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Making Joy Complete

Date: Jul. 5, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Philippians 2:1-11

Key Verse: Philippians 2:5

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

We all want to have joy in our lives, but it is not enough to have just a little joy. Life with just a little bit of joy misses the point of joy. Think about it. Would it be fine to have just a bite of steak or just a bite of some awesome deep dish? It’s good to have those small bites, but it’s better to have more than that. Having just a bite makes the whole experience just incomplete. Think of it another way. Imagine you are riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, twists and turns and maybe a few loops. It is a thrill to ride, but how would you feel if you had to get off at the top of the second hill? You would feel gypped. You might have had fun for a while, but you know that is not all that there is. There is more to the ride, but you didn’t get to experience it completely. Let’s try this again. If COVID wasn’t an issue, we would be in the middle of the summer movie season. Just think about those commercials about a big blockbuster. They are exciting and show a movie full of promise. The movie gets hyped up to be the greatest thing ever. Then the time comes for you to see it and all the best parts were in the previews. The rest of it is like a warm, flat soda. It lacks the punch you were expecting. It is a letdown. Joy can be the same way. Having some joy is good, but we should strive to have complete joy, the fullest joy possible. In today’s passage, Paul writes to the Philippians about making his joy complete. He wants for the Philippians to fill in the last piece of his puzzle of joy. So, let’s see what that means.

For the past few weeks you may have heard Mike and Bob talking about joy. We are in the book of Philippians and joy is one of the signature themes, which is why the theme that we have for Philippians is Live Joyfully. Mike started us off with Praying with Joy. I kind of wish he would have titled his message The Joy of Praying, but that might have been a little too Bob Ross and we would need some happy little trees in that message. Last week, Bob continued on in our theme with The Secret of Joy, not The Secret Garden. This week we are moving along in this theme with this message, Making Joy Complete, not failure being complete, like Vader said about Obi Wan. Now, like I mentioned before, having that complete joy is something that we should be striving for. God doesn’t want for us to have mediocre lives. He didn’t make us to live a life of “meh”, wondering if it is all worth it or if we missed opportunities. God wants for us to have full lives, complete lives. God wants for us to be powerful, satisfied, and feeling fulfilled. That is the path we are going on today.

Our passage, today, starts, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (1-2) As you can see, there is a connecting word, “therefore”, at the beginning of the passage. This means that this passage is connected with the previous one. Near the end of the last passage, Paul wrote, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (1:27) Paul was saying that whatever people were going through, they needed to act like someone who is worthy of the gospel. When you have a certain station in life, you should act like you are worthy of that station. We expect our leaders to lead, to move people in a common direction. It is no less true of the gospel. We were saved by the gospel and part of living worthy of the gospel means that if we get anything from the gospel, we should live according to it.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Paul starts off with four “ifs”. These are put here for our English translation, but it is still helpful to see the multiple pieces. In each of these pieces, Paul says that if they received any of the piece, then they should respond. Each of these pieces are facets of blessing. The first one is, “encouragement from being united with Christ”. This encouragement is from Christ being with you as a Christian. Being identified with Christ should encourage us. The second is “comfort from his love”. This is the love that Jesus has for us, which we heard about four weeks ago. Jesus loved us so much that he died for us on the cross. The third is “common sharing in the Spirit”. This is having the Holy Spirit in your life, being filled with God’s Spirit. The fourth is “tenderness and compassion”. This is the tenderness and compassion that Christ has shown you in your life. Despite our sinfulness, Jesus wasn’t harsh to us, but had compassion on us. When you look at these “ifs”, you see that they are actually quite common and base blessings that are given to all Christians. They aren’t something that is unique to just a few believers, but something that all believers experience. The gospel is all about Christ’s tenderness, compassion and love for us. We were God’s enemies, but, yet, he died for us to be united with God. That should easily encourage us and comfort us. So, all these “ifs” are for every believer. Anyone who accepts the gospel has experienced these blessings in varying measure.

Since we have these “ifs”, we should follow the “then”. “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (2) Right here at the beginning, we can see the thought of making joy complete. Paul asks for the believers in Philippi to make his joy complete by being like-minded. So, being like-minded is a call for unity, to be united. In the general sense, being like-minded means thinking in the same way on something as someone else. For example, if you have the same tastes or similar thoughts, ideas or opinions as someone else—two peas in a pod, as it were. This is how clubs are formed. People with similar interests get together and enjoy those interests together. Or the fans of particular sports teams are like-minded about that sports team. Sox fans are like-minded about the White Sox and Cubs fans are like-minded about the Cubs. This like-mindedness can build comradery in a group. We as Americans love our individuality, so there are down sides to like mindedness. If you only hang around like-minded people, then your world view can be limited and skewed because your thoughts and opinions are not challenged and able to grow. In our polarized society, we are becoming more insulated with like-minded people. We only follow the people on social media that we agree with and not ones that challenge us and we become stunted in our thoughts.

But when Paul says that we should be like-minded, he gives some specific thoughts, “having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (2) Here, Paul is urging believers to be like-minded with the same love with one spirit and one mind. This like-mindedness is not limited to our intellect, but it includes our will and emotions, culminating in our complete attitude. We are to be of the same spirit and having the same love. Paul expands on this in the next couple of verses, “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.” (3-4) This actually sounds very familiar to the key verse passage I gave a message on three weeks ago. In that passage, it says, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) That passage was also written by Paul and it is good to see the consistency in his thinking. Valuing others above ourselves is one of the hallmarks of a believer.

It is true that in the last passage, Paul was rejoicing because some were preaching Christ for selfish reasons. He was rejoicing because Christ was being preached; it didn’t matter the motive. Here, however, Paul is very much against believers being motivated for selfish reasons. He says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” He says “nothing”. There should be no reason for a believer, a follower of Christ, to be selfish. On the contrary, Paul states, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (3-4) Paul talks about humility and valuing others first. He says that people shouldn’t look out for their own interests, but the interests of others. That is a contrast to the way people actually think. Human nature is very selfish. People want to look out for themselves and those closest to them. When you are only looking out for yourselves, everything becomes a competition. You have to win, and others have to lose. Then it gets to the point where others only have to lose, because then you look like you are winning because you aren’t losing like everyone else. Then you start tearing everyone else down to look like the last one standing. If anyone actually attempts to succeed, you have to find a way to discredit them and send them crashing down. That is the way of our human nature, but Paul tells the Philippians to do nothing that way. He tells them to not follow their nature, but to have humility.

Humility is one of those things that we have some trouble understanding. Some people just think that humility is just tearing yourself down, but self-deprecating is not humility. You are still thinking of yourself. True humility is simply thinking about others. The author, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” (Mere Christianity) That really echoes what Paul is writing about here. A really humble person is someone who takes a genuine interest in others and doesn’t think about himself at all.

Have you ever met anyone like that? This isn’t someone who is a complete mystery and refuses to answer questions about himself. This is a person who just loves others to the point where another person’s happiness is important to that person. Someone like that doesn’t have an agenda and they don’t have an angle that they are trying to push. They are genuine in their interest and a joy to be around, and the world would be a much better place if there were more people like that. Humanly, we can still be that way. It is not in our nature to be humble, but we can overcome ourselves and act with humility. It is not entirely impossible. There have been a number of humble people from the secular world.

However, Paul doesn’t stop with this type of humility. He goes ahead and takes is to another level. Paul encourages us to power up in humility and reach the final form. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” It is one thing to be humble and love others first, but it is another thing altogether to be humble and love others like Christ. So, when Paul urges the Philippians to be like-minded, he doesn’t want them to be an independent group that thinks alike. He is not calling for them to be people to be a group that looks and sounds the same as each other. He doesn’t want clones beholden only to each other. He urges them to have the same mindset of Jesus. They are to be like-minded to Jesus. If they are all like-minded to Jesus, then they will be like minded to each other, as well. It’s like looking at a globe. The lines of longitude are the north-south lines. At the equator, they are far apart, but all the lines converge at the poles. If you follow the lines to the north or the south from the equator, the start to get closer and closer together and they all meet at the north and south poles. When we all aim for the same thing, we will grow closer together. As Christians, that thing is Jesus and growing to be like him.

Now, that is no small feat. Paul expands on that thought. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (6-8) There is so much here in these verses, but they start off with the fact that Jesus is in is very nature God. Jesus is God. He is one of the three persons of God, but he is God, nonetheless. Yet, he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Now, there is an older translation that reads “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. I like the newer translation, because it is clearer on this. Even though Jesus is God, he didn’t use his standing and power for his own selfish purposes. He didn’t demand that people bow down to him or worship him, although he could have. He is God. When people spoke ill of him, he didn’t tell them that they were making a grave mistake. He didn’t threaten them, although he could easily back up any threats with an army of angels. He didn’t bluster about his greatness, although he is great. He never once shouted, “Look at me!”

Instead, Paul says that Jesus made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Although Jesus is God, he chose to become a servant and become a human. He went from limitless God to frail human by choice. He took on flesh, encased himself in meat to serve us and it didn’t stop there. Even as a human, Jesus had tremendous power and perfection, but he used that perfection by being obedient to death, even death on the cross. Some people have trouble understanding how God can die. If God can die, then how could he be God. He can’t be all-powerful if he succumbs to death. It is something that causes people to stumble and unable to accept Jesus’ divinity. But if God is truly all-powerful, he can die if he chooses to. Jesus chose to become obedient to death. He didn’t have to, but he chose to. He chose to obey death out of love for us, and even more, he chose the most horrible and humiliating way to die, a death on the cross. Again, he did it because he loves us. He thought of us without a second thought about his own wellbeing. He did it to provide us with a road back to God. We’ve been sinful and running away from God, but Jesus didn’t give up on us. He did anything and everything he could to bring us home.

God was pleased by Jesus’ humility and restored him to his lofty position. Jesus never stopped being God, but God honored him for his heart and his sacrifice. Jesus showed that he is worthy. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (9-11) Although Jesus humbled himself, he is still God, and, now, his name is greater than every name. Everyone will acknowledge who Jesus is. No matter who you are or whether you believe or not, everyone will see that Jesus is Lord and bow down to him. He could have demanded this, but instead, because of what Jesus did in his humility there is no one who will not be able to acknowledge who Jesus really is.

Now, quite honestly, there is no way that we can follow Paul’s admonition. There is no way that I can be as humble as Christ. For one, I am not God and cannot lower myself that much, but also, I am proud and there is a point that I do not want to lower myself to. C.S. Lewis continued in his book, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” (Mere Christianity) Our human humility has its limits, whether they are based on conditions or time or just our emotions. We are a proud people, but to be humble means that we can’t be proud. Our nature is too strong. We need help in order to reach that level of selflessness. Christ has to work in us to be like him. It really isn’t something that we can do on our own.

Now, let’s take this and pull it all together. What does this humility have to do with making joy complete? Does being humble make your joy complete? No, that’s not it. Paul doesn’t say, “make your joy complete by being humble and like-minded”. He says, “make my joy complete by being like-minded”. He says the last piece of his joy is to see the Philippians be like-minded and have the same humility as Jesus. That is a very weird way of completing joy, don’t you think? Well, take a moment to think about humility. The truly humble person is always thinking about other people. Then it should stand to reason that a humble person’s joy would be made complete by thinking of others and wanting for them to experience the same joy. Christianity is not an insular faith. We aren’t secretive and exclusive. We want to share the love and joy that comes from knowing Jesus. We want everyone else to experience it, as well. When we see someone come closer to Jesus, it brings us such joy. When we share Jesus without selfish motives, it brings us joy to see anyone come to God. We see God’s kingdom grow in numbers and in depth. We don’t care about ourselves. We already have everything that we need. It’s like a parent finding joy in their children’s successes, but here it is more than that. Joy is made complete when we see others making their joy complete. It is a cycle that builds things up. It is a cycle of growth and thinking about other people.

What a wonderful world this would be if we would just think about other people and not ourselves! Even a small percentage of people would do this would make a drastic change. Humility would abolish so much hatred because humility is founded in love. Let’s go forward into our lives, not thinking about ourselves at all. We don’t need to seek anything. We don’t need to gain anything. We already have everything in Christ. Instead, we need to think about sharing and giving. We need to have empathy and sympathy. We need to help people to know Jesus and grow to be like him. And our joy will be complete, when they start to do the same for others. We can find joy in humility, but that joy is complete when humility become contagious. We need to become an example of that humility, as Christ is our ultimate example. He lowered himself even to death on the cross and is now higher than all creation. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father. Amen.

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