Monday, November 10, 2014

Achieving the Goal - Philippians 2.1-15

I understand Veterans' Day is this week. Some may have expected a message. It is a noble service that you have done for the country and I thank you for your service. I really do not have a message with regards to your service, or the service of military in general. Yet I have noticed that as 11.11 comes closer, we will be more inclined to focus on the vets who've served. There will even be a few memorials to those who've given their lives to the battlefield. And to those, people will remind them that that event is in May.

It is fascinating how easily people rally around causes. Though all the causes that I can think of are polar.Let's take the World Series, which is old news. Either you routed for the Giants because you have a loyalty to the team, in which case we should talk, or you have a loyalty to the NL West, But I, and a few I know, routed for the Royals because of loyalty to the Diamondbacks. Well another factor helped. My high school, the choir was called the Royalaires. I know someone who routed for them because of color. But that's old news.

I could find a few other rallying cries across the spectrum of daily life where we could unite. Yet an area that has been lacking this has been the church. This week's top church news has been the Seattle area Mars Hill Church. In light of their pastor, Mark Driscoll, stepping down, the elders of the multi-site congregation have decided that each site is now on its own. Each congregation has the option of buying their property from the parent church corporation, or they can fold, if I understood that correctly. 

Unity seems to be allusive. But it isn't unobtainable. This morning as we continue our travel through the church of Philippi I've noticed some steps to take towards unity. It isn't easy, but it is doable.

Let's read the text (Philippians 2.1-15; Holman Christian Standard Bible):

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love,  if any fellowship with the Spirit,  if any affection and mercy,  fulfill my joy by thinking the same way,  having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one  goal. Do nothing out of rivalry  or conceit,  but in humility  consider others as more important  than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests,  but also for the interests of others. 

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 

For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven  and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue  should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory  of God the Father. 

So then, my dear friends,  just as you have always obeyed,  not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling  and arguing, so that you may be blameless  and pure,  children of God who are faultless  in a crooked  and perverted  generation,  among whom you shine like stars in the world.

Now that we've read the text, why should we seek unity? The answer is Jesus. Paul gives us reason to untie together and all the reasons are what we have and are receiving from the Lord. Are we being changed to being more encouraging, more merciful? Do we enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Then we should have one goal, unity.

Sure someone may point out, "Steve, the previous verses had been about sharing the faith, spreading the Good News." Yet the following seem to be more about the unity. When we are united, realizing that the label we wear is more of comfort, like I wear boots instead of shoes.  I believe that unity is a draw for people. If a congregation isn't united, then it stands out like a sore thumb. It's bad enough that we cant achieve unity between congregations that don't wear the same labels. I was once in a town that had 3 ministerial associations. The town was a quarter of Bisbee in population.

Still, if we are glad to be in Christ, then why shouldn't we be glad to be in fellowship with one another? Yet, this is preaching to the choir. I know that some of us regularly are in fellowship with other churches. We need to be mindful that we continue to encourage others, seek unity around Christ, around His Word.  Now here's how we do it:

1. Check our motives.  Why do we do what we do? Is it so that we can look better than our neighbor? Or is it from jealousy, because someone else is getting the spotlight and we desire to be in it?

Consider Joseph of Cyprus from the Book of Acts. He had a plot of land and sold it. Then he handed the check that he received to the Apostles so that the money can help brothers and sisters who had needs. He didn't have any strings attached. He gave. And in turn, the Apostles gave him a cool nickname Son of Encouragement. He would continue to live to that name by giving second chances when others wouldn't.

You'd think that was all to him? Unfortunately, it wasn't. He inspired some jealousy. A couple wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Peter called them on it, and now history has recorded them as being infamous, not quite the same motivation that Joseph had.

Today, I can still see this at play. Many a students enter the ministry with high aspirations for the kingdom. Yet most of us, 20 years later, aren't really known outside of sphere of influence. Most of us preachers won't see the spotlight like Billy Graham, or even Mark Driscoll. Mark said that it was the spotlight that aided him in being distracted from caring for the flock that he was given.

With the proper motivation, we tend to follow what Jesus said about going to banquets. Assume the lower station and let others lift you up. We want to be great, love our neighbor and worry only about what God thinks. Are we doing what we do to bring glory to God, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ? This is our motivation that we should have.

2. Model Jesus. This is perhaps the hardest to consider, to emulate. Look at the person of Jesus. Here he is. He is fully God, fully man. Read about his life in the Gospels. I challenge you to once find an example of him using his God-ness to achieve something personal. Not one miracle was performed for his benefit. Not once, do I believe that he used even his divine strength for his own benefit. The closest that you might find is at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry. When Philip went for his brother, Jesus said, "before your brother called you, I saw you sitting under the fig tree." This was said refuting Nathaniel's claim of whether anyone/thing good can come from Nazareth. When Nathaniel confesses his faith, Jesus tells him, "You think that was something, you've not seen anything yet." The other was when he's arrested, the officials say that they are looking for Jesus. When he states that he is Jesus, it was like a line of angels knocked them all back. Yet, these two signs were for those whom Jesus was addressing rather than for his own gain. Yet he willingly went through death for us, even stating "Daddy, please don't make me, but ok, I will."

But He's God, someone might say. I believe that when he was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon him to give him the same strength that Paul says now indwells each of us. What if Jesus so emptied himself that what he did, we can also do? Modelling Jesus is a game changer in that light. We obey because we rely upon the Holy Spirit within us.

3. Live Our Message. When Paul talks about working our faith with fear and trembling, he is not talking about earning our salvation. Rather he is saying that if we are of faith, then our lives should show it, shouldn't it? James restates it this way, "Faith without works is no faith. I will show you faith by works." The point that these men are telling us that it isn't enough to merely state that we have a relationship with Christ if we are not motivated by that relationship. To only know that Jesus is Lord places us on the same level as the demons, and that truth of who Jesus is makes them tremble in fear.

Consider what supernatural answers to prayer you have seen in your life. Look at events that you've gone through, what Christ has helped you endure. Doesn't that make you pause, perhaps even shudder? It does me. God has done some mighty things in my life, things that cannot be explained my natural reasoning.

Yet that is the measure of God. His desire to be in fellowship with His creation is so great that Jesus came to taste the pain and separation from God in a way that we won't have to if we remain in Him. This is how we should be motivated to live our faith.

Now the why is as important. Paul told Timothy to preach the the Gospel when it's convenient and when its not. Augustine added to it by stating preach the word, and when necessary, use words. Today, the biggest problem nonbelievers have with the church is that we tend to talk the talk, but not walk the talk. We are accused of being hypocrites.

It is a valid point. I don't mean that we don't stumble in our walk. We do. What the world is accusing the Church is that Sven, for example, always goes to church, professes his love for God but is the crustiest guy in the neighborhood. Sven isn't walking his talk. It comes from the attitude that we do our duty to God by coming to Church when the church is open, and the rest of the time is ours. Rather, coming to Church isn't about doing duty to God, but to be recharged for the struggles ahead, to encourage one another.

But this is where the Holy Spirit helps us. Unity is possible with the effort, with relying upon the Holy Spirit, and with fellowship with one another. Once we have this down, as we work on it, our neighbors may take stock and become more receptive so that we might complete the mission.

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