How many times have you heard, or even said: “Life would be so much simpler if it weren’t for other people.” Of course we laughed at the obvious truth of this statement, but also at the irony that it is people who add greatest value to our lives.
When we live in community, this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of our Christian lifestyle; it is the place where we are challenged to live out the teachings of Jesus.
Sure, we can have a strong devotional life — and a strong devotional life is important — but if we can’t live out the teachings of Jesus in everyday interaction with others, our discipleship and our witness will have little impact.
In our text for today, Paul uses an early Christian hymn to challenges the Christians in Philippi, and those who follow them, to live an abundant life by living faithfully in community.
**Philippians 2: 1-11**
*1 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. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.*
*5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:*
*6 who, being in very nature God,*
*did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;*
*7 rather, he made himself nothing*
*by taking the very nature of a servant,*
*being made in human likeness.*
*8 And being found in appearance as a man,*
*he humbled himself*
*by becoming obedient to death –*
*even death on a cross!*
*9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place*
*and gave him the name that is above every name,*
*10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,*
*in heaven and on earth and under the earth,*
***11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,*
*to the glory of God the Father.*
#UNITY OF THOUGHT
This is a familiar passage of scripture for many of us. Usually when we read it, we understand Paul to be writing to us as **individuals**. Individually, we should live our lives so that we empty ourselves and become obedient. In reality, Paul is writing to a community about how to live as **a community** of God’s children.
**One of the marks of community is to have a common mind.** Paul writes in verse two, ” make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
I need to take special time to press home the truth that Paul is not telling the Philippians to practice Groupthink. You know what Groupthink is? Groupthink is the practise of making decisions as a group, which typically result in poor and unchallenged decision making, where disagreement is not allowed. Everyone must agree with the leadership, and there must be agreement on everything from politics to family structure.
To be honest, I have seen too many churches and families, and even communities, operate this way.
Instead of **Groupthink**, Paul is encouraging Christian communities to have a **unified purpose**. A unity of purpose comes from a **unified love of God**, a **unified commitment to being disciples of Jesus Christ**, and a **unified understanding that as followers of Jesus Christ we have taken up the mission and ministry of Jesus**.
Christian faith and Christian world-view and Christian lifestyle is a unity of understanding that we are all one, all on a level playing field, that we are all seen by God in the same way. There are no classes of people; no separation or differentiation over who is “in” and who is “out”. No one is excluded and everyone is included. As brothers and sisters in Christ, as people with a common bond and a common footing, we live together as God’s people and servants of a living God.
Now this is quite different from the world we live in, where there is still a class distinction, even if we deny it. Where there is still a wide gap in the way people with loads of money tend to view those who have little wealth. Where sometimes the smallest things can cause us to look at others as inferior, or above our station. I will say it again: Christian faith and Christian world-view and Christian lifestyle is a unity of understanding that we are all one, all on a level playing field, that we are all seen by God in the same way.
Paul Brand writing about what it means to be in the image of God in his book **In His Image**:
**”We will not explore the psychological and mental attributes in each one of us that might reflect the image of God. Instead, we will centre on a community, that group of God’s people who are called, more than two dozen times in the New Testament, Christ’s body.**
**”All of us joined to Him are an extension of the Incarnation. God reproduces and lives out His image in millions of ordinary people like us. It is a supreme mystery. We are called to bear that image as a Body because any one of us taken individually would present an incomplete image, one partly false and always distorted, like a single glass chip hacked from a mirror. But collectively, in all our diversity, we can come together as a community of believers to restore the image of God in the world.”**
So, single-mindedness as Christians, means that there is a unity of thought that binds us together, and keeps us going, and helps us to make sense of our living years in a world we are simply passing through on the way to our eternal home with the Lord. As someone coined the phrase when I was a teenager — ‘I am only visiting this planet, this world is not my home’. When we understand this and get it into perspective, everything changes.
Let’s think now about the idea that we are to be ‘an empty people’.
#AN EMPTY PEOPLE
In verse six Paul observes that Jesus:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
**but emptied himself**
A better translation might read, **”Who because he was God …”** It is God’s nature to be *sacrificial*, *loving* and *serving* (characteristics that we do not usually associate with powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, God).
I think it is important to observe that Paul doesn’t stress what Jesus *gave up* in his letter to the Philippians. Instead, he stresses what Jesus *took on*. Jesus took on our human form and he became on of us.
One way we can understand this is to see that we have all be called to get involved in the lives of others and serve. So here in this Chapel, we are a group of people called to use our particular gifts and talents in order to serve the people all around us.
Another way to understand Paul instructions is to see them as a challenge for us as believers to form close, strong relationships with each other. We are called to get to know each other and when appropriate to get involved in each other’s lives. We do this, of course, by meeting together regularly, and Sunday worship
Have you ever noticed that it is reasonably easy to get along with strangers. The real struggle in personal relationships is in the family — those to whom we are closest. We can decide to be a community of strangers — people we only know over words shared briefly each Sunday, or, we can risk the struggle of relationships and the challenge of “emptying ourselves” and being a part of each other’s lives.
This is not an easy thing to so, but it is the way Jesus has envisioned his church and it is the way that we as a community of believers experience the abundant life.
#AN EXALTED COMMUNITY
After Jesus empties himself, takes on human form, and becomes obedient to death on the cross, God exalts Jesus. Paul writes:
“Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
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.”
Following Jesus’ example, I believe that when we have emptied ourselves and have trusted in Christ to save us, and thus we have received Christ into our hearts and lives, we are also exalted.
This is not an exaltation that is given on some particular day of judgment — as a reward — though that may yet happen. Rather, this is an exaltation that takes place in our lives today.
Our exaltation comes in experiencing life, in a community, the way God intended it to be. Our community of faith becomes a glimpse of heaven on earth.
We are exalted, also, in the eyes of the people around us. They realise that we are experiencing something that all humans long for — an intimate, supportive family. Our exaltation becomes part of our witness as a desire is created in those around us to experience what we have — something that only comes through a living, dynamic relationship with God and God’s people.
Jesus emptied himself and became one of us, so that we might experience God and also that we could empty ourselves and become involved in life and lives.
I hope you see that we **respond** to God’s love and grace by **sharing** God’s love and grace, and by **experiencing** that love and grace in the community of believers.