AGAIN I SAY REJOICE
COMPLETE MY JOY
- After a bit of time away from the book of Philippians for various reasons; Easter, Mother’s Day, and Small Group preparation; we return to the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. Turn to Philippians chapter 2.
- Our study of Scripture today brings with it some of the most rich theological truths of the Christian faith. For in our passage we are going to be wrestling with the Trinitarian nature of God, with the self-emptying or kenosis of Christ (we will talk about what that means in a moment), and the deity and humanity of Jesus.
- These are issues that theologians throughout the centuries have labored to understand and articulate. So we will approach these matters not in an attempt to comprehensively understand their importance, but with a view to increase our knowledge ever so slightly; so that we can comprehend how to apply these truths and grow in our knowledge of God. For these truths are deep, but we do not sit idly by; we work to understand, through the Holy Spirit, all that he would reveal to us.
- There are three very practical topics that arise out of this text in the midst of some very profound theological statements, and in the context of Paul encouraging the Philippian church to display these qualities. They are unity, love, and humility. These are, especially unity, topics that we have already seen addressed in the letter. What we are going to find, however, is that now Paul presents these qualities as worthy of pursuit in light of how Jesus Christ himself displayed them.
- In other words, Paul is going to ask the Philippians to “complete his joy”; to make him proud of the hard work and spiritual service he put into them; by having these three attitudes. And in an effort to help them understand the importance of possessing these characteristics, he is going to appeal to the life of Jesus. In that appeal, we will begin to scratch the surface of the deepness of God. So let’s see what Paul has to say:
[READ PHILIPPIANS 2:1-8]
- In v.1 Paul begins with four conditional clauses. And they are a type of conditional clause that assumes the condition in question is an actuality. So the meaning of the first part of v.1 would be: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, and there is...then complete my joy.” And so forth with the remaining three phrases.
- We might shorten the thought in English by saying this: “Since there is encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind.” This is how he starts his thought: since Christ has come alongside you and consoles you with his love; since because of that you now have fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life; and since you now experience the affection, love, and compassion of God: do what I am about to tell you to do.
- We could say that he lists four motivating factors to listen carefully to what he is about to write.
- Let’s look a little more closely at what he calls them to do. First:
PAUL ENCOURAGED UNITY WITHIN THE BODY
- By “body” of course, I mean the body of Christ, the church. In this case, the church in Philippi. Look again at v.2: complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
- You see Paul’s personal joy and satisfaction was linked to whether or not the believers in Philippi were unified. We talked about unity when we looked at vv.27-30 of chapter 1. Remember that true unity always has a central truth or object that it rallies around. There is a false sense of unity where people who disagree on core issues neglect or dismiss their disagreements. Authentic unity is a common commitment to the core issues.
- Obviously then, for the true church, the object of our unity is the gospel, the person we are united around is Jesus Christ, and the purpose of our unity is the glory of God. We can disagree on a lot of things, but we cannot disagree on the necessity of the gospel, the exclusivity of Christ, and the ultimate end of all things being the glory of God.
- Here, Paul reiterates that point in two ways: “be of the same mind” and “be in full accord and of one mind.” We get the idea that we are not just talking about looking like we are one on the outside. It is an inward state of mind. We are focused on one purpose; and that is the unity of the body for the sake of God’s glory through the gospel.
- I’m sure you can think of some practical ways that you can promote unity in our church body and in the body of Christ at large. Some issues, desires, wants, and preferences need to be set aside for a season, or perhaps perpetually, for the greater good of the church. We don’t need to make our look at this too lengthy. I think we understand that no matter what else goes on in our church body, the glory of God through the spreading of Christ’s gospel needs to be at the forefront.
- Now I mentioned as we started that Paul is going to use the life and person of Jesus Christ as an example to follow concerning what he is encouraging the Philippians to do. And in fact, he does that in vv.5-6: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped...
- In those verses we note that:
CHRIST DEMONSTRATED UNITY WITHIN THE GODHEAD
- If Paul encouraged unity based upon a common purpose within the church body, Christ exemplified such unity within the Godhead. Now let’s take a few minutes to define some terms.
- The term “Godhead” refers to the essential nature of God; specifically to his Trinitarian nature. It is more or less a synonym for the Trinity. Now Scripture, as some of us know, presents God as one God in three persons. And “persons” can be hard to define; but we might say “unique entities”; although I’m not sure “entities” is the best word.
- B.B. Warfield, the great Princeton theologian, put it this way: “There is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three co-eternal and coequal Persons” We know those persons to be God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.
- Now God, for his own reasons, has chosen not to reveal all that we might like to know about the Trinity in Scripture. Here is what we can say: The Father is God. The Son, Jesus Christ, is God. The Holy Spirit is God. They are all eternal and all equal. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. They are distinct; but there is only one God. If you can figure that out in its totality, you let me know; I’d love to hear it.
- So we are careful to make sure that when we talk about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit we are being clear that we are not talking about three gods. And yet they are distinct from one another. One in three; three in one. I’ll leave it at that because I couldn’t explain it further if I tried.
- And what we have in vv.5-6 is a glimpse into the eternal Trinitarian relationship of the Godhead. It says that though Jesus was in the form of God (meaning he possessed all of the characteristics and qualities of God, and is by his very nature, God) he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.
- One scholar notes that the phrase “a thing to be grasped” (which is one word in the original) often meant “something to be seized by robbery”; and it has the idea of holding on to something tightly or clinging to something.
- The idea is that even though Christ is and always has been God; and even though Christ has every right to claim and cling to his position within the Godhead; he did not do so because he was united in purpose with the Father. It was the Father’s purpose that Christ voluntarily lay aside his heavenly position for a season in order to accomplish the redemption of humanity. And so it was Christ’s purpose as well. There is in this case, and there is always in every case, perfect unity within the counsels of the triune God.
- The body of Christ, the church, is to reflect this unity. We are to use the example of the Trinity to help us understand unity. So that when we see unity within the very nature of God, we can mirror that unity in our lives.
- Now we have begun to touch on the self-emptying of Christ. But let’s put that aside for a moment to go back to v.2. We saw that Paul encouraged unity within the body. We also see that:
PAUL ENCOURAGED LOVE WITHIN THE BODY
- It says: complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love...
- What might Paul mean by “the same love”? I think William Hendriksen got it right when he wrote that “the same love” is love: “for God in Christ, hence for fellow members, with emphasis on the latter in the present connection.”
- Meaning, if I could personalize it, we are all to have the same love for God through Jesus Christ. We are devoted to him. He is the one who has our affections. And because we love him so much, we also necessarily love each other because we all belong to him if we have faith in Jesus Christ alone.
- See, it’s very difficult if not impossible to have unity within the church if its members do not love each other. You may have heard this mentioned before, and it is worth mentioning again: there are several different Greek words for “love”. There is a word for sensual, passionate, sexual longing: eros; which to my knowledge is not used in the New Testament. There is a word for brotherly, friendship type love: philia. And there is the word used here: agape.
- Agaph is the love that Christ is said to have for his church, and the love that husbands and wives are told to have for one another. It is a matter of the will. It is not based upon emotion. It is a love of the mind. This is noteworthy because if we were called to have a sustained benevolent emotional feeling towards one another, we would all fail miserably.
- You may have heard it said that “To dwell above with the saints we love, that will be glory. But to dwell below with the saints we know, well that is a different story.” We don’t always have “mushy gushy” feelings toward everyone. But that’s not what we are called to. We are called to love each other in the same way Jesus loves us: with an intentional, willful love.
- Loving one another in this selfless, intentional way is not always easy. But again we have the example of Jesus:
CHRIST DEMONSTRATED LOVE IN HIS INCARNATION
- Here we return to the issue of Christ’s self-emptying. We’ve seen that Christ did not count equality with God as a thing to be held on to; now v.7: but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
- “Made himself nothing” is literally “emptied himself”. Now it’s important that we understand what Jesus did when he came to this earth and how it demonstrates his great love for humanity. The theological term that is used to describe what Jesus is said to have done here is “kenosis”. It is from the Greek word used in v.7 that means “to empty oneself” or “to divest oneself of rightful dignity by descending to an inferior condition”.
- Now when Paul says “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” he is describing the incarnation of Jesus; when the eternal Son of God, who has always existed, took on human flesh. God became a man.
- So here is the whole picture: Jesus, who existed from all of eternity, took on a human nature. In doing so, he veiled his deity. If you were alive when Jesus walked the earth, he would have looked like any other human being. He submitted himself to a voluntary lack of recognition.
- But he did not cease to be God. So you have in the person of Jesus one of the greatest mysteries in the universe: one man, two natures. He was and is by his very nature God. When he wrapped himself in human flesh he took on a human nature in addition to his divine nature.
- So when you look at the life of Jesus you see him doing things that no man could possibly do. He calmed the raging seas. He walked across the water. He raised people from the dead. He was (and still is) God.
- But you also see him experiencing things that God is not subject to. He was weary. He grew hungry. He slept. He was truly human just as he was truly God. This is what the kenosis of Christ refers to: Jesus, being God, submitting himself to human limitations and experiences, without ceasing to be God even for a moment.
- Now what was the ultimate limitation and experience that he submitted himself to? Look again at v.8: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
- At the cross, the love of God was supremely manifested. As Romans 5:8 says: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The God of the universe voluntarily submitted himself to the ability to experience pain, suffering, death, and ultimately, the weight of the sin of the world. And don’t think for one second that he had any obligation to do so.
- But he did not cling to his glorious rights. He emptied himself for a season so that we could be eternally full in him. And sin after evil sin was laid upon him and he died on behalf of all who would ever believe. God did that for you if you have faith in Jesus.
- And that same love, that Christ has shown us, is to be shown by his children to one another. The ramifications and applications of that are many.
- Well, let’s look back at vv.3-4 for the last attitude: Do nothing from rivalry 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.
PAUL ENCOURAGED HUMILITY WITHIN THE BODY
- Consider each other before yourself. That’s really the basic definition of humility as it relates to other people. Humility before God in 1 Peter 5 is surrendering to his sovereignty and power; and it is similar with humility before other people. The humble person is willing to submit to the wishes and will of another if the situation is appropriate. He or she look to the interests of others as well as his or her own interests.
- It has been said that “They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves cannot be proud.” There is so much truth there. You cannot have unity if you do not have love. And you cannot have either of those two things if you do not have humility. A person who is not humble cannot selflessly love another because he or she is selfish. And a person who cannot love selflessly cannot promote unity around a common purpose.
- So Paul tells them not to do anything from rivalry or conceit. Don’t bring your egos into the church. Don’t think it’s your way or the highway. Do what is best for the unity of the body and encourage others to do the same.
- And once again, we look to Christ as our supreme example; because:
CHRIST DEMONSTRATED HUMILITY ON THE CROSS
- Even as we saw love demonstrated in v.8, so we see humility revealed: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
- I love the way Paul words this. There are three stages of humility found here in this verse. The first is the incarnation stage. Christ was found in human form. He left the glory of heaven for a cave in Bethlehem. Then is the death stage. The humility goes further. Not only did God become a man, but he surrendered himself to the event of death. Finally there is the crucifixion stage. He surrendered not just to any death, but the most shameful and embarrassing death penalty in the ancient world.
- And so, a Christ-like body of believers will reflect a similar humility. They will not be conceited or selfish. They will not cling to their positions of power. They will be humble, and therefore loving; and therefore united around Christ and his glorious gospel.