Practical Gospel Living (Phil 2:19-30)


Philippians 2:19-30; Key Verse: 2:30

"...he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life..."

What is beyond the gospel? There is an impression among Christians that the gospel is impractical. We think of Christianity as though the gospel is needed for our salvation. But after being saved, we need to start doing "Christian stuff" in order to grow as Christians. Matt Chandler wrote in his new book "The Explicit Gospel" that "For some reason--namely our depravity--we have a tendency to think that the cross saves us from past sin, but after we are saved, we have to take over and clean ourselves up. This sort of thinking is devastating to the soul. We call this the 'assumed gospel,' and it flourishes when well-meaning teachers, leaders and preachers set out to see lives first and foremost conformed to a pattern of behavior (religion) and not transformed by the Holy Spirit's power (gospel)."

The fact of the matter is that Christians will never outgrow the gospel. We will never reach such levels that we should "move on to better things." Why? There is no better thing. So, what is beyond the gospel? Nothing! Is the gospel practical? If so, how? Let's find out from the very practical lives of 2 Christians that Paul mentions in Phil 2:19-30. They are Timothy and Epaphroditus. John MacArthur refers to them in his sermon as "Model Spiritual Servants."

Recap: Phil 2:5-11 explicitly conveys the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. It is the greatest Christological passage in the Bible and it is the gospel of our salvation. Only a deep realization of the gospel enables Christians to live lives worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27; Eph 4:1) and to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, believing that change is possible, because God is working through us Christians to empower and enable us to work it out (Phil 2:12-13).

What does such a Christian life look like? Paul gives clear examples of the practical working out of the gospel in the lives of 2 Christians--Timothy and Ephaphroditus--who conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27), and who work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) with the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). Their practical gospel lives are evidenced as (GOAL):

  1. Gospel: Serving with Paul in the work of the gospel (Phil 1:22).
  2. Others: A genuine concern and love for the welfare and interests of others (Phil 1:20-21,26).
  3. Attitude: His core attitude is that of a brother, co-worker, fellow soldier, messenger (Phil 1:25).
  4. Life: His willingness to risk his life for Jesus and God's people (Phil 1:30).

I. Gospel (Phil 2:22)

Timothy's heart. Paul wanted to visit the Philippians (Phil 2:24). But since he was in prison, he decided to send Timothy to the Philippians as his representative (Phil 2:19-23). From Paul's description of Timothy we can learn several things about the practical expression of the gospel through Timothy's life. Paul said that "Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel" (Phil 2:22). Timothy's heart was to serve with Paul in the work of the gospel. The foundation and grounding of Timothy's heart was rooted in the gospel. Surely Timothy saw the gospel being lived out since Paul met him during his 1st missionary journey, and decided to bring him along to mentor him (Acts 16:1-3). Because of Timothy's heart being rooted in the gospel, Paul also describes him as "my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Cor 4:17).

Paul's core teaching. What does Paul "teach everywhere in every church"? Paul describes his core teaching in various ways: "testifying to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24, ESV); "the gospel...is the power of God that brings salvation" (Rom 1:16); "the message of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18); "we preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23); "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2); "what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that..." "by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor 15:3-4, 10). When Paul teaches everywhere in every church--the gospel, grace, Christ crucified, the cross--God becomes all in all (1 Cor 15:28), for this glorifies God the Father (Phil 2:11).

Is your heart rooted and grounded in the gospel? Is the gospel your center and foundation? Do you repent because of the gospel, or because you're afraid something bad might happen to you? Do you serve God because of the gospel, or because it makes you feel better about yourself? Do you serve others out of grace, or to feel some self-worth by serving others?

II. Others (Phil 2:19-24)

An "Others" Orientation. What does a heart grounded in the gospel look like? Paul tells us: "I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil 2:20-21). This is similar to what Paul said, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" (Phil 2:3-4). Outside of the gospel, we are curved inward on ourselves (incurvatus in se). We are inward focused. Our motivation for doing anything, including loving and serving others as Christians, is selfishly motivated by selfish ambition, or to build up my own ministry or church. But through the gospel, God compels us to become outward focused with an outward orientation, so that we are genuinely concerned for others. Hunger Games is about a fictional futuristic dystonian society where 24 teenagers from 12 districts are to fight each other to the death for the amusement of the people. The lead character Katniss Everdeen offers herself as a competitor because her younger 14 year old sister was chosen. In this way she offered herself in place of her sister because of her love for her.

The Fruit of the Gospel is Love (Gal 5:22). The result of the gospel is that we love others (Jn 13:34-35), not because of our will power or self-effort, but because Jesus first loved us (1 Jn 4:19). Why does Jesus say that the command to "love one other" is a new commandment? It is not new because it is in the OT. Lev 19:18 says, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." It is new because Jesus shows us how this is done when he said, "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (Jn 13:34).

III. Attitude (Phil 2:25-28)

Brother, Co-worker, Soldier and Messenger (Phil 2:25). The Philippian church had sent some gifts through Epaphroditus (Phil 4:18), and also for him to help Paul while he was in prison (Phil 2:25b). But he became sick and almost died, which prompted Paul to decide to send him back (Phil 2:27-28). Paul also cites Epaphroditus as one whose life exemplifies the gospel. Paul shows us the attitude he has as a Christian, by describing him as "my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger" (Phil 2:25a). Every human being who ever lived wants a friend who is like a brother, co-worker, soldier and messenger.

  • He is loving like a brother, who always has your back.
  • He works alongside you as your co-worker.
  • He is like a soldier who is loyal to the common cause.
  • He is a trustworthy messenger who represents you and your message exactly.

Paul himself felt from Epaphroditus love as a brother, help as a co-worker, loyalty as a soldier and one who is like him in Christ as a messenger of God in communicating the gospel.

Considering Others when Dying (Phil 2:26). Like Timothy, Epaphroditus' concern was not for himself or his near death sickness, but he was distressed because the Philippians heard that he was ill (Phil 2:26). When a person is dying, he or she cannot but think about his own impending demise. But Epaphroditus was not thinking about himself but about the distress of others because of him. In this regard, he is like Jesus who loved and considered all others as he faced his own death. At the Last Supper, Jn 13:1 says, "Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." On the cross as he died, he prayed with his last breadth, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

IV. Life (Phil 2:29-30)

Risk Your Life. When Paul sent Epaphroditus back to the Philippians, he said, "welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him" (Phil 2:29). Paul was concerned that the Philippians might consider him a quitter by going back to them when they had sent him to help Paul. But Paul said this to show the kind of man Epaphroditus is and why we should honor him. Phil 2:30 says, "...because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me."

Gamble Your Life Away. The Message translation says, "He put his life on the line and nearly died doing it." The ESV says, "risking his life." The ASV says, "hazarding his life." The word is the verb paraboleuesthai. It is a gambler's word. It means to stake everything on a throw of the dice. Paul is saying that, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Epaphroditus gambled his life.

In the days of the early Chruch, there was an association of men and women called the parabolani, the gamblers. They visited the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. In AD 252, plague broke out in Carthage. The people threw out the bodies of their dead and fled in terror. Cyprian, the Christian bishop, gathered his congregation together and put them to work burying the dead and nursing the sick in that plague-striken city. By doing so, at the risk of their lives, they saved the city from destruction and desolation.

In all Christians, there should be an almost reckless courage which makes them ready to gamble with their lives to serve Christ and other people.

Do you know the gospel? How would you explain it? What does it mean to you in your own life? To Timothy and Epaphroditus it was the foundation of their entire life. When the gospel grounded their lives, the orientation of their lives became outward. They cared nothing for their own life. They cared everything for others. But it was not them. It was the fruit of the gospel expressed through their lives.

  1. Who is Timothy (Phil 2:19; Acts 16:1-3; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Ti 1:2; 2 Ti 1:2)? What are 2 clear evidences of the gospel working in his life (Phil 2:20-24, 3-4)?
  2. Why was Epaphroditus sent to Paul (Phil 4:18)? What happened to him (Phil 2:26-27)? Why did Paul send him back (Phil 2:25a,28)? Why should they honor and welcome him (Phil 2:25b, 29-30)? How is the gospel manifested through his life (Phil 2:30)? [The word for "risked" is a gambler's word. It means to stake everything on the throw of a dice.]
  1. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible, 1957, 1975, 2003.

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Sanctification by the Gospel, not Discipleship (Phil 2:5-11)


Philippians 2:5-11; Key Verse: 2:8

"...even death on a cross."

Gospel-Driven Sanctification: The title of my sermon is "Sanctification by the Gospel, not Discipleship." This might be misunderstood as saying that discipleship is not important for Christians. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that discipleship does not necessarily result in sanctification. Rather, sanctification results in true discipleship. Tullian Tchividjian wrote, "Many Christians have come to believe that the key to deeper spiritual renewal and revival is 'working harder.' (or discipleship) The truth, however, is that real spiritual growth (sanctification) happens only when we rediscover the gospel." (Surprised by Grace, 17) Graeme Goldsworthy wrote, "The imitation of Christ (discipleship) is not the center of the teaching of the NT. We are saved and made into the image of Christ not by our efforts to imitate him. Such an idea reduces the gospel to ethical effort. ...the gospel tells us of the absolutely unique work of Christ, both in his living and his dying, by which we are saved through faith." (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 4)

When we are truly sanctified by the gospel, we thrive as delightful disciples of Christ. Because of the gospel, our lives become abundant and full (Jn 10:10); it becomes a life of rest where Jesus' yoke is easy and light (Mt 11:28-30). But if our focus is on discipleship and spiritual disciplines, it emphasizes what man must do rather than the gospel of our salvation. This anthropocentric focus easily becomes burdensome and results in Phariseeism, tribalism, traditionalism, and CFS: Christian Fatigue Syndrome. It is because piety not marinated by the gospel will run out of gas. The gospel produces both delight and duty. Discipleship forces and imposes duty, often disregarding delight. The Christian who grows best and are getting better are those who increasingly realize that their relationship to God does not depend on them getting better. Christians grow not by behaving better, but by believing better--by believing the gospel in bigger, deeper, brighter ways.

Inward/Outward Focus: Phil 2:5-11 has been called "The Song of Christ," "A Hymn of Christ" (The Christ Hymn), and "The Theology of Christmas" (by John MacArthur). William Barclay says, "If humility, obedience and self-renunciation were the supreme characteristics of the life of Jesus, they must also be the hallmarks of Christians. Selfishness, self-seeking and self-display destroy our likeness to Christ and our fellowship with each other." The gospel always creates an outward (others) focus (Phil 2:3-4; 2 Cor 5:15), never an inward (self) orientation (incurvatus in se). Because of the gospel, Paul's life is filled with hardship (2 Cor 6:3-10), yet palpably full of joy (2 Cor 7:4). Even Job in the OT "knows" the gospel in his utter devastation when he expresses his "joy in unrelenting pain" (Job 6:10).

How do we grow as Christians? How does sanctification work? I decided to spend a 2nd week on this text because it is so crucially central to Christianity and to being a Christian. There are 3 points I wish to expound on (which are critical for joy):

  1. Sacrifice: Understanding Jesus' sacrifice grounds our life foundation as Christians.
  2. Suffering: Only our hope of ER enables us to suffer loss for Christ.
  3. Sanctification: We grow as Christians (sanctification) through the gospel, not self-effort.
I. Sacrifice of Christ (Phil 2:6-8)

Do you understand the extent of the sacrifice of Jesus? Can we even begin to comprehend his selfless sacrifice, service and servanthood? If the cross and sacrifice of Jesus is not well or deeply understood, our foundation as a Christian will be weak. It will not result in or produce grace in us, which is the most lovely aspect of being a Christian. Grace results in me only when I know the depth of my depravity in sin, which resulted in and required the infinite cost of the sacrifice of God's sinless Son.

II. Suffering of Christians (Phil 2:9-11)

Am I willing to suffer for Christ as a Christian? Why should I? How can I? Our culture has perhaps created an aversion toward any kind of suffering. The health, wealth, prosperity gospel certainly does not help us have a positive view toward suffering. Teaching that our obedient Christian actions brings God's blessing upon our temporal lives also does not help. Such teachings are inward/self focused that makes Christianity primarily about getting personal benefits and blessings from God. Then even when we serve God and others, our hope is to gain God's favor and blessings. We do not serve God/thers because we have already been blessed beyond belief by the gospel. Rather, we serve because we want some "extra" blessings beyond the gospel, such as a growing ministry, a happy marriage, our kids doing well, etc.

Being a Christian involves suffering. Jesus said that to follow him we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross (Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23). Paul just said that we Christians have been given the gift of suffering (Phil 1:29). The Risen Christ encourages Christians to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:26). Can we/are we willing to suffer as a Christian according to what Paul and Jesus say in the Bible? How can we?

Ultimately, the only way we can find joy in our suffering and loss is if we truly believe in our reward as Christians. Jesus suffered beyond belief, beyond our human comprehension. He could because of the joy set before him (Heb 12:2). Do we Christians truly believe in our ultimate joy and reward? The martyrdom of countless saints through out history was because of their firm unwavering conviction of joy in their reward. What is the reward that we presently seek? The kingdom of God? Or a "better" kingdom for ourselves and for our kids here and now?

III. Sanctification (Phil 1:27; 2:12-13)

Sanctification is crucial to joy as a Christian. A growing Christian is a happy Christian. An unhappy Christian is one who is not growing. A young Christian who is growing is happy, even as they "sin a lot." A long standing Christian who is not growing is not happy, even though they "sin less." This is the mystery of sanctification.

Paul gives 2 imperatives in Phil 1:27; 2:12, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ," and "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." This would be how every true Christian lives: he lives a life worthy of the gospel, and he works out his Christian life with fear and trembling. This is how every Christian grows/matures/becomes more and more Christ like as a Christian. What does this mean practically?

There seems to be an implicit idea among Christians that you need the gospel for your salvation. But after that you need additional spiritual disciplines to grow as a Christian--an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course. This will invariably end up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less helpful. This has sadly happened to many a church.

Paul teaches us that we are always just a generation or 2 from losing the gospel (2 Tim 2:2). The 1st generation knows the gospel. The 2nd generation assumes the gospel. The 3rd generation confuses the gospel. The 4th generation denies the gospel. As a 50 year old church, might we be somewhere between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation? Are we proclaiming and heralding the gospel? Or are we emphasizing and modeling some discipleship methodology to the next generation of Christians?

How do we grow and mature as Christians? How are we sanctified? Paul gives us the gospel by clearly and concisely explaining to us who Jesus is and what he did for us in the Christ hymn.

How can I apply the gospel in my life as a Christian?

  1. Read the Bible. If Bible reading/studying is driven by the gospel, this is a delight, and not just a dry duty.
  2. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Do you hear/see the gospel in your Bible? Or do you just feel burdened by the things that are commanded in the Bible?
  3. Be communal, not tribal. Live for the welfare and benefit of others, not yourself. This is never possible without the gospel.

Pray that we never loose sight of the gospel. Paul regarded that his singular purpose of life is to testify to "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24, ESV). All of the Bible is about the gospel--good news, not good advice. (The Bible is not primarily Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth!) The Bible is a Him book. Jesus says that the Bible is about him (Jn 5:39; Lk 24:27,44). When we are grounded in the gospel, sanctification is the way we grow in closeness to Jesus. Outside of the gospel, sanctification may feel like pulling impacted teeth. May the gospel bear fruit and grow in us and through us throughout the world (Col 1:6). Day by day, may we grow in the grace and knowledge of the gospel (2 Pet 3:18). In 2012, may God sanctify us by the gospel.

For Discussion: Regarding what the mind of Jesus is (Phil 2:5), discuss the following elements in the humiliation and exaltation of Christ (as phrased by Ligon Duncan):

The Humiliation of Christ

  1. His divinity. He is "in very nature God" (Phil 1:6a; Rom 9:5).
  2. His abnegation. Jesus "did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage" (Phil 1:6b; 2 Cor 8:9).
  3. His self-abasement. "He made himself nothing" (Phil 2:7a).
  4. His voluntary servitude. He took "the very nature of a servant" (Phil 2:7b) or "bond-slave."
  5. His incarnation. He was "made in human likeness" (Phil 2:7c; Jn 1:14).
  6. His ultimate humiliation. "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8; Jn 10:17-18; Ps 31:5; Lk 23:46; 1 Pet 3:18; Heb 12:2; Gal 3:13; Isa 66:2).
The Exaltation of Christ
  1. His hyper-exaltation. "God exalted him to the highest" (Phil 2:9a).
  2. His final coronation. God "gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil 9:2b).
  3. His global adoration. "...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil 2:10; Isa 45:21-23).
  4. His universal confession. "...every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:11a).
  5. His paternal glorification. "...to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11b).

Reference: Gospel-Driven Sanctification, Jerry Bridges, 2003, Modern Reformation Magazine (May / June Issue, Vol. 12.3).

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Humility, Humiliation and the Humanity of Christ


Philippians 2:5-11; Key Verse: 2:5

"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus."

Recap on joy: Joy is critical to life. Without joy, life would be torture. Paul was very serious about joy. He chose to life rather than die so that he could work for their "joy in the faith" (Phil 1:25). To have joy, a Christian needs to live a life of unity, humility and mutuality (Phil 2:2-4). A key to joy is to realize our perpetual sinful default to incurvatus in se (curved inward on oneself). An inward focus/orientation drives joy from our hearts. Yet, we cannot will ourselves to have an outward orientation and genuinely care for others. Rather, Christian joy comes from the gospel when we are encouraged, comforted, in fellowship with, and have tenderness and compassion in union with Christ (Phil 2:1). Christian joy is never an act of the will, but a gift of the Spirit (Gal 5:22; Phil 2:1). Christian joy is always gospel-based, Christ-focused and grace-enabled. Apart from the gospel we have a weird forced kind of Pharisee joy, or a victim's mentality of constantly blaming others.

The singular solution to all of our life's problems. Consider the following questions:

  • What is the solution to our life's problems?
  • What is the solution to the ever present problem of division, disunity, pride, personal ambition, selfishness, unwillingness to serve, desire for prominence and prestige that exists in every church, even in Paul's sweetheart church in Philippi?
  • How can we have genuine humility and a selfless desire to serve others, which is the essence of the life of Christ?
  • How do you go about counting someone better than you, ahead of you, above you, in preference to you, as more significant than you, when you think you are every bit their equal—if not their superior?
  • Is it to have a prep rally to motivate people to be more selfless?
  • Is it to have retreats and conferences to promote unity?
  • Is it to repeatedly emphasize how we must always love others?
Paul gives us the only solution to every problem that we Christians have in the church and in life. It is the most profound truth in all of Scripture, and yet it is the most practical teaching that is applicable to all of life. The most profound is often the most applicable, while the simplistic is often reductionistic, skewed and burdensome.

Today's text, Phil 2:5-11 is one of the greatest passages in Philippians, in all of Paul's writings, and in all of Scripture. In many ways, this is the greatest and most moving passage Paul ever wrote about Jesus. It has been called "The Song of Christ," "A Hymn of Christ" and the theology of Christians. The essence of this is 2 Cor 8:9 where Paul wrote that although Jesus was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor. In Phil 2:5-11  that simple idea is stated with a fullness that is without parallel. This deep and rich passage can be outlined in 3 parts:

  1. Exhortation (Phil 2:5): Have the mind of Christ.
  2. Humiliation (Phil 2:6-8): The condescension of Christ shows us the way to live the Christian life.
  3. Exaltation (Phil 2:9-11): The exaltation of Christ shows the promises God holds out for those who go the way of the cross.
I. Exhortation (Phil 2:5)

It is important to clearly state and understand that "Be like Jesus" is NOT the gospel (good news). If it is, it would be horribly bad news. We will all be in hell. When Paul says, "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus," he is not saying, "Do this and be saved. Do this and be blessed." We do not be like Jesus to be saved. But we want to be like Jesus because we are saved by grace alone.

The '84 NIV says, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." The new 2011 NIV says, "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." The ESV says, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus." Paul's exhortation is to adopt, express, show, exhibit, display, live out, have the attitude, mind set, outlook of Christ. But it is not just directed at the individual. Paul's exhortation is corporate, collective and congregational to all the members of the church: "among yourselves" and "In your relationships with one another." We would not fully enjoy the unity, humility and mutuality of the richness of life in Christ unless God enables and empowers us to do so congregationally. We cannot fulfill this command unless we do it all together. The thrust of the Christian life is never inward but outward, never toward self, but toward others. It is never for self benefit, but for the benefit, interests, welfare and well-being of others (Phil 2:4). That is the mindset of Christ. What is it?

It is humility. What is that? Phillips Brooks said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” Humility is never in comparison with someone else, and then trying to think of how you are less than that person. Humility is never to think less of yourself, nor to belittle yourself. Humility must involve a right estimation of who you are. Yes, pride is to have a false high estimation of oneself. But it is not corrected by having a low estimation of yourself. It can only be truly corrected by seeing ourselves in light of God. How? 3 things:

  1. Continually read and study the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
  2. Continually know, understand, remind ourselves of the gospel, and preach the gospel to ourselves.
  3. Live out your life in community.
II. Humiliation (Phil 2:6-8). Let us think of the humility and humiliation of Christ in 6 ways:
  1. His divinity. He is "in very nature God" (Phil 1:6a). Jesus humility will not be understood until we know who he is when he humbled himself.
  2. His abnegation. This means renunciation, disavowal, repudiation, renouncement, self-denial. Jesus "did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage" (Phil 1:6b). We all use our strengths to our own advantage. A pretty girl can use her charm and beauty to get what she wants. A smart person can use his smartness to his own advantage. But Jesus refused to use the fact that he is God to his own advantage.
  3. His self-abasement. "He made himself nothing" (Phil 2:7a). People who are nobody try to act like somebody. People who have nothing act like they have something. But Jesus who had everything made himself nothing. He "made himself of no reputation" (KJV).
  4. His voluntary servitude. He took "the very nature of a servant" (Phil 2:7b) or "bond-slave." Most slaves in Israel served not for life but for a period of time. But a bond-slave would volunteer to have his ear nailed to the doorpost of his master's house to pledge that he would be attached to that house permanently. Jesus chose to be a bond-slave in order to save us. A major problem with Christian leadership is when the leader claims to be a servant, but acts like a boss who calls the shots. But Jesus' leadership was voluntary servantship and servitude.
  5. His incarnation. He was "made in human likeness" (Phil 2:7c). The Word became flesh (Jn 1:14). God became a man. Who can understand Jesus' condescension in becoming man?
  6. His ultimate humiliation. To God who is Life, death is the ultimate shame. That is what Jesus embraced: the ultimate humiliation and shame of death. "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). No one can endure shame. So when we do something shameful our immediate impulse is to hide our shame. People commit suicide rather than be exposed to shame. But Jesus took upon himself the ultimate shame of death.
III. Exaltation (Phil 2:9-11): The way up is the way down. The way to exaltation is the way of humiliation.

The key to the glory is that it is the way of humiliation, the way down. But in the end it is the only way up. The most profound and paradoxical of truths is that humiliation always precedes exaltation. Or exaltation always follows humiliation. But those who do their best to avoid humiliation will only experience it as their common pattern of life. Notice 5 things about the exaltation of Christ:

  1. Hyper-exaltation. "God exalted him to the highest" (Phil 2:9a).
  2. Final coronation. God "gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil 9:2b).
  3. Global adoration. "...that at the name of Jesus every knee should in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil 2:10).
  4. Universal confession. "...every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:11a).
  5. Paternal glorification. "...to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11b).
This Song of Christ is the ultimate practical application for all Christians: They way up is the way down. The way to exaltation is the way of humiliation. The humiliation and exaltation of Christ is the most profound, yet most basic of biblical truths. It is the most paradoxical and confounding of truths, yet most life giving. How can we be ever united, humble, selfless, helpful? How can we ever overcome any sin? What must I do and apply in my everyday life as a Christian? Ask this question to yourself every day: Do I see what my Jesus has done for me? Do I feel it in my bones? Am I still moved and deeply touched by Him?

References: 7 sermons by Ligon Duncan

  1. The Song of Christ (Phil 2:5-6)
  2. The Divinity of Christ (Phil 2:5-6)
  3. The Ungrasped Equality of Christ (Phil 2:5-6)
  4. The Emptying of Christ (Phil 2:7)
  5. The Humanity of Christ (Phil 2:7-8)
  6. The Obedience and Death of Christ (Phil 2:8)
  7. The Exaltation of Christ (Phil 2:9-11)
  8. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible, 2003.

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Complete My Joy (Philippians 2:1-4)


Philippians 2:1-4; Key Verse: 2:2 "...make my joy complete..."

Recap on suffering: It is a very painful truth that God ordains and allows the sufferings we experience, past and present! The primacy of God operates in all of life, including our faith and the inevitable sufferings that accompany life (Phil 1:29). We suffer from of our own sins and from the sins of others. As Christians, we need to study, understand and ground all our suffering in the suffering of Christ. Then our suffering does not crush us, but draws us closer to Jesus. Also, our suffering and brokenness becomes an instrument which God uses to minister to others, as we become a "wounded healer," healed by the grace of God.

JOY: Today, our theme is joy. Philippians is the "epistle of joy" or "letter of joy." Joy is so crucial to life. Last week (3/1/12), a Wheaton College professor of Christian education since 2006, a lay leader, a former church pastor, and father of 3, Donald Ratcliff, 60, was charged with possessing images and videos of child pornography. It is a sad and disturbing story. Why is pornography a billion $ industry? Because we want some joy, which we fail to find in Christ.

Paul says emphatically to the Philippian Christians, "make my joy complete" (Phil 2:2). Paul was clearly very serious about joy as a Christian. If a Christian is not pursuing his utmost joy, he would be sinning against God! 1 Th 5:16 says, "Rejoice always." Ps 37:4 says, "Take delight in the Lord." A Christian is one who takes delight, who delights himself and who has delight. A Christian is not a morose, gloomy or irritable person.

Paul himself was such a happy guy. He is happy because the Philippians are his partners for the gospel (Phil 1:5). He is happy in jail (Phil 1:7). He is so happy to tell his prison guards about Jesus (Phil 1:13). He is happy that others became more bold about preaching the gospel (Phil 1:14). He is happy when others preach Christ out of jealousy and envy toward him (Phil 1:15). All this joy is just in Philippians chapter 1 with 3 more chapters to go!

Here are some perspectives and quotes on the utmost importance of joy:

  • John Piper frames his entire Christian experience as "Christian hedonism," and he regards himself as a Christian hedonist. His catchphrase for his church is "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."
  • Jonathan Edwards says, "The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied."
  • C. S. Lewis says in "The Weight of Glory," “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Today's text, Phil 2:1-4, is 1 sentence with 1 main clause: "make my joy complete." Paul 1st gives us 4 motivations to live the Christian life (Phil 2:1), and then he encourages us to make his joy complete in 3 ways (Phil 2:2-4): unity, humility and mutuality. The 2 parts of this sermon are:
  1. 4 Motivations/Incentives to Live the Christian life (Phil 2:1)
  2. 3 Ways to Live/Pursue a Life of Joy (Phil 2:2-4).
Joy comes from living in unity, humility and mutuality, or (stated differently) in harmony, humility and helpfulness. No one will have joy without unity, humility and mutuality.

I. 4 Motivations to Live the Christian Life (Phil 2:1)

Phil 2:1 describes 4 experiences of a true Christian, one who is in Christ:

  1. Encouragement.
  2. Comfort.
  3. Fellowship (common sharing, participation).
  4. Tenderness and compassion (affection and sympathy).
Paul is saying that whatever we have received from Jesus (encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion), shouldn't we then also express such experiences to others? What prevents us from doing so? Sin expressed through pride and selfishness/self-centeredness. Nothing robs us of joy and breaks unity, more than a preoccupation with self. We know that our life is rooted in the gospel when our life and joy is invested in the joy and success of others. So, we rejoice when they rejoice. We weep when they weep (Rom 12:15). This is a constant battle because our default is always "incurvatus in se," which means "curved inward on oneself."

II. 3 Ways to Live/Pursue a Life of Joy (Phil 2:2-4)

Christian joy is dangerous joy. How so? Because if and when we discover the depth of joy in Christ, we would be so happy and satisfied in Jesus, that we would be willing to lose everything for the sake of Jesus and his church, including our very own lives (Phil 1:21,3:7-8).

This joy is not joy from stuff, but gospel joy. A life of joy is not superficial, trivial joy. It is not joy in sunsets, wife, children, cars, football, money, beauty, esteem, influence, or joy in anything in this world, but joy in Christ. How do we attain such a joy? What is the key to living a life of gospel joy? The key to a life of joy is a God-centered, gospel-based, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and onto others. It is an intentional and deliberate move away from incurvatus in se. Only the gospel of God's grace enables this to happen by the power of God.

Did they not give Paul joy? No. Paul already had joy because of them (Phil 1:4-5,7-8). But there were problems, even in Paul's favorite, sweetheart church, such as pride, selfish ambition, disagreements, etc. What can we do? 3 things: Pursue unity, humility, mutuality.

1. Pursue Unity/Harmony (Phil 2:2)

Paul expresses unity as "being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind" (Phil 2:2). A misconception of Christian unity is that we Christians must all unanimously agree. But if everyone in the room agrees, then someone is not using their God-given brain. If unity does not mean unanimity, what does it mean?

We must have the same mind, love and purpose of Jesus. Jesus' heart's desire is that we the church may be one as he and the Father are one (Jn 17:21,23). We may be one by loving God, others and each other (Jn 13:34). Our singular purpose may be Jesus' singular purpose that all may come to know God by filling the world with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the seas (Hab 2:14), and to bring all things under the Lordship of Christ (Eph 1:9-10).

What might be obstacles to unity in the church? People! There are as many obstacles to unity as there are people. A short list that strains/breaks unity: mistrust, miscommunication, disagreements, different agendas, individual sin, favoritism, cultural bias, primogeniture, false teaching. It is not possible to be united with someone where there is no trust of one another.

2. Pursue Humility (Phil 2:3)

The key to unity is humility and honesty. John Stott says, “In every aspect of the Christian life, pride is our greatest foe and humility our greatest ally.” Pride is the very first sin (Gen 3:5). Pride focuses on self, leading to "selfish ambition or vain conceit" (Phil 2:3), and an inability to truly and deeply regard or value someone else other than ourself. Ligon Duncan gives us a short list for fighting pride/promoting humility in ourselves:

  1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross.
  2. Reflect on the grace I do not deserve.
  3. Study God.
  4. Study man and sin.
  5. Identify grace in others; affirm others.
  6. Serve others (outward focus).
  7. Welcome correction.
  8. Deliberately acknowledge dependence on God.
3. Pursue Mutuality/Helpfulness (Phil 2:4)

Phil 2:4 says, "not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Eph 5:21 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." 1 Cor 10:24 says, "No one should seek their own good, but the good of others." The Christian ethic is always other-centered and other-focused, which is the exact opposite of the world that is filled with self-centered people focused on themselves. Unregenerate men or perhaps immature Christians are inward focused. They primarily sensitively look to their own interest, welfare, esteem, recognition, praise, glory. Even after serving God, others and the church for decades, a Christian can quite easily do so with an inward focus, by expecting "something" from doing so. But the direction of Christian life is never inward but outward.

How can we truly be outward focused and fight against our default of being inward focused? Paul says that we need to overcome "selfish ambition or vain conceit" (Phil 2:3). In Rom 12:3, Paul also says, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment." How do we do this? A simple "rule" is to realize that we are not serving others or serving the church because we are good or better people than the people we serve.

This is very, very tough to do. It is not uncommon for Christians to serve others as though they are really good, loving, more holy, wise and mature, superior, spiritual, sacrificial people. Those who serve in this way think of themselves more highly than they ought. It is not the way of mutuality nor humility. It does not promote unity. It is not ultimately helpful for the person being helped, because they see the person serving them more than seeing the God of their life. It leads them to be obligated or dependent on the person rather than to God. They only way we can serve is as servants and as equals at the foot of the cross (The Open Secret, Leslie Newbigin). In the words of Don Carson, we Christians are all hungry fellow beggars starving to death and looking for some bread. Only when we do have such an attitude are we Christians truly able to help others by pointing them to Christ.

May God give you joy which is only found through the gospel. May God give you a God-centered, gospel-based, and grace-enabled shift of attention from yourself to others. Only through the gospel does God empower and enable us to find unity, humility and mutuality. Only Jesus enables us to live out harmony, humility and helpfulness.


  1. What are 4 specific motivations/incentives to live the Christian life (Phil 2:1)? How do you usually find your encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion?
  2. What is the main clause in Phil 2:1-4 (which is one sentence)? Why? Did they not give him joy (Phil 1:4-5,7-8)? What decreases joy in the Christian life (Phil 1:15, 17, 4:2-3; Jas 4:6)? What is "incurvatus in se?" What is the key to joy (Phil 2:1)? Was Paul serious about joy (Phil 1:25)? Are you?
  3. What 3 things could the Philippians do to complete Paul's joy (Phil 1:2-4; Eph 4:1-3; 1:9-10; Jn 17:21,23; 13:34)?
  4. What breaks/destroys unity in the local church? What is the key to unity (Phil 2:3)? Can we have joy without unity?
  5. What are true expressions of genuine humility (Phil 2:3)? Why is that hard (Gen 3:5)? How do we cultivate humility and fight against pride (Phil 2:5-11; Rom 12:3; 2 Cor 3:18; 2 Tim 2:1; Heb 3:13)?
  6. What does it mean to look to the interest of others (Phil 2:4; Eph 5:21; 1 Cor 10:24)? Is your orientation toward self-interest or toward the welfare and benefit of others (church, community, world)?

References (4 sermons on Phil 2:1-4 by Ligon Duncan):

  1. Complete My Joy
  2. Complete My Joy With Unity
  3. Complete My Joy With Humility
  4. Complete My Joy With Helpfulness

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