Second Reformed Church

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Complete My Joy" Sermon: Philippians 2:1-4

“Complete My Joy”

[Philippians 2:1-4]

August 31, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Paul continues his thought in this next section of his text:  we are to live lives worthy of the Gospel.  As those who have been gifted by God to receive the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ Alone – the Gospel, salvation, and the ability to believe are gifts from God – and gifted by God to suffer for the sake of Christ – for, as we do so, we show the value of the Gospel to us – that we are willing to suffer, if necessary, to see that the Gospel is advanced, Paul now turns from addressing those external problems that face the Church and looks at internal problems.

            In this morning’s text, Paul tells us:

            First, Christ is the reason for our unity.

            Second, unity in Christ completes our joy.

            Third, living lives of humility is worthy of the Gospel.

            And fourth, living lives of caring is worthy of the Gospel.

            “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,”

First, Christ is the reason for our unity.

The first thing we need to understand here is that Paul is not telling the Philippians and us that “if” these things are true or “if” these things occur, then something.  No, Paul is using an expression which means “if this is true and since it is the case” – or we could even replace the word “if” with “since” – “since there is encouragement from Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy.”

Paul uses this expression to jar the Philippians into saying, “What do you mean ‘if,’ these things are true” – and that is how we are to interpret this.  Paul is telling the Philippians that they need to remember that we – all believers in Christ, the Savior God sent – are united with Christ and in Christ, and with one another in these four ways that he mentions.  Since we are united in these ways, we should by all means be in harmony with each other – we ought to resist internal division and friction that arises in the Church.  Here, he explains that our unity is not based merely on doing good works together, but on the spiritual union we have with one another with and in Christ.

He tells them that there is encouragement in Christ.  The encouragement is that we have been changed and saved by the Grace of God through Jesus Alone. 

Paul writes:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV).

There is a lot in this passage, but the point we should focus on this morning is that we have been changed.  We are new creatures.  Our sin has been taken on by Christ and our debt to God has been paid.  God has reconciled us to Him through Christ.  We are no longer “children of wrath,” as Paul calls unbelievers elsewhere, but we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, the adopted children of the Almighty God, and “nothing,” as Paul says elsewhere, “nothing” can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.

That should encourage us!  We are new.  We are different.  We are forgiven.  We have been changed.  We are saved and nothing can change that because salvation is of God and all of God forever and ever, Amen.

He tells them there is comfort from love.

In the context, we understand that the love he is talking about is love from God the Father and Jesus Christ.  This is the love that God showed towards the world in choosing some to be reconciled to Him.  This is the love that Jesus showed in incarnating, living, dying, and physically rising from the dead for our sakes and to the glory of God.

The word that he uses for “comfort” has in its root the same word that Jesus used when He told the apostles about the coming of the Holy Spirit, where His Name is translated as Advocate, Comforter, or Helper:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

So, what Paul is saying is that believers are indwelled by God the Holy Spirit as an act of love from the Father and the Son.  God loved all those who ever believe so much that He indwells them in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

He tells them that there is a participation in the Spirit.  The word that Paul uses for “participation” is the word “koinonia,” which some of us may be familiar with.  It means “fellowship,” and it indicates that there is something shared amongst all those who believe – and that something that is shared among believers is the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, Who now works in us and leads us in becoming more like Jesus.

Jesus promised the apostles:

 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26, ESV).

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26, ESV).

There is unity among us because the same God indwells every believer and reminds us and helps us to understand what we have heard and read in God’s Word.  God the Spirit bears witness to us as we hear and read God’s Word that Jesus is God the Only Savior – strengthening us in the faith and leading us on in joyful obedience.

And Paul tells them that they have affection – love and care – for one another and sympathy for one another, now that we are part of the One Body of Jesus Christ – the Church.

As Paul explains:  “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift” (Ephesians 4:4-7, ESV).  We are one in the Work of God in us and through us and to His Glory.

Therefore, we ought to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:15-16a, ESV).  As brothers and sisters united in One Body, we ought to rejoice with each other’s joys and weep with each other when we suffer pain and loss.  That is how close we are to each other through the Work of Christ.

So, Paul begins by telling us that Christ is the reason for our unity:  we find encouragement in our being changed through God’s loving choice to grants us salvation through Jesus Christ Alone, by making us one through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Spirit’s helping us to believe, understand, and grow in the faith into the Image of Christ Jesus, and through our now being one such that we love one another and rejoice and mourn with each other as we live lives worthy of the Gospel.

“complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Second, unity in Christ completes our joy.

Paul already told the Philippians that he rejoiced every time he thought of them.  Yet, here he tells them there is still room to grow – there is still room to increase Paul’s joy in them.  Literally, Paul writes, “Fill my cup of joy to the brim.”

The implication of his words is that there was strife and self-interest in the Church that was disunifying – it was disrupting the advance of the Gospel and the joy that they and Paul could have in each other through Christ.

We also have room to grow.  None of us is yet perfect.  We still have strife amongst one another.  We still act out of self-interest and to the detriment of each other and the advance of the Gospel.

Remember we looked at the worth of the Gospel?  Is the truth of the Gospel worth putting aside petty differences and seeking the unity we have in Christ for the sake of our mutual joy?  Do we want others to see the Gospel advancing in us and through us?

How do we fill each other’s cup of joy to the brim?  How do we continue in making each other rejoice in each other and in the Work of Christ through us?

Paul tells them to be of the same mind.  What he means is that they are to be united in doctrine – in the teachings of the Scripture.  And Paul particular means in those teachings – those truths – those facts of the Gospel – those things we must believe if we are to be Christians.  We saw before that The Apostle’s Creed is an early summary of these teachings which are necessary for faith.  If we are steadfastly united in those things, our joy will increase in Christ.

There are things we disagree on across Christendom.  In those things which are not necessary for salvation, we must continue to study and read God’s Word and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding.

For example, we baptized Samuel Hastey recently, and in the sermon that day, we looked at why we baptize infants.  There are denominations that do not baptize infants, and they have their reasons for not doing so.  However, we are agreed that salvation does not cause salvation, so it is an issue that we need to continue to pray and search the Scriptures on, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  But it is not an issue which should disrupt the unity of the Church in Christ.

An example that does matter in this issue of unity is whether or not Jesus physically rose from the dead.  This is an issue we must agree upon – it is foundational to biblical Christianity.

Paul says we are to have the same love – this is the love through Christ for one another.  Even though we are different people and have different preferences and interests, for the sake of Christ, for the sake of our joy, for the sake of the unity of the Church, through Jesus Christ, we are to truly love all believers as brothers and sisters – as part of our Body, which is the Church.

Paul explains:  “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:10-26, ESV).

And Paul tells us to being in full accord and of one mind.  We are to be working together towards the same goal – the advance of the Gospel – seeking inner harmony in the Church.  We join together in worship to proclaim the worth of our God and Savior, and to grow under the reading and preaching of the Word of God, that we might be transformed into the Image of Jesus and live lives worthy of the Gospel and advance it better through our living.

The unity in Christ that causes joy to fill our cups to the brim comes as we agree with each other and stand for those teachings – those doctrines – of the Scripture which – in particular – are the basis of our salvation, as we truly love each other as members of the Body that we cannot do without, and seek the inner harmony of the Church.  As Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, ESV).

But, how do we show our love for one another?

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Third, living lives of humility is worthy of the Gospel.

Paul contrasts the wrong way to live lives worthy of the Gospel with the right way:  we are not to be lifting ourselves up.  We are not to be seeking our praise.  We are not to be prideful.

If we give a certain amount in the offering to be praised, we sin.  If we desire to hold office in the church to be praised, we sin.  If we boast about temptation that we have escaped, we sin.  If we look down on others because of their sin, we sin.  If we look down on others because they are not like us, we sin. 

No, we are to live lives of humility – we are to consider others more significant than us – more important than us.  We are to be tending to each other, building each other up in the faith and holy living.  We are to support each other in the fight – in the race – that is the life of faith as we look forward to the finish line when Jesus returns with all the holy angels with Him.

Now, Paul is not saying that we are to be a doormat for anyone.  What shocked the pagans during the days of the early Church was that the Christians really showed love for each other.  Whether someone was rich or poor, Jew or Gentile by birth, city-dweller or country-dweller – all were welcomed and loved and supported and each one sought to lift each other up – to advance each other in growth in the Spirit.

We ought not to look at someone in the Church and think, “Oh, I wish that person weren’t here, he brings the whole place down – I’m going to avoid him.”  Nor should we think, “Oh, I am so glad she is here, she is a big giver – important in the community – I want to get her attention.”

No, in humility, we ought to look at each other and both ask – for the sake of Christ and His Gospel – how we might make each persons’ life better, how we might help each person avoid sin, and how we might show Christ’s love to each person today.

That is what Jesus meant when He answered the lawyer about the greatest commandment and said, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV).

This is especially true in the Church as we are one in Christ, but it extends to all people, as every human being is created in the Image of God.  Whether a person is a Christian or not, we ought to see something of the Maker in them and desire God’s best for that person.  First, of course, would be to proclaim the Gospel to them, if they are not believers.  Then, we ought to see how we can be of help to one another – how we can lift each other up – not how we can lift ourselves us.

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:1-12, ESV).

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:15-17, ESV).

So we ought to look at each other in humility as brothers and sisters in Christ, all members of the One Body, seeking to lift each other up, not ourselves; not becoming doormats to each other’s whims, but doing all we can to keep each other from sin and to encourage growth in Christ in each other.

Which leads into:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

And fourth, living lives of caring is worthy of the Gospel.

            We are to follow after those things that God has called each of us to do, but we are also to show real care – a deep interest in and for each other.  We are not to be self-obsessed, but seek the good of each member of the Body of Christ.

            Again, showing care does not mean that we have to be slaves to other people, because there are people who take care to an unhealthy reliance.

For example, there was a woman who did not drive that I was helping to get to wherever she needed to go, but her desire for my service and care continued to grow to the point where she was angry with me if I could not drop everything and do whatever she wanted.  For my health, I had to eventually walk away from her.

We all have gifts and abilities, and we are to share them with each other – especially in the Church.  If we are able to help someone – especially in spiritually matters – we ought to do so.  If we cannot, we ought to say so, and we ought to receive such in humility and thanks.

So, let us get to know each other.  Let us truly care about each other.  And if someone has a need and we can fill that need – let us do so.  And if someone desires to share a joy with us, and we can receive it, we should do so.

            None of us is the center of the universe – Jesus is.  He has given us all work to do, and He has given us each other to care for and have joy with.  We ought to seek out ways that we can minister to each other and be receptive to those who need our help.

            Let us seek to complete each other’s joy – to fill each other’s cups to the brim, for the sake of the Christ Who makes us one with Him, for the sake of the Church in which we are One Body, and as a witness to the world that Christ has made us different – for all of our good and to His Glory.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for making us Your people – for uniting us with Christ and each other in One Body – the Church.  We thank You for the joy that comes from the salvation You give us and for the increase in joy as we live lives of obedience and service towards You and each other.  May we be pleasing to You in all that we do, and may the world look at us and desire to know what has made us different – joyful, loving, united people.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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