Text: Phil 2:1-11. Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 14/11/04
An overseas visitor, unfamiliar with the workings of cricket, asked his host to explain the purpose of the game. The host described it like this:
“You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.
Each man that’s in the side that’s in, goes out, and when he’s out, he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out.
When they are all out the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.
Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When both sides have been in and out including the not-outs, that’s the end of the game.”
If that account were given to you as an outsider, not only would you be unlikely to sign up for a team .. you probably wouldn’t even stick around to watch! You’d be left with no cause to expect that the game of cricket could make any positive contribution to your life, or have anything to do with reality! .. If what you see or hear doesn’t persuade you that a certain pursuit or way of life or belief system or allegiance has the impact or the vitality that’s claimed of it .. you’ll be unlikely to give it serious consideration. Hold that thought, while I share with you something I read during the week which mightily challenged and disturbed me.
I read about a book by Michael Hart, entitled, The one hundred: a ranking of the 100 most influential people in history. Hart describes himself as neither a Muslim nor a Christian. Now listen to his top three – in order of influence: Muhammad, Isaac Newton (the father of modern Science) and Jesus of Nazareth. .. Why is Muhammad 1st and Jesus only 3rd? This is Michael Hart’s answer – and it’s scary: From my observation, Muhammad has more influence over the lives of Muslims than Jesus has over the lives of Christians. .. Now, if that doesn’t unsettle you .. it certainly should. Remember my observation from earlier: If what you hear or observe in other people doesn’t persuade you of the real impact of what they profess to believe, you’ll probably not give their claims a second thought. If it be true that Jesus has less commanding influence on his own followers than does Muhammad .. then why should our friends, our neighbours and our community leaders take Jesus seriously? Who wants another self-help program of questionable outcomes?
As we sit under the word of God this morning, I’d like us to reflect together on the question of whether the quality of our corporate life as a congregation of Christ, would be sufficient to refute Michael Hart’s claim.
Specifically today, the Scripture we read castes a spotlight on the quality of our relationships as a gathering of God’s people. .. If the Gospel of God, with it’s invitation to the Son of God, has truly captured your heart and changed your view of the world – then that will be evidenced in the kind of community you create with the other believers around you. It will produce life change – not mind change only. And in the NT, relationships are one of the basic aspects of our lives where that change should be evident. If it isn’t evident, then Paul seems to say here in Philippians 2 – and in Ephesians, Colossians & 1 Corinthians at least .. If it isn’t evident in our inter-relationships that the Gospel has radically changed our lives, .. then our preaching of the Gospel will not be credible. .. And it ought not to surprise us, if the world is slow to believe.
What Paul is saying in the opening verses of Phil 2, is simply a continuation of his appeal in the last part of chap 1. (Do remember always, there’s nothing inspired about the chapter and verse divisions in scripture – they were all added later. They’re a convenience for us, but nothing more.) Last week we listened to Paul’s plea in Phil 1 for the Gospel to change our praying, thinking and living – with the climax at v27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ . Then he says that means standing firm, one in spirit, with the same determination, labouring side-by-side for the faith of the Gospel. ..
Well now in the first couple of lines of chap 2 he says: If Christ really is all to you .. if his love really has become your life’s foundation .. if you honestly do count it a joy to be incorporated into a community built by Christ’s Holy Spirit .. then prove that it’s all real, that it’s not some pie in the sky or empty rhetoric – but that you do cherish the fellowship of believers, and would defend it with your life. As Gene Peterson puts it in his ‘Message’ translation: “Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. 3 Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. 4 Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
Paul then goes on to, in effect, sing about the impact of the Gospel on the life of the church. What I mean is that vv6-11 (or 5-11) you’ll generally find printed in most bibles in a verse format. That’s because most bible scholars believe it’s some kind of hymn. It may not have been Paul’s own words; he may be quoting a hymn that was known to his readers. The hymn reads as a reflection on how the glory by which Christ is worshipped was the outcome of his submission to the Father’s will in going to the Cross for the world’s sin. Paul says: Give me real cause for joy. Don’t just sing about it – live it in your walk with one another. And so he sets it in the context of relationships.
Our life together is to be shaped by the thinking, the purpose, the motivation, the life pattern of the one we call Lord. Paul’s talking about what should be the first indication that the Gospel has taken root in our hearts. It all comes down to this:
• The church is the community of those who each view themselves as no more and no less than unworthy recipients of the highest service of the Son of God;
• they recognise eachother as recipients of the same service;
• they regard one another as people to be served after Christ;
• and they look to God alone as the ground and source of reward.
… They have in them the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, as Paul puts it. .. Which is not so very different from John’s account. John described Jesus who took up a towel to serve his own, who by his death loved his own to the end, and who in John’s vision of the glory of heaven in Rev 5 is worthy of all honour and all praise just because he was slain, and by the service of his blood has purchased for God men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Paul called the church to that perspective in their lives with one another, because it was a pattern that deeply exercised his own mind in reflecting on his own life. The reason I think that is that if you look at the last few verses of chap 3, you can almost hear Paul thinking out loud about about his own life measured against the blueprint of Christ’s life in chap 2. Have a look at 3:17-21 Join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. He then says there are some who don’t live like that, and whose interests are merely earthly .. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform [NIV: our lowly bodies] that [they] may be conformed to [his glorious body].
What Paul’s reflecting on there in chap 3 is the practical application of what he’s singing about in chap 2. If you set all your hopes of satisfaction on what you can get on earth, that will play out in mistreating people for your ends. But if you have the same mind that was in Christ, and wait for heaven’s rewards, that will play out in serving people for their ends.
Paul says all of that starts in the church. If it doesn’t happen here, it won’t matter what happens out there. The time to live out the Gospel is now; the place to start is here. With the mind of Christ, with minds and hearts full of the Gospel of Christ, there’s simply no room for sectional interests .. no space for barrow-pushing .. no place for the mental lists we like to keep (the people we’ll talk to or associate with, and the ones we won’t). There’s no room for any of that kind of relationship behaviour in a community formed by the Gospel of the One who served without limit.
In the next few weeks and months, God willing, people who rarely give Christ or his church a second thought may well appear within these walls to check us out. They’ll come perhaps because it’s Christmas, and it seems a good idea to do something religious, or come to church to keep Grandma happy .. Others may come, especially after next March, but perhaps before .. because by the faithful prayers of Christians and the passionate preaching of Christ through Festival Victoria, they have been given cause to consider the claim that Christ provides meaning and purpose and eternal hope and earthly joy and an open trusting community to belong to. And they’ll come to see whether it’s true. And may our actions speak as loudly as our words – of Christ and his service.