[Announce Text] Please take your Bibles and turn with me to the New Testament epistle to the Philippians – Philippians chapter 2. We will be reading the first four verses of the chapter.
[Scripture Introduction] Known as one of Paul’s “Prison Epistles,” Philippians was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. From this letter, it is evident that the church in Philippi had maintained a close relationship with Paul. In chapter one, Paul exhorts the Philippians to overcome adversaries outside of the church. In chapter two, Paul switches gears and now turns his attention to the enemies that lie within. It seems that Paul has knowledge of growing tensions within the Philippian church body. To deal with this, he instructs them on the value of imitating Christ’s relationship with His Father as they deal with their own interpersonal relationships.
[Reannounce and Read Text] If you have found your text and are able, I would like to ask that you please stand in honor to the reading of God’s holy Word. Philippians chapter two, verses one through four.
[Prayer for wisdom and anointing] Today, I would like to preach a message entitled, “Winning the Battle Against Selfishness.” Let’s pray.
[Introduction] Probably no one here this morning would say that they enjoy being around someone who is consumed with self. But we must admit that in our world today, the individual who is proud, self-centered, goal-driven, powerful, and wealthy is one who is seen as destined for greatness. Notwithstanding, being a Christian doesn’t remove the internal desire of our sinful natures for selfish ambition and personal greatness [FCF]. We find this truth in Mark 10:35-37, where James and John come to Jesus with the attitude of, “Give us what we want!” What was so important that they would come and demand that the Son of God become a genie in a bottle and do whatsoever they desired? Simple. They allowed selfish ambitions to move front and center, and they wanted to be number one.
Just as in Christ’s day, we too like to be the center of focus. As James and John proved, preachers are sometimes the worst ones for this. We like to be told that we have preached a good message. We like seeing altars full. We like being the top bill for revival services or for that weekend seminar. We just like having our egos stroked.
Interestingly though, Jesus did not tell James and John that they could not achieve greatness. Rather, He made it clear that they could. However, the method that Jesus advocated was not what they had expected. Jesus knew that they wanted authority, and He recognized that the world’s system for greatness was based on who possessed the most authority. However, His response was for them to imitate Him, for “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” So according the Jesus, “whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”
[Proposition] Because of the propensity to think only of ourselves which destroys the unity of the body of Christ, we are reminded to combat our selfishness with an attitude of service to others.
Realizing the contention that selfish attitudes cause within the church, Paul writes from prison exhorting the Philippian believers to adopt the same attitude for which Christ was characterized.
[Main Point 1] Paul’s Reminder to the Philippians: To repel a selfish spirit, we must remember the blessings we have received as a result of our union in Christ.
As the motive to induce obedience in response to what he is about to exhort, the Apostle begins by reminding the church of the blessings they have received of Christ. He lists four that he is sure they have enjoyed.
[Subpoint 1] To avoid selfishness, we are to remember how Christ encourages us.
Paul writes of the Philippians “consolation in Christ.” This speaks of encouragement and exhortation. The Apostle, certainly more than most, understood their persecutions, and he reminds them of the encouragement they receive from Christ as they face each trial. This encouragement serves as a motivating tool to exhort them to a higher walk; one that imitates Christ’s. Paul echoes this in his writing to the Thessalonians: “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work” (II Thes. 2:16-17).
Life is not easy. It was Job who said, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (14:1). Jesus Himself stated, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Being a Christian does not exempt up from a life of heartache and persecution. The Bible promises us no bed of roses or red carpet treatment. Life is hard, and it rains on the just as it does on the unjust.
Because of the difficulties of life’s journey, we are tempted to look out after ol’ number one. I mean, let’s face it, no one else is going to, right? Even right now, as our country is facing a great economical challenge, many have closed their hands of generosity because of fear that they will not have enough. One of Satan’s greatest tools is fear, and he will use that to cause our sinful natures to rise up and rebel against the plan of God for our lives.
Yet Paul’s words reminds us also, that we are encouraged by our union in Christ. We are a child of God whom God has promised to never leave nor forsake. He has promises to meet all of our needs. He has promised to be our refuge and strength and to be a present help in all of our troubles. We are commanded by Christ to be of good cheer. No matter the challenges of life, Christ has overcome the world, and this same Christ who overcame the world lives within each child of God today.
[Subpoint 2] To avoid selfishness, we are to remember how Christ embraces us.
Secondly, Paul writes of the “comfort of love.” Essentially a synonym of the word “consolation,” comfort provides the idea that as the Philippians have experienced what it is like to be loved, they are well exhorted to love one another. Paul is reminding the church that unity is a by-product which flows from their love toward one another.
[Analytical Question] What was the catalyst that brought forth our unity in Christ? It was love. Romans 5:8 states, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Apostle John reasons that, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
[Analytical Question] What is the catalyst that will bring forth unity in the church? Today, it is still love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11). Paul told the Ephesians, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us” Eph 5:1-2a.
[Subpoint 3] To avoid selfishness, we are to remember how Christ includes us.
Thirdly, the “fellowship of the Spirit” is mentioned. The word “fellowship” (Gr.: koinonia) means a participation in, a communion with, a sharing of something in-common. Paul reminds the Philippian believers that they all have something in-common – communion with Christ. Paul confirmed this truth to the Ephesians when he wrote, “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;” (Eph. 2:18-19).
This fellowship is the common bond that all believers have as a result of being placed in union in Christ. We are now participants in the influences of the Holy Spirit. These influences are to create intimate relationships between believers; relationships that foster loving unity with one another.
But how often fellowship among believers is strained, damaged, and even destroyed because of the selfish attitude of one. Paul experienced this as well when Demas forsook him due to selfish motives (II Tim. 4:10).
[Subpoint 4] To avoid selfishness, we are to remember how Christ enhances us.
Finally, Paul writes of “bowels and mercies.” These two words express the one basic idea of tender-hearted compassion that flows from the inner being of one who is in communion with the Spirit of God. As they have experienced the compassion of God on their lives, the Holy Spirit will also cultivate a compassion within them for the other believers as well. Matthew Henry writes, “If you expect the benefit of God’s compassions to yourselves, be you compassionate one to another.” This is in line with the teaching of Christ as He preached in Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
[Illustration] H. A. Ironside tells the story of a group of missionaries and believers in New Guinea that were gathered together on the Lord’s Day to observe the Lord’s Supper. After one young man sat down, one of the missionaries recognized that a sudden tremor had passed through the young man’s body indicating he was experiencing great anxiety. After a moment, the young man was once again settled. The missionary whispered to the young man, "What was it that troubled you?" "Ah," the young man said, "But the man who just came in killed and ate the body of my father, and now he has come in to remember the Lord with us. At first I didn’t know whether I could endure it, but it is all right now. He is washed in the same precious blood." And it was that together they had Communion. Only the work of the Holy Spirit of God, in concert with our unity in Christ, could perform such a miracle.
[Application] Just as there was a strain in fellowship among the Philippian church, we must also be on guard not to allow a selfish and a “me first” attitude to cause division among us today. As those who are born-again and placed in union in Christ, we have reaped the greatest spiritual blessings. Each of these blessings should be a reminder to us that our lives are not to be consumed with the advancement of self.
When the trials of life burden us with a heavy load, instead of withdrawing into our own shells of self-concern, we should remember that Christ is encouraging us to continue to put Him first and to follow His plan. God has promised that we are more than conquerors, and He exhorts us to live like it.
When we are tempted to put our interests first, we should remember that it was Christ who put our best interests before His own. It was Christ who embraced us even while we were yet sinners. When we are compelled to think that someone is not deserving of our love, we are reminded that we were not deserving of Christ’s love, but yet He freely gave it.
When we are tempted to promote our agenda and no one else’s, we are reminded that it was Christ who included us into His agenda. We were not worthy. We could not earn His acceptance. Yet, here we are in fellowship with the sinless, Son of God. Who are we that we would be so proud as to exclude any believer from our fellowship? Who are we that we would be so concerned with self so as to be totally unconcerned about the welfare of others?
When we are tempted to allow the selfishness of our sin natures rule, we are reminded that Christ has enhanced us in such a way to be able to perform extraordinary feats of compassion. When our sin nature says hold on to that grudge, it is Christ who has given us the ability to forgive and extend mercy.
Now that Paul has provided reasoning why these believers are to reject a spirit of self-centeredness among their ranks, he now focuses on their spiritual maturity.
[Main Point 2] Paul’s Request of the Philippians: To repel a selfish spirit, we must commit ourselves to fulfilling the joy of others.
After reminding the Philippians of their blessings in Christ, the Apostle Paul now makes a request of the church. He asks that they “fulfill” his joy. In using the word “fulfill” (Gr.: pleroo – to complete; fill up), Paul leaves the impression that he is desiring more from these believers. He made clear earlier in this epistle that he prayed for their love to grow further – “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;” (Phil. 1:9). It appears evident that Paul is hoping for greater spiritual maturity among the Philippian believers. Yet his concern is not primarily for his own joy, but rather his main concern is for how they progress in their spiritual lives. Paul loves the Philippian believers and is genuinely concerned for their welfare. To Paul, the thing that determines his joy is not whether he is freed from incarceration, but rather the spiritual success of his converts.
To bring the maturity that he desires, Paul instructs these believers to make four closely related commitments.
[Subpoint 1] The avoid selfishness, the church must be committed to possess the same perception.
Likemindedness (Gr.: phroneo) speaks of the unity of their outlook. They are literally to think in the same fashion or the same thing. This follows Paul’s writing to the Corinthians where he instructs them to “be of one mind” (II Cor. 13:11). As Picirilli points out, “their minds should reflect the harmony that is part of their experience of the fellowship of the Spirit, the common walk they have all be called to in Christ.”
[Subpoint 2] The avoid selfishness, the church must be committed to possess the same passion.
The agape love that Paul writes about is that love which sacrifices for the good of others. This love gives to the one loved what is needed, not necessarily what is desired. Paul wants the Philippians to mature into and model the same love for each other as Christ has for His Father and for the church – “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love…This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:9, 12).
[Subpoint 3] The avoid selfishness, the church must be committed to possess the same principles.
Paul’s third commitment that he wishes the Philippians to make is to be in “one accord.” The word translated here (Gr.: sumpsuchoi) is not used anywhere else in the New Testament although its root was used in 1:27 where it is translated “with one mind.” The word literally means to be of one soul and each expression indicates the same principle. Paul understands that although the body consists of many members, each member does not govern his own affairs. If the body is to function properly, there must be an authority who sits at the seat of the body’s affections and commitments. That authority is Christ. It was Christ who first demonstrated this principle. As Paul later shows in this chapter, Christ, although equal to God, humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father. Likewise, Paul exhorts the Philippian believers to humble themselves and be united in their submission to the will of God. To do so would find all of the believers in one accord.
[Illustration] It was John Wesley who said, “I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field.”
[Subpoint 4] The avoid selfishness, the church must be committed to possess the same purpose.
The final commitment Paul asks of them is for them to be “of one mind.” This sounds, and is, very similar to the first commitment for which Paul asked. It appears that Paul was so emphatic in his desire for unity that he repeats himself. The idea in both commitments is for each believer to be compelled by the same aims and objectives. Jesus taught that it would be this show of unity that would be the catalyst for bringing individuals into a saving knowledge of Christ (John 17:21).
[Illustration] In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus.
"These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."
"Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can’t you guys get organized like that?"
[Application] If these four commitments were made, and if all of the Philippians believers followed through, Paul felt that the mind of Christ would be made manifest. These combined would produce the single comprehensive effect for which Paul wished. These were not to be viewed as sharply distinguishing attributes, but rather as one attitude of the heart reflecting a commitment to know and follow the mind of Christ. If these believers matured in these commitments, then Paul’s joy would be complete.
Likewise, if we as the body of Christ are to combat selfishness, we must foster a spirit of unity. Unity will only occur when there is a commitment see things as God sees them (perception), love people as God loves them (passion), submit to others as unto the Lord (principles), and to walk in fulfillment of God plan (purpose). A church wrapped up within itself is a church on life support. Just as a house divided cannot stand, believers with selfish attitudes cannot accomplish the plan and purpose of God.
[Main Point 3] Paul’s Response from the Philippians: To repel a selfish spirit, we must examine the motives behind our actions.
In verse three, Paul begins by instructing the Philippians to practically live out the commitments he asks them to make. He is seeking a practical response. He begins by writing, “Let nothing be done…” By using the word “Let,” Paul is informing the believers that unity is the product of a choice that they must make. As Hawthorne notes, “Unity is impossible if each is out for himself, each is promoting his own cause, each is seeking his own advantage.” The choice for which Paul exhorts the believers to make is essentially one of practical humility. Paul desires that each believer see themselves as a servant to the other believers, and he commands that the Philippian believers avoid certain vices.
[Subpoint 1] To avoid selfishness, love must be the primary motivator for our actions.
First, these believers are to perform no actions through an attitude, or spirit, of strife. The word “strife” (Gr.: eritheia) is also translated as “contention” in 1:16. It suggests that the individual seeks to divide into factions. This individual allows their own interests, or the interests of their own group, to override the interests and welfare of the community as a whole. Paul knows that this type of spirit will destroy the unity of the body of Christ. As Barnes writes, “This command forbids us to do anything, or attempt anything as the mere result of strife. This is not the principle from which we are to act, or by which we are to be governed. We are to form no plan, and aim at no object which is to be secured in this way. The command prohibits all attempts to secure anything over others by mere physical strength, or by superiority of intellect or numbers, or as the result of dark schemes and plans formed by rivalry, or by the indulgence of angry passions, or with the spirit of ambition. We are not to attempt to do anything merely by outstripping others, or by showing that we have more talent, courage, or zeal. What we do is to be by principle, and with a desire to maintain the truth, and to glorify God.”
[Subpoint 2] To avoid selfishness, love must be the primary motivator for our attitudes.
Secondly, following strife, Paul warns against an attitude which seeks to draw attention to itself. The word Paul uses, “vainglory,” is used nowhere else in the New Testament, although an adjective form is used in Galatians 5:26. However, as Fowl writes, this word was a common Greek term as was used for one with an inflated sense of themselves. Barnes concurs, “The idea seems to be that of mere self-esteem; a mere desire to honor ourselves, to attract attention, to win praise, to make ourselves uppermost, or foremost, or the main object.” Paul forbids the Philippians from doing anything with such an aim understanding that the disposition and actions this spirit generates are ultimately destructive for the unity that Paul desires of them.
[Subpoint 3] To avoid selfishness, love must be the primary motivator for our ambitions.
Following the command to abstain from the vices of strife and vainglory, Paul provides an alternative for which the Philippians can foster increased unity. Paul’s alternative is that “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” The KJV translates “lowliness of mind” from one Greek word, tapeinophrosune. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is also translated as “humility” (Acts 20:19; Col 2:18, 23; 1 Peter 5:5), “humbleness” (Col. 3:12), and “lowliness” (Eph. 4:2). In this instance, it simply stands in opposition to pride. This lowliness of mind keeps the individual from an ego of over valuating oneself thereby assuming a superiority which seeks flattery and praise. Rather, this virtue causes one to estimate his value based on the truth thereby becoming willing to accept the place that he ought in the sight of God and man. Lowliness of mind places a low value on personal importance and produces an attitude of a servant.
[Illustration] At a reception honoring musician Sir Robert Mayer on his 100th birthday, elderly British socialite Lady Diana Cooper fell into conversation with a friendly woman who seemed to know her well. Lady Diana’s failing eyesight prevented her from recognizing her fellow guest, until she peered more closely at the magnificent diamonds and realized she was talking to Queen Elizabeth! Overcome with embarrassment, Lady Diana curtsied and stammered, "Ma’am, oh, ma’am, I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t recognize you without your crown!"
"It was so much Sir Robert’s evening," the queen replied, "that I decided to leave it behind."
[Subpoint 4] To avoid selfishness, love must be the primary motivator for our associations.
Furthermore, in this spirit of humility, the Philippian believer will not seek after his own interests, but rather, in humbleness, will concern himself with the affairs and welfare of his fellow believers. As Paul writes in verse four, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” Simply, he is instructing the Philippians not to be selfish. He invites them to take an active interest in the lives of each believer in order to bring benefit to the entire Christian community. Yet, as Barnes writes, “This, of course, does not mean that there is to be any improper interference in the business of others, or that we are to have the character of "busy-bodies in other people’s matters but that we are to regard with appropriate solicitude the welfare of others, and to strive to do them good.” This follows the command of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make his case our own.
[Application] As Fowl writes, this state of mind was contrary to the popular opinion of that day. “In the pagan world, however, humility was regarded as a base disposition appropriate to slaves. According to the common political wisdom, concord depended on people understanding their status and knowing who was superior, who was inferior, and giving to all what was due to them based on their status. On this view of things, for those of high status, humility would have been, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, socially destabilizing.”
Contrary to the wisdom of the world, God chooses the base things of this world to accomplish His purposes. The Apostle Paul reveals that these commitments will accomplish God’s purpose and cause the believer to “esteem others better than themselves.” Each of us should deem our fellow Christian a rightful object of our service. This, by definition, is the practical outpouring of humility, a serving submission to others.
It was Christ who manifested this truth in the flesh as he washed His disciples’ feet in John chapter 13. Jesus makes clear that we should not consider ourselves to be above service to others. When one serves others, selfishness disappears. To be brutally honest, it’s hard to put on airs when you are on your knees.
[Conclusion] Understanding the contention and pressures from adversaries outside of the Christian community, the Apostle Paul turns his attention to the greatest enemy within the church, the enemy of self. To combat this enemy, Paul reminds the church of their blessings of being in union in Christ. Because of their blessed state, he exhorts them to commit themselves to be deeply and personally interested in the well being and spiritual progress of other. Doing so will result in each believer exalting each other to a position of higher status, one which is worthy of being served. This practice of humility will restore the unity of the body and fulfill the joy of the Apostle.
[Invitation] These principles still work today. The greatest enemy to our own spiritual progress and vitality is us. Take a look at your own heart. Are you serving others? Do you esteem their welfare above your own? Remember, the servant is not greater than his master. We are to strive to be more like Christ internally and externally, but the externals will not conform until the internal issues have been solved.
Today, I challenge you to determine where selfishness lies within you. Ask God today to reveal these areas to you and resolve to bring them forth to this altar. When you come, seek God’s forgiveness. A selfish attitude is a sinful attitude. It must be repented of. Then give these areas to God by committing to become as Jesus was, a servant. Greatness can be achieved, but it begins on your knees. Would you please stand for an invitation?