8th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, what is good service? Well, we all know what bad service is, don’t we? When you walk into a store in order to find something and no one offers to help, the store personnel avoids you or is annoyed that you are incapable of finding what you need on your own – that’s bad service. Or at a restaurant the waiter never comes to your table to ask if you need anything or how you are enjoying your meal. Or perhaps you have someone come to mow your lawn and they miss large sections of your lawn or drive over your hose or whatever. Good service on the other hand is when someone seems to go the extra mile for you, when they go over and above what they are required to do, when they care about you. Finally, good service is when the person thinks more about you than about themselves. And since living in this world means of necessity that you have to regularly, continually, and on a daily basis deal with other human beings, having a service mentality is of huge importance. Well, what about you? Do you have a service mentality? What is the quality of your relationships with other human beings?
We’re continuing in our study of the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote it to a Christian congregation in a city called Philippi. The predominant tone of the letter is one of joy- joy of their faith, joy in their progress of the gospel, joy of their support for the ministry. But at the same time there seems to have been creeping into this congregation a spirit of disunity, disharmony, and division which was caused by an attitude of self-interest. This is what Paul addresses in the text before us.
And it is certainly fitting for us to consider today. Why? Because the operating principle of the sinful world in which we live and move around in is based on pure selfishness. The world’s viewpoint goes something like this: “Members of the human species, like all other animals, are involved in a relentless mission to dominate others to survive. We think that we deserve to be happy and if being happy means the expense of other humans so be it.” So from our very sinful nature it is hardwired into each of us to be self-seeking and we are not immune to the pressure and the influences of the sinful and selfish world in which we live.
So it is that we once again gather here in church on Sunday morning to hear something totally different than what the world offers, something refreshing to our souls. It is God’s plan for us instead of being self-focused to be other-focused. Yet, he doesn’t give us this direction without laying the proper foundation and providing the proper motivation. Paul said, “If” (And the way Paul uses “if” here it could be better translated “since” or “if, as indeed it is”) you have any encouragement from being united with Christ” the Greek literally says “If you have any encouragement in Christ” in other words since you know what it means to have Christ as your personal Savior and to have eternal life. “If any comfort from his love” in other words since you have experienced the comfort and consolation of Christ’s love in good times and in bad. “If any fellowship with the Spirit” in other words since the Holy Spirit lives inside you just like he does in all who believe. “If any tenderness and compassion” in other words you have received the tender mercy and compassion from God and get to share it in your life.
If all that is true, if you know Christ and his salvation, if you know how God has saved you from your sins and rescued you for eternal life, if you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, if you’ve experienced his mercy and compassion and comfort, if that is true, and it is true, then you have the proper motivation and Paul wants the Philippian Christians to complete his joy, to fill his cup of joy to the brim.
How? “By being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” By being “like-minded” not necessarily having the same thoughts, but a willingness to work together and serve one another. “Having the same love” to try to have the same love toward each other, or even better to try and out-do the other in showing love and care. Can you imagine the benefit of having a sincere love for someone else or honestly trying to care about someone else more than they care about you when you have a disagreement with someone? That’s the attitude of the Christian. And then “being one in spirit” the Greek word is “sympsuchos” and literally means “soul harmony.” God directs his people to be united in faith, in teaching, in doctrine, to agree on the truth of God’s Word. When there’s disunity remember the common ground on which you stand with your fellow Christian- the whole truth of God’s Word. Finally, “one in purpose” in other words having the same goal, the same gospel focus, understanding that every Christian’s mission on earth is to share and spread the good news about Jesus.
Then Paul comes to what not to do, things that are absolutely disruptive to unity and to a service mentality: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” What selfish ambition? It is the attitude of the self-seeker, how does this benefit me? I’m only going to do this if there is some gain, some profit in it for me. How does this satisfy my own interests? Where’s the advantage in this for me? What am I going to get out of this? How is this going to make me look better? How is this going to make me feel bigger? And if things don’t go the way I want or the way that will benefit me, I’m resentful, I’m angry, I’m jealous. And vain conceit? Literally the word in the Greek is “empty glory.” Instead of looking to glorify God, I look to glorify ME, look for people to praise ME, and anything that will hurt or harm ME or my own prestige is immediately opposed whether it is true or not.
But is that what God wants? Not at all! Rather God looks for humility. God wants us to consider others as better and more important. He wants us to look not just to our own interests but the interests of others. He wants us to be other-centered. He wants us to know who we are – the worst sinners that we know, to know we are nothing but beggars before God, to know how far we have fallen short of God’s demands of us, how self-centered and self-focused we have so often been, to know how much we have failed to serve others the way God wants us to. God wants us to know that, why? So we can appreciate Him and His service to us all the more. You see, Jesus didn’t come into this world to be waited on, to throw his weight around, to step on heads to get ahead, to make himself look bigger and better than everyone else, no, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus came to serve you and me in the most wonderful way, by going to the cross and paying for each and every sin in full with His own blood. He served us by winning eternal life for you and me and giving it to us as a free gift!
And since I know how greatly I’ve been served by Christ- there is nothing more I need in life and in death- what does it matter what I have or what I can get for myself? I have all I need in Christ my Savior! In Him I have everything – eternal life! Now my life revolves around this question: How can I use my life to serve others? When dealing with other human beings the question that I ask myself is: What can I do or say that will encourage or build this person in their faith?
When properly motivated and in true humility we seek to serve others the amazing and incredible effect is that we actually have more joy in life. Why? Because by serving others we are doing exactly that which God has re-created us to do. Someone not reborn into faith in Jesus, in other words an unbeliever, does not and indeed cannot understand true service. All he or she can do is live life self-centeredly, selfishly, looking for his or her own gain. And because of that our world is starving to hear something positive. There is so much in the world that is negative because it is against our sinful nature to think about someone else, to encourage someone else, to help someone else.
How can you speak positively to your spouse? How can you speak positively to or about a fellow church member? A family member? How can you build someone up in Christ – giving them the ultimate positive by reminding them of who they are in Christ? How can you serve someone? How can you help someone? How can you complete the joy of someone else?
Doing those things properly motivated by Christ, with like-mindedness, and in humility you’ll actually have even more joy because you’ll be doing exactly what God has re-created you through faith to do! Amen.