22nd May 2011
Part 3. Lives that tell a story Philippians 2:1-11, 3:4-11 I recently had a lovely offer from a neighbour to teach me fly-‐fishing when I retire. I am looking forward to taking up that kind offer, both to learn a new skill and make a new friend. It reminds me of a man who had a less subtle approach to fishing on his local lake. He caught so many fish that he caught the attention of the Park Ranger who asked him what his secret was. So the guy invited the ranger to accompany him on his next trip. Once the two boats were out in the middle of this large lake the fisherman opened his basket, picked out a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and hurled it into the water. The resulting explosion killed loads of fish which he scooped out of the water. The red-‐faced ranger remonstrated – ‘You can’t do that, it’s against the law!’ At which the man lit another stick of dynamite and threw it for the ranger to catch. ‘Well, are you going to join me and catch some fish or not?’ Dunamis – dynamite – is the Greek word Paul used to describe the gospel. It is the power of God. As we have seen over the last two weeks, it is the power of God to break down all the divisions that would separate us so that whatever our race, gender or economic status we can be part of the same community of love and faith. We saw that in the church that was planted in Philippi with Lydia, the slave-‐girl and the jailer all coming to faith. It is also the power by which we rise above the most challenging of circumstances knowing that God is at work in us to make us more like Jesus. For Paul that challenging circumstance was prison awaiting a possible death sentence. It was from prison, under the watchful eye of the Imperial Guard, that Paul wrote his fabulous letter to the Philippians. It is that letter that we are studying. At the heart of this letter is Paul’s desire to help the Philippians live distinctive Christian lives in a Christless world. What could be more appropriate for us in 2011? He writes– Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27). These guys have dual citizenship. Of course, they are citizens of Philippi. But they are also citizens of heaven. 3:20 Our citizenship is in heaven. This is the struggle we face, whether in Philippi or in Romiley. How do I live a life that is worthy of my citizenship of heaven? How do I live in this world so that the kingdom of God is seen breaking in? Philippi itself was a Roman military colony. It was a colony that was fiercely loyal to the Emperor. It was in Philippi that the cult of emperor worship took off. They hailed Nero Caesar as ‘Lord and saviour’. But within this Roman colony there was a colony of heaven made up of people like Lydia, the slave girl and the jailer. For them only Jesus could be Lord and Saviour. They refused to worship the Emperor and as a result were terribly persecuted. The Roman Empire was really very tolerant of religions but not of other kingdoms. Here was a group of insignificant people who dared to confront the Empire with talk of another Lord and Saviour. That was treason! This new subversive movement was on a collision course with the most powerful military and political institution the world had known. But it was not the issue of persecution and external suffering that was threatening the church’s mission. It was the issue of divisions and internal conflict. Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (v.2). Paul is saying: How are you going to stand firm in the face of opposition? How are you going to make a difference in the world? How are you going to live lives that are worthy of the gospel – if you are
not one in mind and heart and spirit. You don’t have to agree about every detail. You just need to have the same mind about the gospel and how to live it out. You find the heart of the problem in the next verse. Do nothing out of selfish ambition… Selfish ambition has become one of the core values of our materialistic and hedonistic culture. The antidote is humility. Paul continues: your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. In your relationships together, your attitude should be like that of Jesus. And then he tells Christ’s story. This is a quite unique passage of scripture, a magnificent moment in the New Testament. Christ’s story starts with glory and ends with glory, but in the middle is the cross. First we have the steps leading down to the cross. As God, Jesus emptied himself and became a man. As man, Jesus humbled himself to be a servant and to die on the cross. This is contrary to every other theology on the face of our globe. Every other god or goddess is capricious, self-‐seeking and selfishly demanding at the core of their being. The true God is so different. In his essential being he is self-‐giving and loving. For the sake of those he loves, God poured himself out in the person of his Son who became a slave. There is no selfish ambition here. And now God has raised him, exalted him and given him the name that is above every other name so that one day every knee will bow and every tongue, including Nero’s, will confess that Jesus is Lord. That’s Jesus’ story. In chapter 3 we have part of Paul’s story. And at the heart of that story is a passionate longing to know Christ Jesus my Lord. He talks about knowing Christ, being found in Christ and gaining Christ. By comparison, everything else is rubbish. So great is his desire to know Christ that he not only wants to experience the power of his resurrection giving him new life but he is also willing to share in his suffering, becoming like him in his death. What does that mean? What is Paul saying? He wants his story to be in line with Christ’s story. He wants the same story line to be running through both – a story line of being poured out in humility. Paul has already spelt it out very clearly in chapter 1:21 For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Whether living or dying, everything is swallowed up in one reality – Christ. He wants the cross to shape his life. This is cross-‐shaped discipleship in a Christless world. When Jesus walked this earth he invited people to be his disciples. He said if you want to be like me and do what I do, then follow me. If you are willing for your story to fit my story, then take up your cross and follow me. This is our God, the servant king, who calls us now to follow him. Christ’s story is working itself out in Paul’s life. That is why he says in 3:17 – Join with others in following my example.. Paul is the first to acknowledge he hasn’t arrived. There are still many imperfections in his life. He is saying – follow the Christ you see in me. Christ’s storyline was being repeated in Paul’s storyline and he is anxious that that same storyline be repeated in the Philippians’ storyline. They were writing their stories as we are writing our stories. When Paul says in 2:12 Work out your salvation with fear and trembling he is encouraging us to get our own stories lined up with Christ’s story. When he says – live a life worthy of the gospel – he is saying – make sure there is nothing in your story that doesn’t sit comfortably with Christ’s story. At the end of the day it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (pleasure). It gives God great pleasure to work in our lives, working out the salvation which Jesus has won for us, to make our lives more like his. Of course, we must co-‐operate. We are all living our lives. We are all writing our stories -‐ Jesus, Stephen, Paul, the members of the Philippian church, including Lydia, the slave-‐girl and the jailer, St Chad, Tim Barlow and you. The challenge for all of us is whether the story has the signature of Jesus written clearly across it. The skill of fly-‐fishing must be passed on from generation to generation. So must faith in Jesus.