Philippians 2v12-30: Acting like Jesus - 20th October 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible Reading: Philippians 2:12-30

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This video was played at the end of the sermon:

I heard recently about a Christian guy called Bob who was leaving the firm in which he had worked for five years. And at his leaving party some of his colleagues said “Bob, you really are the nicest guy we’ve ever worked with – you’re always so helpful; you do such a good job; you’re such a pleasure to be around. Some of us were thinking ‘why is he like this?’ so we got our heads together and came to the conclusion that you must be a Buddhist.” And Bob thought ‘I’ve missed a 5 year long opportunity for Jesus.’

But I could just as easily tell you about Bill who was a very public Christian, known to everyone as a follower of Jesus, he spoke the gospel very boldly but then he left his wife and children and had an affair. Any everybody knew. And the stink of that spread throughout the town and shaped what lots of people thought of the church.

Have a look at verse 15 of the reading, see what Paul wanted for these Christians in Philippi, what God wants for us. This is one to remember: “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

He wants them to shine like stars in a dark sky. That’s his burning desire for them. So much so that he says in the next verse that this is the thing he’s going to tell Jesus about when he sees him. This is the thing that makes his ministry worthwhile. The fact that they shine like stars in a dark sky. So here’s our big message for today:

Shine like stars in a dark sky.

Isn’t that a beautiful expression? That’s what we’re called to do as Christians: shine like stars in a dark sky. That’s what you and I are meant to be in the world. Stars.

Now that word ‘stars’ has been emptied of meaning for us a bit, hasn’t it? We think of X Factor and appearing on the cover of OK magazine. That’s not what Paul is talking about. To shine like stars in a dark sky is to stand out. That’s what stars do, isn’t it? When you look up at the stars at night the reason you notice them is that they stand out. They don’t blend in with the dark around them do they? They shine. And nor do they go off and hide in an enclave of light somewhere, like the daytime – if all the stars went and hid in the daylight, we wouldn’t see them at all, as indeed we don’t with daytime stars.

So many of the mistakes that churches and Christians make could be avoided if we could just get this one right: not blending in; not cut off. We not here to blend in with the culture around us, we should be different. Christians that are so keen to fit in, so keen to be approved of by our peers, so keen to be liked, so keen to be cool, are no use. Stars that start to blend in with the darkness around them are fizzling out. It’s the same with Christians. Nor are we to be cut off from the culture around us, we’re meant to shine like stars in the dark sky, in the midst of the crooked and depraved generation. Right next to them. We live in the same place; up close and personal, so that the people around us don’t just get to see an image we project; they see our lives. Christians that shut themselves off in little Christian enclaves are no use. People don’t see the light of a shining star, they see the 3ft thick walls we’ve built around ourselves. When they hear us try to speak up for Jesus it has all the impact of someone shouting at you from very far away. “What was that? I can’t hear you properly. I can’t understand – you’re just too far away; it doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Do you see that? Shining like stars in a dark sky. Not blending in. Not cut off. When you see Christians doing that, you know that all the effort has been worth it. That’s real fruitful genuine Christian living.

And it is word and deed, isn’t it? Not one or the other. Verse 15 again: “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” It’s speaking the gospel of Jesus while living a life that backs it up. Remember Bob and Bill. Not just speaking without the righteous living – that’s hypocrisy. Not just living a good life without telling people that it’s because of Jesus – that’s self-righteousness.

What is it that stands out in this generation? What is distinctive Christian living? What makes faithful Christians stand out from the culture around? I’m sure we could think of all sorts of things. But let’s notice the main thing that Paul is talking about here – it was relevant for these Philippian Christians 2000 years ago and it’s still relevant now. The thing that Paul is talking about, the thing that makes them shine like stars in a dark sky is being humble like Christ. It’s acting like Jesus – but acting like Jesus specifically in this: that we are humble and self-giving like Jesus was humble and self-giving.

Remember that this whole chunk of the middle of this letter is about having the attitude of Christ Jesus – the bit we saw last week, from verse 5 of chapter 2 onwards. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who…” humbled himself from the highest of heights to the deepest depths, giving himself to save us, even giving himself to death to save us. If you weren’t here last week, go to the website and listen to what Nigel said, because this really is the heart of the letter to the Philippians and it’s at the heart of the Christian message. The thing that makes Jesus stand out like a star against all the other religious leaders and all the other world leaders full stop, is this: he, being God, humbled himself and gave himself to save us. That’s what makes Jesus shine like nobody else. And when we follow him in that sort of humble self-giving, when we make it our ambition to make ourselves less, to give up our privileges for the sake of others, that’s when we shine. That’s when we point to Jesus.

And that’s a thing we do together, isn’t it? If we’re humble and self-giving like that it’s going to have the most enormous impact on how we are together. That’s what Paul is talking about – not just a few individuals but a community, a church, which stands out from the world around because the people in it treat each other in such a wonderfully different way. Look at verse 14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure.” That’s when we shine. When we do things without complaining or arguing. That’s a together way of being humble like Jesus. Not complaining. Not arguing. Do you see that?

A community of people who don’t get all uppity and upset when someone treads on their toes, where people want each other to succeed instead of themselves, where people don’t whinge but instead are ready to put up with all sorts of inconvenience so that the mission of the community can be carried out – that is something truly outside the ordinary in our me-first culture. A community like that will shine like a star.

Sadly the church is all too often known for self-centredness, not self-giving. The Anthony Trollope novels and all those endless comedy sketches about self-promoting people in churches, they all have a basis in fact somewhere, don’t they? I’ve met people who, when they find out I’m a vicar, say things like “how are the parishioners, then?” With that look in their eye. They ask it because they expect there to be all sorts of stories about people being pushy, power struggles, that sort of thing. That’s how the world works. The church should be different. We want to act like Jesus.

Do you remember that old song “don’t worry, be happy?” Do you? How’s about this one: don’t grumble, be humble. That’s a Christ-like attitude.  I’ve got an old friend called Tony who has been the caretaker of a church for many years. If you know anything about caretaking churches, you’ll know that all sorts of demands are made of you very often by people who don’t have much of an idea of the practical difficulties involved. People with good intentions but not much knowhow. Making things actually work in practice in a church is difficult. Tony’s job is a hard one. But he has this great motto. He says “do it first, ask about it later.” If something needs doing, he’ll get it done, because he knows he’s serving the mission of the church, it’s not all about him. If he thinks it’s unreasonable and needs doing differently next time, he’ll talk it through, yes: it’s important to do that; but he’ll do it later. He won’t be an obstacle to mission work. Do it first, ask about it later. Don’t grumble, be humble. Can you remember that? Humble like Jesus.

Christ-like humility is not passiveness. Humility for Jesus was active, not passive, wasn’t it? He gave himself. It was difficult and challenging for him. Humility for us is active, not passive. It’s hard work, done in God’s power.

Work with all God’s strength.

Have a look at verse 12, which explains how we develop this star-shining attitude:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Do you see the hard work language in those verses? Well here’s a question: Who is working here? You are. God is.

That is the dynamic of Christian growth. That’s how knowing and showing Jesus works out in practice. It works out as we work hard under God. And it works out as God works hard in us. Do you see the two aspects, the two perspectives? We work, God works. God works, we work.

[I’ve heard it put like this: as we face the decisions in front of us, as we approach the challenges ahead, as we see them face on it looks to us like we’re the ones doing the work. We’re conscious of God being involved – so, when we have a decision to make we pray for wisdom, we read his word, we take advice from his people, but it still feels to us like we’re the ones making the decision. But then often as you look back on a decision, and you see the way that God has worked it out for you, you’re much more conscious that actually God was at work. Have you ever noticed that? You see for the Christian the great encouragement is that God is at work in you, as it says here, to will and to act. The decisions you make, the things you do, the things you desire and want even – those things are tools which the Lord God can use to do his work. There’s a great freedom in this. You may be afraid of getting it wrong all the time. Don’t be. Have confidence. God is at work in you.]

Now there’s a really important thing we’ve got to notice here, and it’s this: don’t think that this means you have to work hard in order to be saved; don’t think it means that if you don’t work hard enough, God will not save you. That’s not it. It doesn’t say work for your salvation does it? You can’t save you. You can’t. You can’t get yourself forgiven, you can’t take away God’s anger at your sin, you can’t raise yourself from death. You can’t save you. Only Jesus can. A Christian is not someone who works hard to be saved. A Christian is someone who has been saved by Jesus. When were you saved? If you’re a believer in Jesus then you’ll be able to give some sort of answer to that question. Because if you are a follower of Jesus then you have been saved. But the ultimate answer to that question, if you’re a believer, is that you were saved when Jesus died and rose again. That’s when you were saved. You were saved by what Jesus did, and only by what Jesus did. You don’t work for your salvation.

What you do is you work out your salvation. It’s a bit like going to a gym to work out. You don’t work out to get muscles, do you? You work out because you have muscles. You work out to make your muscles do more. Working out your salvation doesn’t make you any more saved. But it does make your salvation do more. Working out your salvation is about making that truth that Jesus has saved you drive your life. Working out your salvation is the thing that will enable you to have that star-shining, Christ like, humble attitude – because you have been saved by the self-giving of Jesus, that drives your own self-giving. That’s working out your salvation.

You have been saved; so work out your salvation. Some of you here need to hear one side of this equation more than the other. Some of you will be burdened by a sense of never being able to achieve enough. “What more does God want from me?” You never feel you’ve done enough. Or you’re just feeling worn out – those two things are often related but not always. Feel the force of this: Jesus saves, not you. Being saved isn’t about what you do, it’s about what Jesus has done. God’s not waiting for you to achieve some criteria before he saves you. He has come to save you as you are. He’s for you. He’s with you.

Others of you are pretty comfortable in the fact that you’re saved but don’t see the need to go at the Christian life flat out. You’re coasting. You need to feel the command and the attitude. Fear and trembling. Don’t mess with God; don’t be lazy with him either. This isn’t an easy picture of life with God is it? It’s costly self-giving done in the power of Jesus, the great self-giver.

Choose your examples well.

Really quickly now, but don’t miss this. See what Paul does in the rest of the chapter. He sets up examples, doesn’t he? He shows them two great examples of people who they know who show this sort of Christ like, humble, self-giving life in practice. We need our examples don’t we? Don’t just tell me, show me.

There’s Timothy, the long-suffering servant. Verse 20: “I have no-one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” He has genuine concern for them. He’s interested in them, and he’s interested in Jesus, not just interested in himself. And he’s proved this through long service. Verse 22: “You know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” He’s put himself out to serve God’s mission, and it’s just a flash in the pan, it’s year on year. Look at the people who serve and go on serving here. Watch and learn. Look at them and see Jesus.

And then there’s Epaphroditus, who takes risks for the gospel. He puts himself out for the mission of God even to the point of death. Verse 29: “Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” He takes risks, he puts himself out. Look at people like that and see Jesus.

Choose your examples well. Choose the ones who give themselves. Choose the ones who make it their ambition to be humble. One of my heroes here is a guy who won’t be embarrassed this morning to hear me say this, because he only comes in the evening. His name’s Geoff. Geoff’s wife has advanced dementia. Geoff gives and gives and gives, round the clock, every day. I went round to see him the other day, and I can tell you, watching Geoff patiently spoon-feeding his wife taught me more about humble, Christ-like self-giving than anything I’ve seen or heard for a long time. Do you want a mentor? Do you want an example? Do you want a hero to aspire to? Go for somebody like that. Go for somebody who gives, not somebody who gets. That’s following Jesus. People like that shine like stars in a dark sky.