Preached in Upton, Ripple, Hanley Castle, Hanley Swan and Welland, August-November 2017

27 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 the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 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.29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

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. 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.

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

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!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Picture the scene: 200 Christian students on a weekend away, and it’s party piece evening. and I did my party piece and it was good. Very good. In my opinion it was the best thing in the show, And before you say “big head” Yes. You’re right. It went to my head,

So I decided to improvise an encore. I hauled a friend of mine onto the stage and teased him about being a show-off. And everyone laughed, so I teased him even more, And everyone laughed. Until my friend was utterly humiliated.

Afterwards, as people flocked around me, to tell me how funny I’d been, my friend interrupted, How dare I humiliate him! And My conscience finally woke up. Ashamed, I had to flee the room, to be alone and to pray and seek God’s forgiveness for being so puffed up and proud.

Pride is a dangerous thing. Proverbs 16v5 says,

The LORD detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”

And that’s a tricky thing to say to a British audience, because we’re a proud nation. Proud of our kids and homes, our villages and towns and even our ramshackle old churches. Does the Lord detest that sort of pride?

He does when we use it to look down on others. You see, the pride that God hates, is all about status, about puffing ourselves up at the expense of others.

Isaiah 14 tells us the story of the origin of Satan, He was an angel, who decided he wanted to be better than his Creator. And that’s the aspect of pride that God detests. That desire we have to puff ourselves up by boasting about our strengths so we can look down on others.

Now why am I talking about pride? Well all this Summer and Autumn, my sermons are all from the Bible book of Philippians, which is a book all about contentment. Near the end it says this:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Phil.4:12).

And what the book has said so far is that this contentment works during beatings and shipwrecks and prison and even in the face of death. And its all built on relationship with Jesus Christ. And what we’re going to see today, is that that promise of contentment in any circumstance involves a commitment to humbly working in community with other Christians, and that’s something you cannot do if you’re proud.  You see, Proud people won’t work with others in community. They don’t play well with others.

So let’s take a look at our Bible passage, and let’s start by thinking about community.

1) Community

And the standout message from the first few verses of our reading is that Christianity is a team sport: v27 speaks of the Philippians Christians standing

firm in one Spirit

That’s a team isn’t it? United by a common purpose, vision, goal, or in this case, the Holy Spirit.

And look at how the verse continues, challenging us to strive

together for the faith of the gospel.”

Strive means struggle or fight vigorously. For the faith of the gospel. And to do it together.

Our work here – it’s not about buildings or money, it’s about the good news of Jesus Christ, and sharing that is a team activity.

Christians working together for the sake of the gospel, can overcome any opposition. If we all strive together.

So let me ask the hard question: Are you striving in the team? Or are you a spectator? Please – if you are a spectator, It’s time to get involved. God has given you gifts and skills and resources Which he’s waiting for you to use for his purposes. You will never know the contentment Jesus offers, Until you get involved in church community.

Here’s the problem, one big reason people won’t engage with their church, is that at one time or another, most of us have been hurt by church community, by other Christians.

Well let me say straight up, the problem is not church community, or Christians, the problem is far more likely to be pride. Which is why Paul is going to introduce us to pride’s antidote:  Humility.

2)Humility

Let’s read from 2v2

make my joy complete by being:  like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves”

Take a look around at your Christian community. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we were like-minded? If we had the same love – by which he means JESUS. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we did nothing out of self-ambition or vanity? Or considered others better than ourselves?

Pah, fat chance.

Pride makes all that virtually impossible. Because rather than valuing others above ourselves, we’re constantly finding ways to look down on others. The great Anglican bishop JC Ryle said,

We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family disease of all the children of Adam.”

So let’s think of some of the ways we do that. Let’s see if we’ve got a pride/self-righteousness problem.

Let’s start with intellectual pride. This is the person with a great education or a unique skillset, Who dismisses everyone who hasn’t got the same skillset as them. You often see him on the church noticeboards, “The Reverend Doctor John Smith PhD MDiv BAHons BSC Oxon.”

He’s terribly learned you know, can quote the Bible in Hebrew but only speaks English in words of more than four syllables, he’ll be a Bishop one day.

Then there’s LEGALISTIC pride. This is the person who is proud of his or her knowledge of organisational rules. Who knows each obscure Sub-paragraph in Canon law and can give you chapter and verse on PCC decisions for the last 20 years. In Jesus day we called these people Pharisees,

Then there’s pride at your COMPETENCE. This person is often very controlling.  The sort who won’t involve themselves in anything that might damage their reputation. So they insist on leading everything, never following. Why hitch yourself to someone else’s coattails               If there’s a risk it might damage your reputation? Much better to boss others around,  And they have to micromanage, because they also find it really hard to delegate and trust. All vicars probably have a little bit of this in them.

Then there’s STATUS-based pride. This is the person who uses church roles, to compensate for their lack of confidence. Now sometimes in our churches its unavoidable that one person does several jobs. That should be a challenge to us all to muck in and help out. But sometimes we simply can’t, because Mr Status-Based Pride has hogged the jobs to himself  – to such an extent that his entire sense of worth, is based on using those church roles to look down on anyone who do less than him. Which is everyone.

Here’s another way to spot if you’ve got a pride problem. Have you ever noticed how proud people can’t LAUGH at themselves? They’re often very good at laughing at other people – but make a joke about them – and they hate it. Which is a shame because in God’s eyes, proud people are utterly ridiculous.

Any of those ring a bell with you?

Sadly our churches often have people like this… And that’s why our communities don’t always work as well as they should. So what can we do to fix it? Well if pride is comparing yourself to others, then humility is comparing yourself to Jesus.

Think of it like a chart,w ith Jesus at the top – in all his brilliant wonderfulness and perfect holiness. Down at the bottom in his awfulness, is Satan. Where would you put yourself on the chart?

Now proud people love charts like this, It’s a chance to talk up their achievements to make sure everyone else is beneath them. But humility says don’t compare yourself with anyone but Jesus. And when we do that, we immediately realise how ridiculous we are. And that’s scary, because if your sense of self-worth is built on looking down on others, and you suddenly have to look up instead, what have you got left? Nothing!

But the good news is, that’s exactly what God needs you to have. You see it’s when we come to God with our nothing, not boasting, not proud of our achievements, but humbly admitting our failures, that’s when we feel God’s presence the most, that’s when his love feels strongest.

Pride says I’m better than everyone else. But Humility teaches me that I’m loved by God, that I’m loved by the creator of the Universe. And it’s in that moment, we can begin to experience that contentment that works in any and every circumstance.

So are you ready to humble yourself? Well if you are, You’re learning to have the same attitude as Jesus, As Christ the King, who humbled himself and learned to experience the love of God in a whole new way. v5 Paul writes,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:. 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,  took the very nature of a servant, being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

What’s he saying? Jesus was equal with God the Father, but he chose to humble himself, to put off the glory of Godhood and become a man. But not just any man: he chose to come as a servant. And to allow himself to die a humiliating death on the cross.

We’ve talked a lot about pride and sin being bad news today, Well here’s some good news, Jesus death on the cross can deal with all our sin and pride.  His humiliating death, can get rid of the sin of our pride forever. Jesus died to give us what we can never give ourselves: A fresh start! He died to do what we can never do for ourselves: Cleanse us from sin and pride.

And how does the Father reward him for humbling himself? He makes him a king. V9,

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

The Father gives him the ultimate honour. He’s brought to the right hand of God, king over everything – even proud fools like us. And one day, when he returns to judge the world, every knee shall bow before him and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But they don’t do it yet, because they don’t see the church working together as a team, a community, to tell them who Jesus is – because we’re too proud to really serve one another for the sake of the gospel.

So what’s the way forward to total satisfaction in Jesus Christ?

  • Get involved,
  • Stop proudly comparing yourselves to others,
  • And instead pursue humility by comparing yourself to Jesus.

Let’s pray

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