There’s No “I” in
Team (or Church)
Philippians 2: 1
Our Scripture from Philippians this morning is a challenge for me, and is probably a challenge for all preachers and for all Christians. This is a topic we all struggle with…Humility. I think the best person to preach on humility would probably be the guest preacher…Someone who comes in and preaches one sermon to the congregation, then gets in his car and drives home. The guest preacher has an advantage over your pastor, because I live with you, and you can observe how I live my life.
When I think of humility, I remember something Benjamin Franklin once said. Benjamin Franklin developed a list of 13 virtues he wanted to live out in his daily life. He kept a list of these 13 virtues in his journal and graded himself every day on each virtue.
“In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly (sic) overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin started with a list of only 12 virtues. He eventually added humility as his thirteenth virtue. He didn’t want to add it, because he was afraid that if he became too humble, he would be proud of his humility.
One of my favorite Scriptures about humility is found in Numbers 12: 3…
“Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Numbers 12: 3, Moses
Tradition tells us that the first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, NUMBERS and Deuteronomy… Now that’s ironic. Moses said, “I am more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”
More than likely, Moses was the source of the oral tradition behind Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The books were written down at a later date. So, Moses never actually said that about himself.
But what if Moses did say that about himself? All that really proves is that Moses was actually human. As a human, Moses struggled with sin just like we do. And, Moses probably struggled with the sin of Pride…just like we do.
Most of you are probably familiar with C. S. Lewis and his book, Mere Christianity. In this book, Lewis makes the argument that Pride is the “Great Sin.” It is great, because it is wide spread. Every person struggles with Pride, and every person struggles to develop and attitude of humility.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Philippians 2: 1 – 11
1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
There are a couple of recurring themes in the Book of Philippians. Obviously, Paul writes about Joy in the Book of Philippians—Joy which does not depend on the circumstances of our lives…Joy which only comes from Christ in us. A second theme is the theme of Unity. Paul wrote this book to one of the churches he founded. Chapter 4 seems to indicate a division in the church, and chapter 1 suggests that the church was facing some kind of persecution from outside sources.
Perhaps the church was facing cultural pressures to water down the Christian message to conform to the shifting cultural values. It is also possible the church was facing political pressure to abandon Jesus as Lord and to confess Caesar is lord. Whatever the church might have been facing, there was only one solution. Paul challenged the Philippian church to “stand firm” and to “contend for the Gospel” united together as if they are one person.
Chapter 2 begins with a series of conditional sentences…If, then. But, don’t let Paul’s use of the word “if” confuse you. Paul is not trying to create doubt about the encouragement and comfort Christians receive from Christ. Instead, he is affirming the reality that we do receive encouragement and comfort from Christ.
It’s like when we say to someone, “If I am your friend (and I am your friend), then you can count on me.” Another way to express this is the use the word “since” in place of the word “if.” “Since I am your friend, you can count on me.”
In Philippians 2: 1, we can translate Paul as saying, “Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ…Since you have comfort from his love…Since you have fellowship with the Spirit…Since you have experienced tenderness and compassion…Make my joy complete…”
Then Paul tells the Christians at Philippi what will make his joy complete. He wants them to live together in unity. He wants the church to experience a kind of fellowship that is different from the rest of the world. He knows this is the only way the church stands a chance in a culture of opposition…to be united in mind, united in love, and united in spirit and purpose.
This does not mean we are all supposed to think and act alike. No. There is supposed to be diversity within the Body of Christ. We have different gifts from the Holy Spirit. We have different personalities and temperaments. And, we all have different life experiences. God uses all of that diversity and brings us together to accomplish one purpose through us.
Diversity is not the greatest threat to unity within the church. Diversity is a wonderful part of God’s plan that God uses to make us better together than we can be individually. The greatest threat to church unity is Pride which causes us to think more about ourselves than about the purpose for the church.
To be united in one mind does not mean we all think the same thoughts. Instead, being united in one mind means that no one is supposed to think of himself or herself as the most important person in the church. No one is to place personal ambition ahead of what God has called the church to do.
Mind Church of One
Paul spells this out by describing a couple of different attitudes which are inappropriate for church members to hold.
It is always inappropriate for church members to have an attitude of selfish ambition. We might recognize this better under the labels of rivalry and competition.
Sometimes rivalry is a very personal attitude. A person compares himself or herself to other people and has a superior opinion of themselves. They are richer or better dressed and therefore think they deserve to be treated better than anyone else in the church. Or, they know more about the Bible than anyone else and think their opinions are more important. (Some people think their opinions are more important because their family has been in the church longer than all those new people who have joined less than 50 years ago.)
And this is the problem with Pride. No one wants to intelligent…They want to be more intelligent than their friends. No one wants to be rich…They want to be the richest person in the world! Pride is a competition with other people, and Pride can never be satisfied. There will always be someone better, smarter or richer to compare to yourself.
Sometimes rivalry is between groups of people rather than individuals. Perhaps the younger folks think they are more important than the older folks—or the older folks think they are more important than the younger folks. Or, even worse, maybe there are cliques of people who divide up according to social standing and consider their clique the most important clique.
A church cannot fulfill her God-given mission and purpose as long as there are rivalries within the Body of Christ.
Another attitude which has no place in the church is the attitude of “vain conceit.” There might not be a lot of difference between rivalry and vain conceit. “Vain conceit” literally means “empty opinion.” People who have empty opinions are people who think more highly of themselves than they think of other people. Empty opinions lead people to feel jealous of other people and to the desire to fight to prove they are right and everyone else is wrong. A church cannot be of one mind when everyone is trying to be right.
When I was in seminary, one of my professors invited a marriage counselor to speak to our class. He told a story about a couple who came to him for counseling. They disagreed about everything. If he said it was black, she said it was white. If she said it was up, he said it was down. Finally, the counselor stopped the arguing and said, “Listen, you have to make a choice. Do you want to be right? Or, do you want to be married? Because you can’t be both.” I think that is pretty good advice for marriage, but it also works for the church. Do you want to be right? Or, do you want to be church?
Humility is not very popular in American culture. But, it wasn’t very popular in the First Century Roman Empire either. In fact, no one in Rome of Paul’s day considered humility a virtue. They thought of humility as a weakness. Humility was considered the opposite of pride, and the Romans considered pride a virtue.
The word Paul used for humility was associated with slavery. We might even say that Paul is telling the Philippian Christians they ought to adopt the mentality of a slave. They should think of themselves as the lowest of social standings and unfit.
Perhaps Paul is thinking about the Old Testament teachings about how God works. For example, the Old Testament teaches us that God often chooses people who seem to be small and insignificant to accomplish big things through them. It also teaches us that God shows grace to the humble and opposes the proud (Proverbs 3: 34).
It seems there are two ways we are supposed to be humble. We are to demonstrate humility in our behavior toward other people, both inside and outside the church. And, we are to be humble in the way we approach God. God hears our prayers when we approach him as people who are unfit and unworthy.
Jesus as the Model of Humility
It would be good enough for Paul to appeal to an Old Testament text or story to describe Christian humility. However, Paul went one step farther. Instead of appealing to the Old Testament, Paul appealed to the character of Jesus himself.
More than likely, Philippians 2: 6 – 11, contains the words of an ancient hymn. Modern translations like the New International Version recognize this as a long quotation and set these verses apart with indentations.
Since Paul does not cite his sources, we are left with some unanswered questions. Did Paul write this hymn? Did Paul quote from a familiar hymn sung in the Philippian churches? Of course, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the theology of the hymn teaches us about Jesus and how Paul uses that theology to inform his ethical teaching about humility.
One way to read the hymn is to note the way Jesus moves from Heaven to earth and back to Heaven. The preexistent Jesus left Heaven and came down to earth. The earthly Jesus went to the cross—the lowest point of his earthly life and the lowest point of the hymn. But, the cross is neither the end of Jesus nor the end of the hymn. Jesus went from the cross to being exalted by God in the resurrection, and now Jesus lives in an exalted status at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.
One of the differences between us and Jesus is the fact that our lives had a beginning. There was a time—before my birth—when I did not exist. There was never a time when Jesus did not exist. We read about this in John 1: 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Then John connects the preexistent Word with Jesus in John 1: 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”)
Just as John says the Word was with God and the Word was God, Paul tells us that the preexistent Jesus was every bit of the nature of God in his essential nature. Yet, Paul tells us, Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
What do you think it means to say Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped?
I can think of two examples of people who tried to grasp equality with God.
The first example comes from the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God had placed Adam and Eve in the middle of Paradise. They did not have to work for their food, because they were living in perfect harmony with God’s creation. All the food they could ever desire was right there for the taking. Adam and Eve didn’t need clothing or shelter, because there was no shame to separate them and no danger for them as long as they were caretakers of God’s creation. But, that wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve. They were not satisfied with their status as creatures in God’s creation. They wanted to be equal to God. Because they considered equality with God something to be grasped, they overstepped God’s boundaries. As a result of their sin, Adam and Eve lost Paradise…and all of humanity now experiences separation from God.
The second example comes from the traditional understanding of Satan himself. According to legend, Satan started out as one of God’s angels named Lucifer. Lucifer was not satisfied with being one of the angels. Instead, he considered equality with God something to be grasped. When Lucifer tried to grasp equality with God, he fell from Heaven to Hell.
These two stories have something in common. Adam and Lucifer had a misconception of what it means to be equal with God. They were tempted, because they thought equality with God means they could do whatever they wanted to do. They thought equality with God means having your own way and getting everything you desire.
According to the hymn in Philippians 2, this is not what Jesus demonstrated. Jesus had equality with God. In his preexistent state, Jesus was equal to God. Yet, Jesus did not consider this equality something to be grasped or held on to.
So, in verse 7, we read that Jesus made himself nothing. He emptied himself. He poured himself out. Jesus took on the nature of a slave, a human being. And, Jesus poured himself out on the cross…the most humiliating form of death ever known.
Jesus shows us what true equality with God really looks like. Equality with God is not having your own way and getting everything you want. Equality with God is giving yourself away. Because Jesus has the character of God, Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for others. The cross is the ultimate symbol of humility.
Because Jesus humbled himself and went to the cross on our behalf, God exalted Jesus in the resurrection and ascension. Today, Jesus occupies the highest status possible. Jesus is Lord…the name above all names…the name that brings all creatures and all kingdoms to their knees. Jesus was exalted because he willingly humbled himself and gave his life away for others.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I was flipping channels between college football games and came across a game between Rutgers and Arkansas. Under normal circumstances, I would not be interested in Rutgers and Arkansas. But there was something different about this game. The Rutgers’ players were wearing special uniforms…
Notice the back of the players’ jersey. Most teams print the players’ names across the back of the jersey. The Rutgers’ jerseys are different.
F.A.M.I.L.Y. is an acronym for “Forget About Me I Love You.” Rutgers has discovered that a football team is stronger when individual team members think about others ahead of themselves. If a football team in New Jersey can figure that out, then surely a church in Lufkin, Texas can figure it out too. This is what Paul was teaching us in Philippians: The church is stronger when we think of ourselves less… Jesus is our example.