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Sermon blog post: Make my joy complete

February 18, 2017

Philippians 2:1-11

It is a wonderful thing to lift our voices in worship. To praise God for all that he has done for us, particularly through Jesus.

The centre piece of our reading this morning, was probably an early Christian hymn, celebrating the sacrificial love of Jesus our saviour. And his restoration to his rightful place.

But the passage we read reminds us that our acts of worship together in our church fellowships have to stand in a greater context. That goes far beyond the confines of a church building. Or a certain period of time on a Sunday. That permeates every part of our lives.

So elsewhere the apostle Paul could encourage his readers in Rome to offer up their bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

True worship will affect our hearts and emotions but will also affect our behaviour towards one another in our churches and also our everyday attitudes and actions and words and aspirations.

There is no part of our lives that should not be worship.

1. Make my joy complete

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is one where joy is a hallmark. It is one of the threads that runs through the whole letter.

Joy so often as we see it equates with what we’re going through in our lives. It’s those good experiences in our lives that make us happy.

But this letter reminds us that true joy or happiness is not dictated by the ups and downs of life. It runs much deeper.

In the final chapter he encourages them “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice!”

It’s in that context that he makes his claim “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” – a verse we so often rip out of context.

For Paul’s circumstances were not what we would think as happy ones. As he wrote he was in prison. He talks openly about his chains. But he rejoices and he encourages the Philippians “Make my joy complete”.

Paul is already rejoicing as he writes. In the opening chapter, he exclaims:

• “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel”(1:4,5)

• “I will continue to rejoice…for…your prayers”(1:18,19)

He’s rejoicing in their work with him. He’s rejoicing in their prayer support for him. Later in the letter he rejoices at their concern for him.

But he’s cheering them on for more. “Go further. Aim higher. Make my joy complete”.

2. Why “make my joy complete”?:

So why should they listen to Paul? Why should they want to do this for him. Paul gives them some foundations to build on:

• “Encouraged by being united with Christ”

• “Comfort from his love”

• “Fellowship with the Spirit”

• “Tenderness and compassion”

Paul uses the word “if” but it’s pretty clear that he takes the things he says as given for these Christians. You ARE united with Christ. With him and also with each other. So of course you ARE encouraged by that.

You know Jesus’ love. So you ARE comforted – strengthened.

You have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, but also in the Spirit with one another. The Spirit brings unity among his people.

You ARE tender and compassionate.

So as a church fellowship in Philippi, with all those incentives, “make my joy complete”.

3. How to “make my joy complete”:

So what is it Paul is looking for? He wants them to look at themselves. But more than that he wants them to look at each other. He wants them to look closely at the group of people around them in their worship services:

• “Be like-minded”

• “having the same love”

• “Being one in Spirit and purpose”

• “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”

• “in humility consider others better”

• “look not only to your own interests…”

• “…but also to the interests of others”

Unity in the way they think. How hard is that in our church life with so many opinions! So many different interpretations of what scripture says to us. What a challenge to us even in our own fellowships, quite apart from the other churches we interact with.

Love. Love is the context. Love is the foundation. Love is the atmosphere that must prevail in the church. Paul of course has much to say elsewhere about what that love looks like.

Patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not dishonouring others, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs, not delighting in evil, rejoicing in the truth, protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering.

Even when we struggle to be like minded, that’s the kind of love we need to have in our churches.

Love is about dwelling together in unity and harmony. How sad when in our churches we don’t have love, we don’t live love. We look after no 1.

Be one. Work together. Set your goals together.

Forget about trying to be someone in the church. Put others first. Their interests over yours.

4. The Example of Humility:

He wants to set them an example, and to communicate this, he takes them to that hymn that they know. “Your attitude” he argues, “should be the same as Christ Jesus”.

Remember the song:

• “Christ Jesus…”

• “who being in very nature God…”

• “…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but…”

• “made himself nothing”

• “taking the very nature of a servant”

• “being made in human likeness”

• “and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…”

• “and became obedient to death”

• “even death on a cross”

It’s Jesus who is our supreme example. “He was in very nature God. He didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped”.

Paul is not saying that equality with God was something that Jesus had to seek. He already had it. He was and is God.

So that equality was something that he had. It was his to hold. His status was and is beyond dispute.

So in these verses it is not that Jesus decided he will not try to take power by force. He had no need to do that.

Rather he chose to let it go. Not to hang onto his rightful powerful position.

Father and Son. One in fellowship and nature. God of God.

He opens his hands and lets it go. From his rightful place in the boardroom he steps down to the shop floor.

He makes himself nothing. Out of choice he becomes a nobody.

He lays aside his Godness. And he becomes a servant. Serving God willingly as master. He’s by nature God. He takes the nature of a servant. One of the workers.

He agreed to become one of us. Almighty God taking on the limitations of a human body. Initially as a baby dependant upon the care and protection of human parents. Subject to the weaknesses and limitations of a human body.

That’s a big step down. At the back of my office by the emergency exit there is a warning sign “high step outside”. I always think that’s wrong. It’s not a high step. It should be “low step outside”. Step out and it’s a long way down!

Jesus exited his glory and took the low step. Way down to humanity.

But Paul says there was more.

As a man he made himself subject to death. The everlasting father. The eternal God. The one who was and is and is to come, allowed himself to face the unthinkable. Death.

Face to face with mortality.

But Paul says there was still more.

It wasn’t just that he would die. It was the way that he knew he would die. Even death on a cross. A criminal’s death. A cursed death. A punishment received by the creator from those he had created. Total humiliation and cruelty.

The lion becomes the lamb.

And none of this was a surprise to Jesus. He accepted all this willingly.

5. The Rewards of humility:

No wonder the early Christians used this as a song of praise. The king who lays aside his majesty.

Who lowers himself willingly to such suffering.

But there is a reward for such humility and suffering. The fact that the early believers lifted up the name of Jesus in praise as they meditated on his sacrifice, was a dull reflection of what God had already done. Back to the next verse of their hymn:

• “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…”

• “…and gave him the name that is above every name”

• “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”

• “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”

• “To the glory of God the Father”.

Because of his loving sacrifice, God the Father restored Jesus to his rightful place. A throne at God’s right hand. A place of equality with God.

It’s his name that is going to be praised. He is supreme and always will be .

It’s to the name of Jesus that everyone will bow. Everyone will kneel before him and recognise him for who he is.

In heaven. And on earth. And under the earth.

It’s a reminder that for all of us we will one day come to kneel before him. For some that will be a joy. For others who have rejected him in this life that will be something to fear.

Every knee will bow to him, whatever our attitude to him has been in this life. He IS LORD.

6. And don’t forget: “YOUR attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus”.

It’s a high theme. It’s cause for praise, but let’s be careful not to let this out of Paul’s original context.

This is not just about Jesus. This is about you. It’s about your church fellowship. It’s about those other church groups in your area. It’s about your fellow Christians around the world.

“Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus”. Sing your hymns of worship. Marvel at what Jesus has done for you. Sing about his sacrifice. But hold on to this.

You’ve got to be the same.

If Jesus is God and he lets go of his rightful position for the sake of others, how should we respond? What is our mindset?

Are we grasping? Are we driven by a striving for status and recognition? Do we want to be somebody? Even in the church?

Jesus isn’t like that. Because of his love for you, he let it go. His was not the selfish ambition or vain conceit, if that were even possible given his deIty. He was the supreme example of humility, considering others and looking to their interests.

If he willingly chose that way then how much more should those who follow him?!

Jesus became a servant to all. We are to seek to serve one another.

Jesus the eternal Son of God faced death and drank it’s dreaded cup.

Jesus challenged his followers to daily take up our cross and follow him. For some that would certainly even mean to face death, as many have done in their devotion for him.

At the very least isn’t it about about putting to death our own ambitions, our own drive, and surrendering to his way? Looking for his plans rather than ours.

And as with Jesus, we need to be reminded that there is a reward ahead. Elsewhere we are told that “for the joy set before him” Jesus “endured the cross”.

God lifted him up and those of us who follow Jesus falteringly in this life, will be lifted up, to a time and place where we will see Jesus face to face and amazingly will become like him.

So let’s seek God’s help. For we can’t do any of this on our own. Jesus is our example and shows to live like this is possible.

But more than that he is our saviour if we trust in him. And the Holy Spirit who lives in us can change our hearts and empower us to live for others.

When we meet Jesus face to face we will spend an eternity singing:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”

AMEN

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