Summary: Why humility brings joy for the Christian if they follow the example of Christ.
The Joy of Humility
If you have been here for the past two weeks, you will know that we are looking at Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, a Roman garrison town in Eastern Macedonia which Paul visited on his travels into what is now modern day Greece.
The particular theme we are picking up is the theme of joy, which is one of the major themes in the letter, in spite of the fact, as we were thinking last week, Paul is writing from a prison cells and facing the prospect of an early and painful death at the hands of the Roman authorities . In this short letter, just four chapters in our Bibles, Paul speaks of joy or rejoicing eleven times.
And as we were thinking two weeks ago when Marcus was speaking, the kind of joy we are thinking about is different from the happiness which so many people seek in this lives. Happiness is very often based on our circumstances, which are fickle..
In contrast, as Marcus was saying, the joy Paul is talking about is founded on something much more enduring and reliable, namely our relationship with Christ and the fact that Jesus has Overcome death for You and for me.
Just to show you that it is not just the adult congregation that is thinking about joy, I came across this on the whiteboard in the church centre the other day. It is the results of a discussion about joy by one of our young people’s groups. For them joy comes from …. And happiness comes from …
I wonder what you would put under those two headings?
Let’s turn to today’s topic which is Joy in Humility. Or as I would like to rephrase it for the purposes of this sermon, the Joy of Unity that Comes from Humility. Because if you were listening carefully to the reading you will have noticed that what will complete Paul’s joy is the Christians at Philippi being ‘like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose’.
Paul’s joy was founded on his relationship with Christ and his experience of the gospel, but such were his values that his joy would be completed, topped off, if he could see that the Christians in Philippi were united in belief and purpose. But, as we shall see, that unity can only be fostered by a Christ like humility.
1. The Joy of Unity
This section of Paul’s letter actually starts with the final paragraph of the previous chapter. In chapter 1 verse 2, Paul calls the Christians in Philippi to live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ, and key element in living worthy lives is, as he says, ‘standing firm in one spirit, contending as one person for the faith of the gospel’. Unity of belief and purpose is to be one of the hallmarks of the church.
And it is a unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17.11
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
And it is a unity that, according to Jesus, is going to be a witness to the world. As he goes on to pray in that same prayer:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
So the unity of the church was and is important to Jesus. And it was important to Paul. How many of Paul’s letters were aimed at bringing an end to conflict in the churches of his day and encouraging them to unite around the gospel and God’s mission. The reason for that is that a disunited church is a poor witness to the world and far less effective in its mission to the world, because time and effort is being used to deal with internal differences – as we see today in the Church of England!!
And so at the beginning of chapter two Paul returns to the theme of unity, writing:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
In other words, if you have received any benefits from being united with Christ through the gospel, go on to complete his work among you by being united in belief, purpose and action.