The Lord's Day Morning
September 23, 2007
“Complete My Joy, With Helpfulness”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians. And before we turn to Philippians 2:1-4, which we're going to read today, I'd like you to allow your eyes to look at verse 27; and then, allow them to fall on verse 1, the first phrase of verse 2; and then we’ll look at verses 2-4.
I want to outline the passage again for you so that you’ll appreciate the flow of the apostle's argument here. Back in verse 27, the Apostle Paul has made this point: that we are to live a life that fits the gospel. That's what he means when he says that he is urging us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, and the whole center section of this book is about that.
Now beginning in verse 1 of chapter 2, he gives you four encouragements to doing this, he gives you one exhortation, and then he gives you three specific aims (or ends, or purposes) to shoot for as you seek to follow out the exhortation that he gives in the beginning of verse 2, based on the motivations or the encouragements that he's given in verse 1. So let's look at each of those things, so you know where he is in the flow of argument.
Verses 1-4: Encouragement…the encouragement that we have from being in Christ, the comfort that we have from God's love to us in Jesus Christ, the fellowship or the shared life (or the participation) that we have in the Holy Spirit as believers, and the affection and tenderness of God to us in Jesus Christ. All four of those things Paul piles up and reminds us of as a way to do what? To encourage us to do what God has called us to do in the Christian life.
Then, the exhortation, the imperative comes. It's in the first phrase of verse 2. Take a look at that: “Make my joy complete…complete my joy.” In other words, the Apostle Paul is not saying to the Philippians, ‘I'm unhappy with you; make me happy.’ He's saying ‘I love you to bits! You have given me more joy than any congregation that I know. Make me even happier by the way that you relate to one another.’ So the Apostle Paul is indicating, then, how much he loves them, how much he appreciates them. But even more than that, when he says ‘complete my joy’ he's reminding them that he has already said to them that his reason for staying on the planet Earth is for their joy. He wants them to experience the joy, and the fullness, and the delight and the satisfaction that God intends believers in the congregation of Christ to experience. And so when he says ‘complete my joy,’ he's just reminding them again that he's there for their joy. So this exhortation that he's giving them is not some self-centered thing — ‘Act this way because I’ll feel better about it’ — in fact, it is an exhortation that is designed to increase their joy…that they would have joy in his joy, and he would have joy in their joy.
That's what we call love. When you love someone, you love it when they’re happy. When you love someone, you love it when they’re rejoicing. And he wants to rejoice in their joy, and he wants them to rejoice in his joy, because he loves them. And he wants them to experience that kind of joy that God intends in the Christian congregation. And so he tells them to do three things.
He tells them first of all that they need to manifest and maintain the spiritual oneness that they have been given by God in Jesus Christ. Look at verse 2. He says what?
‘Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.’
In other words, he wants them to manifest and maintain spiritual unity.
I don't know how many times I've said it since I've been here, but everybody who is united to Jesus Christ is united to everybody who's united to Jesus Christ. Everybody who has Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior has everyone who has Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior as a brother and sister. We have been brought into a family, and the Apostle Paul wants that reality of our spiritual oneness to be manifested in our relationships.
Now, it is true that we are spiritually one with Christians in Africa. We don't live next door to them. We don't serve alongside of them shoulder to shoulder. Sometimes we do, and it's a joy when we do. We go on short-term mission teams, and we go to South America and Central America, and Asia and Scotland, and Africa, and we have times of fellowship with them and they are sweet and lasting. But mostly God wants us to manifest this union that we have, this unity that we have, right in our own homes and congregations, because that's the hardest place to manifest it. You can feel close to a Christian who is half way around the world, but it is another thing to work in unity with Christians that you’re sitting next to on the pew. It's always harder to live with the people that you live with, isn't it? Because we get on one another's nerves! Ever seen that happen at your house? I mean, we all love one another in the house, but you put three or four or five or six people under one roof, and they've got three or four or five or six or seven different ways of doing things, and it's hard. The Apostle Paul says despite that, and because of that, I want you to live together in oneness.
And then secondly he says, now, that will never happen unless you do the second thing, and the second thing is in verse 3. And what is it? Humility. Unless you count others as more significant than yourself, unless you have gospel humility, you’ll never get the unity thing down. Why? Because we're sinners. And we're going to offend one another. And we're selfish. And we tend to think about ourselves first and other people second. And unity doesn't happen that way. Unity is manifested and maintained when humble people show preference towards others over themselves.
And thirdly, in verse 4, he says, ‘Let me put some feet on that. Let me make that tangible, because you might get the idea that you can be humble in the abstract, but let me give you something concrete. If you’re really humble, you’re also going to be helpful.’ And that is what verse 4 is all about. That's what we're going to study today.
Notice, he's saying you might get by with thinking, ‘Well, I think of other people as more significant than myself; I'm a humble person.’ And so the Apostle Paul says, ‘OK, well, let's kind of test that humility out. Let's take it out for a spin. Let's do a little road test on that humility. If you’re humble,’ he says, ‘you will be helpful. You will have an orientation towards helping others in the home and in the congregation.’
That's what we're going to do today. We’re going to look at that third thing that the Apostle Paul has exhorted us to, that third end, that aim, that aspiration that he sets out in verses 2, 3, and 4. We've already looked at 2 and 3; we're going to look at that fourth one today.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. And it is, very frankly, not hard to understand here. Lord, sometimes we come to Your word, and there are deep and difficult things to understand that stretch our minds even beyond the limits of our understanding. But Philippians 2:4 is crystal clear. It's just really, really hard to do. So we ask, O God, that You would make us not simply to be hearers of Your word who listen to it and agree with it, and then promptly go out and forget it, but that we would be doers of Your word — those who look at Your word like we're looking in a mirror and we see where we do and don't follow Your word. And then we don't walk out and forget that we have a colossal cowlick in our hair where we haven't been doing Your word. Lord, by Your royal law, convict us and teach us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word, Philippians 2:1 —
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Do you know what the true obstacle to unity is in the church?
For many years there have been people who said the real obstacle to unity is doctrine. We've got so many doctrines. There's such a long list of doctrines that we can't be unified, because we've got all these doctrinal differences. If we just got rid of doctrine, we’d have unity.
That's not what Paul says. You know what the real obstacle to unity in the church is? It's not legitimate differences of opinion. You can live in unity with someone with a legitimate difference of opinion. There are lots and lots and lots of things in life on which we can have legitimate differences of opinion and still love one another, and still get along with one another, and still work with one another. But do you know what the true obstacle to unity is? Selfishness. Self-centeredness. Putting yourself first. That is the true obstacle to unity in the Christian life — self-centeredness, selfishness, me-first. And the Apostle Paul is out to blow that apart in this passage.
He's first called us to unity; he's told us that humility is going to be absolutely essential to unity; and now he tells us about a third thing: helpfulness…mutuality. A desire to mutually help one another practically, specifically, tangibly, in the congregation is what he calls us to do. And in calling us to do that, he's calling us to something that's crystal clear. Be helpful, he's saying. Or, as we were studying in Ephesians 5:21, he's calling us to a mutual service of one another. He's saying that one of the first principles of the Christian life is that we are here on this planet to serve one another, to help one another, and in order to serve and help one another, we have to submit ourselves to one another.
We have to sometimes forego our own desires, our own agendas, and our own priorities in order to help other people. Just as a parent sometimes has other things that he or she wants to think about, but his or her child has a need that needs to be attended to, what does that parent do? He shelves what he or she is doing and attends to his or her child. So also in the church, if we are going to serve one another, if we are going to help one another, we cannot always be thinking of our own interests first. We have to put others’ interests before us. And so the Apostle Paul says, ‘Are you a person who counts others as more significant than yourself? OK, let's take that for a test drive. Do you put other people's interests, their needs, before your own? Or with you is it always me-first?’
Now, you realize that it is possible to do works of service a lot in the church and in the community and still have a me-first attitude. Do you realize that? You can do that. You can do a lot of really good things and still have fundamentally a self-centered framework on life.
And so there are five things that we can learn from the Apostle Paul about helping one another from this passage we've just studied, and the first thing is this:
I. We are to have built into our very outlook an orientation to the body, to the family, and to the church.
Have you noticed in verses 2-4 how the Apostle Paul's concerns for unity, humility, and helpfulness are all congregationally focused? In other words, Paul wants us to work into the warp and woof of the way that we view reality an orientation towards the needs of the whole congregation.
We live in a self-centered world, and it is self-centered by philosophy, but it's also self-centered sociologically. There is stuff that tempts us to self-centeredness that we don't even realize is tempting us to self-centeredness. You know, parents wanting to give to their children and wanting to give the best to their children can often unwittingly create people that think that the world is built around them. And then those people get into a marriage with another person who thinks that the world is built around him or her. And you know what happens? It's not very pretty. Because two people who think that the world is centered around them are offended morally by that other person, who doesn't think that the world is built around him or her.
And so sometimes the very things that are happening in the world around us tempt us to be even more self-centered than we are inclined to be, and the Apostle Paul says, ‘Thing No. 1 is this: the world is not centered around you. God's world, God's plan for your life, God's blessings on your life, and the deepest desires of your life are experienced congregationally, so that the center of the universe is not you. It's the whole people of God.’ Ultimately, of course, it's God; but in terms of the world that you are to live in, it is not to be self-focused, but congregationally focused. It's to be reflected of course in your family life and dynamics, but it's also to be reflected in the congregation.
And the Apostle Paul is saying right out of the blocks here, if unity is important, guess what? You can't do unity alone. There has to be somebody else around to do unity. If humility is important, guess what? You can't do humility alone. There has to be somebody else around if you’re going to do humility. If helpfulness is important, then you can't do helpfulness alone. It has to be done around other people, or else there's no one else to help! And so all of these things require more than you. Paul is saying your world needs to be congregationally focused. You need to think about the community, especially the Christian community. That's to have a shaping influence on your mind: that the world doesn't revolve around you; that God's purposes revolve around something that He is doing in the people of faith…one expression of it is my local congregation.
2. The second thing, and it's directly connected to this, is that we are to have the well-being of others and the whole congregation as a part of our basic outlook and orientation.
So not only are we to have an outlook, an orientation which is oriented towards the body, towards the family, towards the church (that is, when we think about who we are, we always think in the context of being a part of God's body, God's family…the vine, the household of faith, the temple of the living God); we think in those corporate categories that the Bible constantly describes the people of God in, but we also have the well-being of others and the whole congregation as a part of our basic outlook and orientation in life.
Mothers are always thinking about their children. Have you ever noticed that? They’re always thinking about their children. Mothers do not wake up in the morning and think, “Hmmm…how shall I serve myself today?” Mothers are always thinking about their children! They’re thinking about their children getting dressed and getting to school. They’re thinking about their children's friends. They want their children to have good friends. They’re thinking about who their children are going to marry. They’re thinking about if their children are well. And even when their children grow up and go away, Mothers are thinking about their children. And then mothers add to that list. They start thinking about their grandchildren! They’re always thinking about other people. That's what mothers do. That's what mothers are.
The Apostle Paul is saying something sort of like that to you and me. He's saying just like mothers don't get their children out of their minds in any of their waking moments (they’re always back there somewhere), so also I don't want you ever to get out of your mind the well-being of others in the congregation. Every waking moment you are to be living in a context in which you are oriented towards helping, encouraging, serving the rest of the congregation.
3. Thirdly — and this hurts! — we are to seek the well-being of others in the congregation not from the standpoint of voluntary service, but from loving servitude.
“We are to seek the well-being of others in the congregation not from the standpoint of voluntary service, but from the standpoint of loving servitude” — what in the world do I mean by that? Well, this is pretty radical. And let me just say up front, I don't do this. But I want to. I'm beginning, I think, to understand what Paul is saying here for the first time in my life, and I want to be like this, but I'm not. But here's what Paul is saying.
Paul is saying that when you serve one another your attitude is not to be as if you’re a good person, and out of the goodness of your heart you've decided to just voluntarily help this poor person over here who needs some help today. And you’re feeling pretty good about yourself for that, because it's kind of an added extra. I mean, you’re off out there today being a good person, and here you saw a person in need, and just out of the goodness of your heart you decide you’ll just help them today. You didn't have to. You just wanted to help them. And the Apostle Paul wants you to understand, no, it's not like that. It's like you’re a servant, and Jesus is your Master. And Jesus is saying, ‘See all these people out here sitting in the pew? Serve them. That's your job.’ It's not like you signed up for the Rotary Club and the Kiwanis Club and the Lions Club, and the Junior League, or whatever else, and out of the goodness of your heart you’re doing stuff to help people in your community and your congregation. Now that's good stuff, folks; I'm not criticizing that. But Paul's talking about attitude here. He's saying your service to one another is not to be something that you view as something that you decide to do whenever you want to do it…you know, giving a little bit of left over of your time and resources to help somebody else. No. Actually, you don't have any time and resources. You see, you’re a servant. All of your time and resources belong to Jesus. And He has said what you’re supposed to be doing in life is helping one another. It's not what you do when you’re finished working through your list and have a little extra time left over. It's what you do. (I said it hurts. It really does.) Paul says that we are to be ready to seek the well-being of others in the congregation not from the standpoint of voluntary service, but of loving servitude.
IV. Fourth, that means that we are to be ready to set aside our personal checklist in order to serve others, and the body as a whole.
If you really view yourself as a servant of Christ, your personal checklist has to take Level B in comparison to the service of the body. It's just like when a father is really, really busy at work. He's busy with clients, he's busy with patients, he's got big deals on the table, there are accounts to manage. But his son needs his time…now. The schedule has to change. Or when a wife and a mother is really, really busy…she has 47 things to do today, and if they don't get done, they don't go away. They’re still there at midnight tonight and at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. They’re still there and they still have to be done. But she has a friend who's going through a life crisis in the congregation, who needs her now.
If we're going to help one another, if we've going to serve one another, if we're going to mutually commit ourselves to helpfulness, then we have to set aside our personal checklist in order to serve others, and the body as a whole.
V. And fifth and finally, we are to live in mutual helpfulness and servitude because of the gospel, and in imitation of Jesus Christ.
It is amazing how often this teaching comes up in Paul…it is not just here in Philippians 2:4.
Think of I Corinthians 10:24. A very different congregation, a much more divided congregation, a much more problematic congregation than the congregation in Philippi, but what does Paul say in I Corinthians 10:24 to the congregation at Corinth?
“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
You see, this is not a thought that just popped into Paul's mind while writing from prison to the Philippians. This is something that pervades the whole of his life. He wants Christians to live in mutual helpfulness, and service and servitude, and subjection to and submission to one another. It's always on his mind.
It was on his mind in I Corinthians 10:13, when he was telling you what love is. You remember what he says? “Love…” [among other things] “…is…” [what?] “…it does not seek its own.” In other words, love is not me-first. Love is not me-first, and then I’ll get around to you. Love does not seek its own. Love is always doing what? Looking out for the best interest of the one loved.
Or, there's the passage we've already mentioned, in Ephesians 5:21, where Paul says, ‘Look. Grand rule for the whole of the Christian life: All of you are to live in mutual servitude, each for the other. We’re to be other-centered, or other-focused.’
You know, it's fascinating. This too is the exact opposite of the world. All around us we have self-centered people…people that are focused on themselves. And do you know how they pursue their self-centeredness? They copy everybody else who is pursuing self-centeredness! It's fascinating. They’re self-centered, but they are utter conformists. That's why all non-conformists are alike. Have you ever noticed that? You know, all the people that are going to be…. “I'm going to be totally different from the world”…and they’re like everybody else who's totally different from the world! You know — non-conformists. They all wear the same thing. You can spot them on the street corner. Why? Because in their self-centeredness, they've decided, “Hmm. That group over there, they’re getting what I want. And so I'm going to do …what? I'm going to copy them.” Sociologists call these people “other-directed people.”
It's ironic, isn't it? They’re self-centered, but they end up having their life run by somebody else, because they think that that somebody else has what they want, and so they copy what that somebody else has, and so they end up being ruled by another person. It's not freedom. It's bondage. They think that they’re non-conformists, but they’re conformed to every goofy fad that comes along every six months.
The Apostle Paul is saying don't be other-directed; be other-focused. Be Christ-directed, but be other-focused. The world's not zeroed in on you. You’re to live looking outwardly, trying to serve others, focused on their needs, caring for them, especially in the family and in the congregation of faith. (And certainly to our neighbors and to all men as well, but fundamentally in those inner circles we're to be living in an outwardly focused way.) But you’re not to be directed by others. You’re directed by Christ. You’re His servant.
And you know what that does? It sets you free. You don't have to follow every goofy fad that comes along every six months. And so it is a service, it's a permanent service, that sets you free. And the Apostle Paul says that's what the gospel does.
It's interesting. In that other passage where Paul is talking about this, he talks about our serving one another in the fear of Christ, out of awe and reverence for Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that we're to live in this mutual helpfulness and servitude because of the gospel and in imitating Christ. And that is what Philippians 2:5-11 is about. It's about us having the same mind, the same outlook, the same orientation that Jesus had. And that's what we're going to study next, God willing.
Our heavenly Father, these words are very, very easy to say, but they’re very, very hard to do. They’re hard to do because we're selfish. They’re hard to do, Lord, because we hurt one another. They’re hard to do because we're not humble. But, O Lord, we do want You to take our lives and consecrate them to yourself. So do that. And If You do it, we’ll know what You did it, because only You could do it. We can't. And we’ll give you the praise and the glory for it. In Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Take My Life, and Let It Be]
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits. Amen.