Summary: Putting others before ourselves will bring us to our knees. Learning to give ourselves away is also the first step to a deeper experience of true joy.
There is something that stirs deeply within us when a man or woman gives up their life for another. A few decades ago Roger Rosenblatt wrote a moving tribute in Time Magazine. It was about a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90 that crashed into the Potomac River. The nameless 50-some-year old man was clinging to the tail section in the freezing water with five other passengers.
Every time the rescue helicopter lowered the lifeline the man passed it on to one of the other passengers. The story gripped the nation. Rosenblatt wrote, “For at some moment in the water he must have realized that he would not live if he continued to hand the rope and the ring to others. He had to know it, no matter how gradual the effect of the cold.... When the helicopter took off with what was to be the last survivor, he watched everything in the world move away from him, and he deliberately let it happen.” The man gave his life so that others would live.
When someone dies for someone else it remind us that the most noble moments of human existence occur when we sacrifice our rights on behalf of others. The opportunity to make the ultimate sacrifice will not come to everyone. But those heroic moments are metaphors which remind us that our best moments are those when we selflessly put others first. The consummate example of this, of course, is Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Never did a man live such a selfless life as Jesus. Never did a man focus more purely on serving others than our Lord.
This is the third message from Philippians in our series “Got Joy?” We turn our attention today to chapter 2:1-11. Our passage contains an ancient hymn widely regarded by scholars to have been part of the liturgy of the first century church. The focus of the hymn is Christ’s descent into greatness. Jesus descended from heaven where for all eternity he received the adoration of ten thousand times ten thousand angels. The Lord laid aside his rights to the glories of heaven and became a man destined to die on the cross for our sin.
The overarching theme in this passage is that God calls us to follow the pattern set by Christ. To follow Christ means that, like him, we’re also called to descend into greatness; to lay aside our rights and serve others. Yet this downward direction is contrary to everything around us. Our flesh, our training in society and the gravitational pull of the world all tug us incessantly upward to dominate and control others.
Bill Hybels writes this. “In the vocabulary of the world, ‘down’ is a word reserved for losers, cowards, and the bear market. It is a word to be avoided or ignored… especially in polite society. It is a word that colors whatever it touches…down and out, downfall, downscale, downhill, downhearted, and worst of all, down under. A word, it seems, only on the unfortunate lips of the weak, the poor or the dead.”
If all that weren’t enough, there is this crowning blow against the word: Its antonym is ‘up.’ And up, in our high-voltage society, is a word that has come to be cherished, almost worshiped. It is a word reserved for winners, heroes, and those who know their bull. It is a word to be admired and pursued…the way to influence whoever is present: the upscale, up and coming, upwardly mobile, upper class. The word of the chosen few and the strong.”
Thus, the pull upward is incessant and powerful. It’s a pull that uses pride and selfishness for its brick and mortar. And the influence of this upward pull is felt just as much in the church as outside of it. But those who choose to resist the pull, those who choose to follow Jesus by descending into greatness are always the ones who taste the greater portion of God’s favor and joy.
I never cease to marvel at how God’s ways are so different from the ways of the world. Consider, for example, some of the contrarian logic found in Scripture…
•“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
•“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
•“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
•“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39)
•“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)
Our passage in Philippians reveals a similar kind of counter-cultural teaching. The focus in the text is on the relationships we have with others; how we treat other people. Here’s the big idea I want us to grab hold of: Our best moments come when we selflessly serve others. Would you repeat that out loud? Now, let’s read Philippians 2:1-11.