Paul's Passing Thoughts

Gtown Chapel Mens Bible Study 05/08/10: The Significance Of Self Sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-8)

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 3, 2010

“It is one thing to donate one of your kidneys to a close relative, it is quite something else to donate one of your kidneys to Charles Manson”

It’s such an absolutely dominating theme in the New Testament. Christians living for Christ with the following persecution that will certainly follow. This was the situation in Philippi. The Philippians not only lived in a way that richly adorned the gospel, but they defended the gospel as well. Living in a way that pleases God will get you in trouble. Taking it a step further and defending God will get you in double trouble.

Everywhere you look in the New Testament, Christians are under attack for their testimony and the gospel. In each case, Paul teaches them what to do when something else kicks in and joins God’s enemies. Namely, these mortal bodies we live in, coats of self preservation. A friend of mine once suggested that selfism is the essence of all sin, I don’t doubt it. Granted, selfism is an everyday struggle in the milieu  of life, but apparently the Philippians had been doing well in that fight. However, when persecution came, it apparently began to effect their personal walk first and then relationships within the body.  Paul writes to address this specific problem. But his prescription is also perhaps the most powerful weapon Christians have in their sanctification arsenal, self sacrifice.

In chapter one, verses 3-11, Paul begins by encouraging them. First, he prays for them in “every” prayer of his. The remembrance of them gives him joy in prayer time because of their involvement with him in regard to confirming and defending the gospel. They were also involved to the point of serving him while he ended up in jail for such. Secondly, their present struggles may have caused them to doubt their salvation. Doubt is a serious poison in our walk with Christ. Paul therefore seeks to bolster their confidence with these words: “ because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Thirdly, he reminds them that love only abounds in “knowledge” and “discernment,” perhaps an area lacking in the midst of trial and causing doubt.

In 1:12-18, Paul testifies and reminds them how the trials that come about from defending the gospel only serve to further the gospel that much more. In verses 19-26, Paul sets the table with a goal. The goal is an increasing joy and courage through Christ for living the Christian life with this radical mentality: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” One who lives torn between being with those they love and a joy that comes from serving them, or being with Christ, obviously walks in great wellness regardless of circumstances.

But Paul reminds them that this unshakable walk of peace comes with a price and responsibility: “ Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (verses 27-30). Paul reminds them that their suffering for the gospel should give them confidence in their salvation. He also reminds them that we are called to faith and suffering as shown in Paul’s example as well.

Paul then begins chapter 2 with “so.” In other words, because of everything previously stated. Paul then says the following: “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, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (verses 1-4).

It is not clear how much of the above addressed by Paul was spurred by the persecution they were enduring, or even an emphasis on the gospel and service to Paul that was over emphasized to the exclusion of personal love within the congregation. Whatever the temptation was, the results were evident, a spirit of selfism within the church that was causing division. Listen to what Paul also says in chapter 4:2,3; “ I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” How was Paul calling on the church to help these women?, with what he had just taught them. But my primary point is the division that Paul was addressing in the church at Philippi.

Now we come to our core text, 2:5-8. Paul begins by saying: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” This is an “attitude” as some translations have it or a mindset. We are to focus and strive to have this mentality constantly. This is a choice, and that choice will determine how we live. Every action is conceived in the mind first. “As a man thinks, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

The way the ESV translates this verse is also a good reminder: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” This mindset is ours for the taking, It has already been granted to us because we have all things in Christ.

This mindset that we are to constantly have is a radical one and gives us great insight into the mind of God. Verse 6 says: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” Ponder that for awhile. His equality with God was not considered by Christ as something to be held on to at all cost.

When one sets this against the contrast of our own natural bent, the comparison is staggering. Though Christ was never less than deity, he set aside its full glory in the service of others. Now compare that with what we deem worthy of grasping on to, just about everything we are and own. If it belongs to us, our first inclination is to grasp it and anybody looking to take it away is in for a fight. Let someone interrupt our attention to a favorite TV program or the snapping of a football on fourth and one for instance. Ever been involved in the settling of a relatives estate? I think you see my point. If Christ was willing to leave heaven and its glory for our sake, there is certainly nothing in our lives worth grasping onto when others stand to benefit.

Seemingly, when compared to our attitudinal tendencies, we have intensifying levels into the grave of self death demonstrated by Paul.  It seems that this could be the only example in scripture that encourages us to dig deeper into some kind of death, the death of self. Paul seems to be comparing what we grasp onto compared to what Christ was willing to give up. Pretty devastating in and of its self, but now Paul turns up the heat in verse 7. Who did Christ give this up for? Man. What does it mean that he made himself “nothing?” More than likely, this is an idiom representing mankind. Psalm 62:9 says: “Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.”

In other words, if all of mankind from the highest to the lowest are weighed on a scale, the scale would remain level despite the absence of any weights to balance the scales. Christ was willing to diminish himself for the sake of others. He not only temporarily left all of the benefits of being supreme master of the universe, he identified with lowly mankind. It is one thing to donate one of your kidneys to a close relative, it is quite something else to donate one of your kidneys to Charles Manson, and of course this does not even scratch the surface of comprehension in regard to what Christ gave up for our benefit.

But wait, Paul turns up the heat even more in the same verse (7). If it’s us and we give up all that Christ gave up to this point, our home base of operations on earth would be pretty impressive. Big palace, angel servants, etc. I mean, look at what was given up!, and besides, who we are is reality. After all of this, certainly Christ would arrive as a glorious heavenly king and make himself known accordingly. Obviously, that’s the least he would do after such a horrendous sacrifice to come down here and dwell among men. No, he came as a “servant.” Mark 10:44,45; “and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Because even Christ came to be a servant, his followers are to be “servants of ALL.” This is a powerful concept to remember. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a servant to everyone you come into contact with. Those you pay to serve you are no exception. When you go out to eat, treat your waiter/waitress as your master.  How would you serve your waitress?, by being polite and not over demanding to mention a few. This kind of walk is your calling to self death. Jesus Christ said in Mark 8:34; “ And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Lastly, in verse 8, he submitted himself to lowly men and died a horrific death on the cross as a falsely accused criminal. The crucifixion viciously violated every aspect of his deity and humanity. It exposed the Son of God to open shame, torture, and public mocking. He gave it all for everybody and this is the mindset Paul says we are to have. I believe this is the example the Hebrew writer had in mind when he encouraged the Hebrews by saying this: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:2-4).

In the sanctification process, a mindset of self preservation has to go. It must be replaced with a mentality of self sacrifice. This is to be implemented in the smallest details of life and circumstances that loom large. A mindset of self sacrifice is a handy and powerful tool as we walk through life remembering the example Christ set for us. It may not always feel so good in the midst. Jesus was encouraged by the joy “that was set before” him. We always have some joy in the midst of dieing to self because we know it will always result in joy at some point, but the ultimate joy always follows obedience. The struggle and agony Jesus endured in the anticipation stage of the cross alone would have killed most, if not all men (Matthew 26:36-46).

At this point, someone may say: “Well, I think you can take this self sacrifice stuff too far.” Fair enough. I only ask you as  Paul did to have the same mindset Christ had in regard to self sacrifice, you can do the math on your own.

I have always been struck by Philippians 2:19-30  in Paul’s overall scheme of this book. It’s almost like a military plan. You soften up the stronghold with the heavy artillery and then you send in the ground troops to mop up. In this case, the ground troops are Timothy and Epaphroditus. He hopes to send them there as a follow-up to this letter to model self sacrifice. Do you realize what a full court press this is concerning the Philippian problem? This could also be a loving warning that he is sending two men to follow-up that have the right to confront in the area of self  sacrifice. Paul lays out their qualifications: “ So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” Ouch. The guy was not only a model of self sacrifice, but he almost died picking up the lack of what they were unable to supply for Paul. Who at Philippi was going to tell him he didn’t have a right to judge!!!

Self sacrifice is such a simple but powerful concept. Self sacrifice is the God given mindset that makes submission possible. Paul cites two major areas where the Philippians must let a mindset of self sacrifice nourish submission: Truth (have the same mind “in the Lord“). When there are doctrinal differences in a church, somebody isn’t submitting to God’s truth, bottom line. Somebody is more interested in what they want to believe about the text rather than what it is saying. Selfism. The rest of the issues are settled by preferring others whenever it does not entail compromise.

But always remember this, a walk of self sacrifice models the grand epic of all human history, the all time epitome of self sacrifice and love, the gospel.
So you are dissatisfied with your ability to spread the gospel? Oh really? A kind word and a big tip for a waitress that did not live up to your God given right to be served to your expectations. Your children seeing you cancel that golf game to help your wife with a project (this is an easy one for me, I don’t play golf). Stopping to help a motorist on the way to the church picnic. A kind word for a spouse that snapped at you.

But you say: “If people see me acting like this and start asking why, what should I say?”

That’s easy, tell them about the greatest sacrifice ever. That’s the significance of self sacrifice.

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