity is if we truly understand the manner in which we have been saved. Because Christ first humbly lay himself down for us. The extent he went to from the status, and majesty and glory he could have enjoyed to being hung like the worst criminal is something that none of us will probably ever have to do. We received so much more than it's ever asked of us. But it can't stop there. The cross is so important that that cross must flow into every single walk of our life, and in particular today in gospel unity. This is why non-Christians can never have what we have, because there is no understanding of the cross for them. And yet for us, because of the life-changing message of the cross. Nothing's ever the same again. But I like us to think about how this could flow into our relationships in church? How can you? How can we as individuals, humbly consider others and their needs more significant than ourselves? Some of the points I might raise might hit all of you. But these three application points that I would like us to consider has been something I've been praying about for quite a long time.
Firstly, in the area of forgiveness, I believe the cross and gospel unity affects our forgiveness of others. I'm sure all of us here have had our fair share of Christian conflict, haven't we? We feel wronged and hurt by someone in church? Or maybe for some of us here, we are wronged and hurt by someone from another church. And that's why we're here today. The temptation is always to act and react in a way where my needs are first met first. Maybe what we do is some of us leave the church. Some of us tell another brother or sister hey you know what? This guy did this to me so that we can have more people on our side. Some of us feel like we're entitled to treat that person badly because we have the moral high ground; He messed up against me, you are forever in my debt. So many of us are content, we are more than happy to go about our lives with the grudge of unforgiveness, bearing a grudge in church. And that is exactly what Paul wants to address today. Christ example on the cross demands that a Christian respond in forgiveness, to humbly place our ego down our pride down. Not for your sake, but for the sake of the other person. You know, maybe that's you today. and you need to say sorry to a brother or sister. You need to start placing your interests below that of the other brother and sister. Hey, Paul says today gaze upon the cross, put on the mind of Christ, and reconcile.
Unity in the Pandemic
Secondly, I'd like us to consider unity in the pandemic. In the midst of this COVID-19 situation, many of us are away from the church body. I know that tuning on to Zoom is hard, CG over Zoom is difficult. But I think there is a tendency for us to forget those around us, to forget our brothers and sisters. And maybe we start focusing inwardly on ourselves, trying to meet our own needs. Once again, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to downplay your needs and your struggles. Staying at home for a long time, will not do your mental wellness any good. But I think in today's text, Paul is saying that we must consider the needs of others and their interests ahead of ours and God's love and comfort reassures us of that. Maybe that's you today, and we need to start considering the needs of others first, or maybe you don't even know the needs of others in church. Can I suggest that we start coming for prayer meeting on Wednesday, this is not a publicity stance, but in prayer meeting is where people share their needs. They share their prayer points. And maybe the first step out of today's sermon, to place others interests ahead of yourself is with your time. You just need to log on to zoom, hear the interest of others and start praying for them. Or maybe you know of someone who is struggling in this situation. We know that in prayer meeting, we hear of many needs that need to be addressed. Many people that need to be helped, maybe paying them a visit, inviting them over to your house to catch up. Or if you're more conscious of the virus, just simply sending them a text, hey, I'm praying for you, sending them grab food, writing a handwritten card. Don't be stingy in showing our love to others. Embrace Jesus’ suffering on the cross and allow His sacrifice to impact the way you love others.
Thirdly, regarding service in church. I've grew up in this church. I've been in this church about 24 years. So I know how gospel was like when we were less than 100 people. But we thank God that the church has grew, we moved, he gave us a beautiful building. But I do think that somehow along the way, we might have lost the spirit of serving. Maybe it happened when we grew exponentially big as a church, we moved into this big building. Why do I say this? I say this because if you look closely at the announcement slides every Sunday, there are slides appealing for volunteers, week in and week out. And this happens regularly. And maybe I think we might have lost the spirit of gospel unity in service. We only serve when it is convenient for us anything that becomes an inconvenience to us, our family, our work, our hobbies, we don't do, we leave it to others to do. Paul tells us that it is exactly this attitude, this self-prioritization, self-seeking, self-interest that has no place in the church. If we truly want gospel unity, if we truly gaze and understand the sacrifice of Christ, we will place the needs of others, the needs of the church ahead of ourselves, we will be mutually serving each other putting our hands up and coming together.
You know, as I was preparing this message, this was a real tough one for me. As I was just thinking about what to write, really trying to understand this passage, God was really doing something in my heart. He was really challenging my view. You see in the midst of this pandemic, I'm not sure how many of you are on social media, but there has really been a rise of the promotion of self-care. For those of you who don't know what self-care is. Basically, self-care is a movement that tells us that we need to start focusing on ourselves, invest in yourself, spend time pampering yourself, look after your body, look out for your own needs. But it also promotes this view of rejecting energy sapping people, people who require you to spend a lot of energy on and a lot of social energy and time. This movement says stop hanging out with them, reject them, they are toxic people so that you can be a better, happier version of yourself.
At first, this seemed like a great idea to me. So, when COVID hit, I embraced it, I started to take care of myself, sign up for some boxing lessons to take care of my health, bought some coffee, learn how to brew coffee. But slowly, I realized that I started to turn down meeting people who are hard to love in church so that I could be a better version of myself. And at that point of time, I said, I will do it so that I could better serve the ministry. When someone who I really struggled to love, would send me a text, and they would say, hey, Luzerne, you free to meet up? I will have a standard reply, say, I'll let you know when I'm free as a nice way of just rejecting them. You see, for the longest time I genuinely thought this was a great idea. In fact, I had more energy, I was happier, I stopped struggling so much, I felt better. But this text in Philippines 2, was a big slap to my face, it was a huge wake up call. Because when I read this, I realized I had been thinking more like the world, than the Bible, than Jesus. I had let the worldly values creep into my life, influence the way I serve, I work, I ministered. And for that, I need to repent. After writing this sermon, I had to sit down, take out my calendar, my priority list, take a huge stock take of my life. I had to do a massive overhaul. My priorities had to change. The time I arranged meetups had to change. I needed to apologize, I needed to send people text and arrange to meet up. And honestly, I'm not even there yet. Even as I'm preaching this, at this moment, there are people that God is currently bringing to mind that I need to repent, I need to say sorry to, I need to arrange to meet up. Because the worldly values have really taken a root on me. And slowly but surely, I think God's pushing me in the direction of really following Christ’s example.
But how about you? Worldly values will always threaten to creep into the church and threaten gospel unity. But how does this text convict you today? Please don't walk out of here thinking, oh, I learned a great lesson. Please, do you have some decisions to make after this, regarding your time in church, regarding your service in church? Are there relationships, you might need to fix? A brother or sister you might need to send a text to, right after this? Or for families, do you guys need to sit down right after this as a family and said our priorities need to change? I think that's that is what it means to have the cross flow into all walks of our life. See Church, the only way we can ever hope to have gospel unity is if we start by considering others and their interests more significant than ours. You know what the best thing as a church is, we are all going to struggle with this together. Get someone to pray with you after this. Get someone to encourage you, someone to keep you accountable. But my desire and my hope and my prayer is that after today, we will take a serious topic of our lives. Have we allowed the worldly values to creep into our life unknowingly? And we are starting to think more like the world and think of Christ.
If you're a non-believer here today, you're wondering about the sacrifice that Jesus did on the cross. Why on earth would the God of all creation take the form of sinful flesh to die? Well, it's because of our sins, sins are the wrong things that we have done. And the wonderful news of the gospel that all of us Christians here would want you to partake in is that we are all too sinners, but because of Jesus's selfless, divine sacrifice for us, our sins were taken by Him on the cross if only we come and repent. Church that's really all I have for today. Now can I get everyone, now let's pray, every head bowed and every eye closed. I think I have a little bit of time, so maybe just in this moment, can I ask that we really reflect on what the sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus and what that means for us? Maybe at this moment there is someone coming to mind that you need to apologize to, some decisions that you need to make. Think about that.
Let me pray. God, we are thankful for the beauty of the cross, that the God of all creation, who never for a moment throughout the entire ordeal, stop being God would embrace humiliation when he could have majesty, status and glory so that sinful men and women like us could have eternal life. Lord, I pray for the gospel unity in our church, that indeed this text really, really asked us to consider the values that we have, it goes right to the core of many values that we were brought up in. And I pray Holy Spirit with you convict hearts today, we will make decisions that will be glorifying to you and that the cross will flow into all walks of our lives. And we pray for our church, that as we grow bigger in numbers, that we will not lose the spirit of gospel unity that we will consider no matter our size, no matter where we are, to put the interests of others above ourselves, because that is what you first did. Pray and ask all these things, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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