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Evan Earwicker: Above Every Other, Philippians 2:1-11

April 22, 2024

Audio Recording

From his prison cell, Paul offers insight into Christ’s humility and service, urging believers to forsake selfishness, power, and personal image in pursuit of a life that reflects Jesus Himself.

Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: Above Every Other, Philippians 2:1-11
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

Well, we're gonna be in Philippians chapter two today. Philippians chapter two. And we've been walking through as a whole church in all of our ministries and bible studies and groups. We've been walking through the book of Philippians. It's fascinating how this letter that was penned thousands of years ago in a far corner of the world by a Pharisee named Paul from a prison cell to a young church amongst really an unknown group of people called Christians, that that letter would reach through the centuries to us today and that we would find insight and encouragement and instruction from this ancient document is fascinating.

And as we've been walking through this, I've been so encouraged that we find ourselves in the pages of this text. And today we're going to look at something called the Christ poem or the Christ Hymn.

It's this piece of the letter in Philippians that Paul sets at the top the structure of his letter. All the things before this are pointing towards this passage we're going to read today, and all the things that will come after it. Look back.

At the center of the letter to the Philippians is chapter two, and we're gonna read it today. Paul's gonna invite us into laying three things down. Our selfishness, our power and our image, to lay those down in pursuit of the attitude, the mindset and the life of Christ.

And if you, like me, sometimes think that following after Jesus in ways that look like humility, in ways that might look like weakness to the outside world, if you think those sometimes can feel outdated and ineffective, I want to tell you today that I believe that those attributes of the life of Christ that Paul invites us into are perfectly suited for our moment.

That to follow Jesus today is as effective as it has ever been, and it has been effective for centuries of the church.

And so my invitation, along with Paul's, is let's lean in now to the attitude and the life of Christ. Philippians two. Starting in verse one, Paul writes this. He says, therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united in 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 of spirit and of one mind, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.

Paul begins this section of his letter to the Philippians. By saying, listen, if this is real to you, if something has happened in this community, if you've received something from Jesus within the church that you find yourself in, if that's true, then here's what you're going to need to do. You're going to have to go from just believing or thinking or agreeing about certain things into living them.

This is always the invitation of our faith is not just to agree and think intellectual thoughts about certain belief systems or structures or ideologies, but to live them out in community, in the messiness of reality relationships. And Paul says, listen, if you love me, if I've meant something to you, here's what I want you to do. Lift one another up in love.

He wouldn't have to ask if it came naturally, right? Paul wouldn't have to encourage or instruct the church if this would just happen all by itself. Instead he says, listen, I know you're going to want to act out of selfish ambition and conceit, but listen, this is the way of Jesus, to not look out for your own interests, but to the interests of others.

I grew up in the nineties.

Most of my childhood years were in the nineties. Any nineties kids in the room today with us? All right, so here's one of my memories from the nineties. It was our. We didn't have a lot, but a small collection of our VHS cassette tapes.

Now we had a section of like home movie cassette tapes and VHS that we would record tv shows and movies on tv onto. Those were like our custom mixtapes, you know? But then we had a few where the movie was so good that my parents actually bought the actual VHS tape. I don't even know how to talk about VHS anymore. It's been so long.

And I remember some of these titles that we'd have. Anybody remember the movie hook?

Yeah. Yeah. Now you're with me. Come on. Classic Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Peter Pan story. Of course. Another one that we had. Lion. Of course. Come on. Was it 92? Lion King came out. We wore that tape out, I'll tell you what.

And then we had one. And this is maybe not as well known, but still a very popular movie from 1995, starring Richard Dreyfus. Mister Holland's opus. Remember this one?

I never saw Jaws, so growing up, I knew Richard Dreyfus from two movies. It was Mister Hollins Opus. And of course, what about Bob?

One of the finest, finest works of film probably ever.

Roses are red, violets are. I'm not going to finish that. You'll have to watch the movie.

But we watched Mister Holland's opus over and over again, because we had the VHS. And I won't tell the whole story, but basically, Mister Holland was a composer. And he desired to write this masterpiece, this piece of music that would be his legacy. But life got in the way. And so he struggles through raising a family. And he takes a job, actually, in Portland, as a high school orchestra teacher. And he lives his life feeling a little bit like a failure. Because he's never able to write this masterpiece. And he gets to the end of his career. And the movie tells this 30 year long story of his career. And he's going to his retirement party at the school.

Feeling a little bit like he never got to the goal of writing his masterpiece. And he walks into the school auditorium. And there in front of him is a crowd of people that meant so much to him. And on the stage is 30 years worth of band and orchestra students. Waiting to perform his opus. That he had been writing and writing. And they, unbeknownst to him, had been practicing and preparing. And so he walks in this auditorium and he stands and he directs his opus with students who had meant so much to him. And who he had meant so much to over 30 years of teaching.

And he plays this song. And that's kind of the point of the movie. And I apologize if that was on your list today. Like watch Mister Holland's office after church.

Never seen it. Today's the day. I apologize. I gave you the ending.

But I love this idea that Paul is in prison. He's feeling isolated. Maybe he's feeling like a failure. Like he doesn't know if his legacy will last.

He feels like, I may not make it out of this cell. And I hope that something I have done in pursuit of Christ and in love for the church will last and will matter. And so I imagine him likely chained to the guard, next to him in a dark, damp roman prison. And there's a scribe in the corner with a candle, you know, writing his words, as Paul would dictate them.

And he's saying, listen, if anything, that my life has meant to you, if it mattered at all, here's how I want you to live. Here are the notes on the page.

Here's the masterpiece that your life and your community and this church should play.

And he begins to write these words to the philippian church, starting in verse five. In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who being in very nature, God. I want to pause there for a second. Very nature. This is a very specific thing Paul says in the Greek, that does not mean he looks like God. It doesn't mean he is in the image of God. It doesn't mean he does things like God does. He's saying the very substance of what makes God God. That substance was what made Jesus Jesus. There is no distinction between the person and the substance of God and the person and the substance of Jesus. And this is crazy talk, because in that day, to say that this man, this jewish rabbi, was in fact in person God, was blasphemy.

It was outrageous. And many have speculated that this idea that Jesus was God, the divinity of Christ, was added much later, that sometime in the middle ages they went back and they projected this divinity onto Christ in the gospels.

But in the letter to the Philippians, written just 20 to 50 years after Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, we find that already from the very beginning, churches and communities and congregations of Christians are looking to Jesus not as just a good teacher, not as just a moral man, not as just a jewish rabbi who might be the messiah, but in fact, the very substance of God himself.

And why this is important is because we're going to see what Jesus does in going to the cross is not something that God looks down on and says, I'm glad it's you, buddy, not me.

But instead we find God almighty God, the holy God that met Moses at the burning bush and Elijah in the cave. That same God was found upon a cross, humbled and humiliated and shamed for the sake of love for humanity, God himself.

That was supposed to be an aside. I just preached like a quarter of my message.

He goes on, says he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant. Being made in human likeness and being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every other 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.

Amen.

Would you pray with me? Lord, we thank you for this beautiful passage, this hymn of praise to you, Jesus, written so long ago under circumstances in that prison cell that look like suffering. Lord, we feel the encouragement today as we read these.

We pray that you would work in us eyes to see, ears to hear what you would say through it. And that we would follow you, Jesus, into places that maybe are not natural or intuitive, but lead to the closeness of your presence.

We pray this in Jesus name. Amen. Amen.

We love to read that Jesus is highly exalted above all things.

I love getting to the point where God exalts Christ and gives him the name above every name.

I love reading that Jesus, the one I worship, is the one in which everyone on earth and under the earth is going to one day bow. I love all that. But I would also love to be able to skip over the stuff before it, the humbling and the humiliation of Christ on the cross. To us. We've had 2000 years of a religious veneer over top of what happened on the cross when Jesus was crucified and died. And I want to invite you today to kind of peel off that oil painting veneer of Jesus up on a cross perfectly staged by some renaissance painter. And I want you to consider that for those listening to Paul's letter for the first time in the first century, who had seen crucifixions up close, had seen the cruelty of the roman empire and what it does to its traitors and its rebels and its revolutionaries, that there was no romance or nostalgia around the idea that this Jesus, who so many were claiming was the messiah, was nailed to a roman cross. There was nothing pleasant, nice or kind about it.

Instead, for these, in the first century, the cross posed a huge problem to this christian faith, because attached to the act of crucifixion was a whole lot of shame. And in a shame based understanding and culture, shame and honor was everything.

And the Romans knew this. And so they reserved this cruelest form of death, this most intense humiliation and shame. Not for petty criminals, not for the common breadth, no, they reserved this for those who rose up against the state, those who came against the roman empire as a deterrent to all who might think they would do the same. They crucified those who posed a threat to the order of the empire.

And it's in this shameful, humiliating act that this new band of Christians is going around saying that's where our salvation was born, in an act of humiliation and shame.

And it's this conflict, this crazy irony, this juxtaposition of this messiah who is claiming to be in very nature God, and this manner of his death that is so unique and distinct in the ancient world.

No other God has come like this. There's been gods in greek and roman mythology, of course, that could perform miracles.

They've been told these myths and these stories about how their gods even would die these heroes deaths and then rise again. All of that was common, but never would a God be humiliated and shamed like this.

Martin Hengel wrote that it is the crucifixion that distinguishes this new message from the mythologies of all peoples. The discrepancy between the shameful death of the jewish state criminal and the confession that depicts this executed man. Paul's confession in Philippians two that depicts this executed man as a divine figure who becomes man and humbles himself to a slave's death, is, as far as I can see, without analogy in the ancient world.

Why does it matter that this story of Jesus, his death on a cross, was unique?

I think it matters because we find that Jesus lived and died in a way that was completely different from everyone else's gods and saviors.

It flew in the face of anything that would have ever made sense. If you're starting a new world religion, to have your messiah, your king, your God, humiliated and shamed is not a way to compel people to join your cause.

And I would propose that to follow Jesus, as Paul is inviting us to do, to follow him into lowering ourselves and humbling ourselves in obedience to whatever God would ask, is not something that is intuitive or makes sense by normal measures, but instead, it is a radical uniqueness in the world we live in. That we would choose, when everyone else is fighting to go up, that we would choose to go down, down, down into the humility, to be associated with one who emptied himself.

No one's ever seen this kind of faith, this kind of religion, this kind of God, until Jesus shows up and shows a new kind of love.

This is a problem for the New Testament writers. You can see it in how they write so many of Paul's writings. He's trying to help his readers process and understand how it's possible that the messiah would be crucified and hung on a shameful.

In one corinthians one, he says, we preach Christ crucified, and it's a stumbling block to the Jews, and it's foolishness to the Gentiles.

He doesn't make sense to anybody.

And then he goes on in romans 116 and he says this. He says, for I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation.

I grew up in youth groups hearing this preached, and it was always a way to pressure kids to invite other kids to youth group.

And Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. No. Go into biology class and invite somebody to youth group.

It's exactly what Paul had in mind when he was writing to the roman church.

And there's nothing wrong, of course, with, you know, we want kids to invite other kids to youth group, of course. But when Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, he is saying something about the nature of the gospel. He preaches that for most and for many, they would assume shame is all over it.

And so what Paul is saying in romans 116, he's saying, I am not ashamed because I know that somehow when Jesus embraced and willingly found himself in a place of humiliation and shame, somehow that's where salvation came to me.

I'm not ashamed of the gospel of Christ Jesus, for it is the power.

It's the power of, of God.

Power is a funny thing.

The world would give anything for it.

And religion has a way of falling in line and pushing to take control of the levers of power as well. And even when we get to the story of Pentecost in acts chapter two, it's all about power, right? The Holy Spirit comes in and gives power to this young church.

All those people are waiting. They get power. And we can read that and be like, yeah, we're going to be on top when the Holy Spirit comes.

And Jesus even promised this in acts one eight.

He said, but you will receive power, power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Power is going to come along when God shows up.

And I think when we hear that, we have some very specific ideas of what power looks like.

Danielle Strickland, she's an author and a speaker, an officer in the Salvation army for many years.

And she was talking about how she's heard this idea of power out of acts. Chapter one preached again and again. And the greek word Dunamis, that means power, is brought up often by preachers who say, and that's the same root word as dynamite.

It's going to be explosive.

And she said, that's all I've ever heard, is that the power of God is this explosive force.

She's like. But it's also a root word for something different, a different word, dynamic.

Dynamic.

And it reminded me of this story in the Old Testament of Elijah, this prophet of God. And he's done all these great things, and God showed up in all these powerful, explosive ways, like fire from heaven on his enemies. It's wild stuff, but he goes into a cave and he starts to feel depressed and he's isolated and he's alone and he's crying out to God, because he's seen the kind of power when fire falls from heaven, but somehow it's not sustained him in his moment in this cave. And so he cries out to God. He's like, I'm done. I'm done.

And it says, the spirit of the Lord visits him, and a fire burns by, but God's not in the fire.

And a great wind blows, but God's not in the wind. And an earthquake shakes the ground where Elijah is in. Elijah is like, yikes, this is crazy.

But the Lord's not in the earthquake. And then it says, and then a small whisper, and God was in the whisper.

And I have to wonder if sometimes we come to our faith assuming that the only way that God wants to show up in our world is with fire and explosive power. But sometimes I think the way that God shows up in our world is through a gentle whisper in quiet moments with hurting people who maybe have experienced the big show of faith, they've experienced the smoke and the lights, and yet somehow they're not sustained.

And in the moment when they're in a cave and they're crying out to God that maybe that you, because you've embraced this attitude of Christ Jesus that goes low and low and low, could be that quiet whisper of the voice of the spirit of God, the power that we receive, sometimes it's going to show up in impressive, powerful, explosive ways, and sometimes it's going to be quiet, and it's going to whisper comfort and encouragement to those that feel alone.

And this kind of power is.

It's different in the Old Testament. Another Old Testament hero, probably the two big names in the first section of the Bible are Elijah and Moses. And Moses knows a thing or two about power.

He's this hebrew baby who is born into the community of slaves, the hebrew people that are enslaved by pharaoh in Egypt. And Pharaoh realizes the hebrew population is growing out of control, and so he decides, you know, we're gonna cull the population, and so we're gonna. We're gonna kill all the baby boys that are born to these hebrew mothers. And so out of fear for Moses life, Moses mom puts him in a basket, famously puts him down the Nile river, and he's discovered by the princess, Pharaoh's daughter, among the Reeds.

And so she picks him out of the basket, calls him Moses, which means among the Reeds. That's a good name.

And takes him back to the palace.

And so here we have this crazy transformation from one of the most vulnerable creatures in all of the empire, a hebrew baby boy who should be killed. And he goes from that to being a son and a prince of the empire.

And he's raised in this environment where he knows what cruel brutality, forceful power looks like.

He is an accessory to the enslavement of his own people, the Hebrews.

And if you know the story, we're actually going to take some time this summer, and we're going to walk through the book of Exodus, and we'll get in depth on this. But if you know the story, he falls out of favor with his family in Egypt, and he goes on the run, he's exiled, and he becomes a shepherd out in the wilderness.

And out in the wilderness, he comes upon this bush that's burning.

And initially, I assume, like, well, the miracle is that there's a bush burning in the middle of nowhere.

But that's actually not what the text says. I'm sure Moses has seen other shepherds that clear land with fire. I'm sure he's seen lightning strikes that have created fires out in the middle. That's not impressive for Moses. What's impressive and what it tells us in the book of Exodus is that Moses sees a bush that's burning, and he says, I must go and see what this thing is that burns and yet does not consume the bush.

It's a fire that does not consume, a fire that burns and does not destroy.

And so he turns aside and he says, what is this?

And a voice from that burning bush, the voice of God, says, Moses, I want you to take off the sandals on your feet, because the place you're standing in is holy.

What is it? What is holy? What does that mean? You might have heard the definition. Well, it means set apart. Here's another way to say that. It means that it's something you've never seen before.

It's something that has no comparison, is something that doesn't look like anything else that you've experienced to this point. It's holy. It's. Other than Moses, you've seen power. You've walked in the halls of power. You've seen what it is when pharaoh gets angry and he takes out his anger on the people around him. You know what it is to see the power of the empire thrust upon slaves. You know what power normally looks like. Moses, get close to me. Get close to this burning bush. I'm going to show you a power that does not consume, abuse, or oppress. It's a fire that burns but does not consume. And this is the holiness that Moses experiences.

Fast forward all the way to Paul's letter, Paul's writing about the power of God expressed in Jesus. And he says, this man Jesus, I experienced him, and he is in very nature the same substance of the one that was in the burning bush, the one that spoke to Moses and said, this power is holiness. It's other than it's different. It's not going to look anything like you've known power to be that same. God was in Jesus.

And Jesus laid all that position and preference and authority, and he laid it down to go to the cross. Why?

Because he was introducing something holy.

He was bringing us into an understanding that to follow after him. We're going to experience his power. We're going to experience his holy spirit. But it's not going to look like power in any other context, because it's holy.

This kind of difference from the ways and the structures of the empire and the world around us, it will make no sense.

But that is the nature. And I think what makes Christianity so unique, so distinct and so compelling is that we take our whole lives. We take our whole lives.

And when it makes the most sense to push and to grab and to hold on to whatever we can get, to make it higher and faster and better and use and consume whoever gets in our way, that we follow. After this jewish rabbi who was hung on a tree, crucified in shame, we follow him into whatever he asks, moving lower and lower and lower to experience salvation.

It's holy.

It's holy.