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How Humility is the Gateway to Joy

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Message portion begins ~23 minutes into the livestream

In 1988, something unusual happened in Moscow, Russia. The US and Soviet leaders met for a summit, but then the US President decided to go off script and walk around Red Square. President Ronald Reagan, the leader of the free world, walked around talking with ordinary Russians. Gorbachev accompanying Reagan asked a young boy what he thought about the President’s visit. He replied “I think it’s very good that the President has come, because this is done for peace. It’s for greater understanding between our two peoples.” A Russian man told Reagan, “We would like your visits to become routine just like your space shuttle missions.”  Now imagine such an exchange taking place in the 1960s between President Kennedy and Brezhnev. In that era, we endured the Cuban missile crisis and tensions were incredibly high between the Soviet Union and United States. The world held its collective breath as the US and Soviet Union moved to the brink of nuclear war. As I watched the footage of Reagan in Moscow, I came away believing the President toured Red Square to demonstrate his longing for peace. He exhibited humility and a desire to understand and be understood. I want to return to this moment in history, but first, let’s revisit the opening verses from chapter 2.

1. Fight for Unity —- > Reap Joy.

Another way this opening can be translated is for the four clauses to read, “Since you have encouragement in Christ, since you have the comfort of love, since you have fellowship with the Spirit, since you have affection and mercy, make my joy complete by being likeminded, having agape love, unity and commitment to the Great Commission. Paul is saying Philippians—you can increase my joy by remembering the teachings of Jesus, remembering His love, submitting to one another as the Spirit submits to the Father and Son—and this leads to unity and Great Commission fulfillment. Now I want to note something here that I touched on a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the backstory of the Philippian church. This is a diverse church community—Lydia, Asian businesswoman and her household, a Greek slave girl, a Roman jailer and his family—charter members. Sometimes when we think about unity, we can mistakenly think uniformity. There’s an important difference between these two things. We can and will approach ministry from different backgrounds and perspectives. We need to work together in unity and not demand or uniformity or sameness. We must fight for harmony and battle against the idea that everyone should see things the way we do. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit ushers us into the reality that God loves diversity in the body of Christ. He helps us see that he’s given us different experiences and approaches, and we need to recognize that beautiful truth because the cultural differences we have are gifts from God that can help us break down barriers as we proclaim the Gospel. The mission is to fulfill the Great Commission—being disciples of Jesus who make disciples.

2. Clothe Yourself in Humility —> Joy Comes

               We are to do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or conceit. Anybody else read that and think Wow. That’s tough. How do we even do that? How do we assess our real motivations? The way we examine our hearts and obey this command begins by doing what Jesus commanded. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Do you see where he’s going with that metaphor? We’re going to die. What Jesus is saying is—my selfishness, your self-centeredness, my pride, your conceit, needs to die, so that you and I can truly live! Look if you’re just kind of wine tasting Christianity—what I mean is—maybe you read your Bible occasionally, you go to chapel, Christianity is something you kind of dabble in, it’s something you do, but it’s not who you are–then I have some breaking news for you. You’re not dying to yourself, and more importantly—Jesus says you’re not one of His followers or disciples.

Because what it takes to follow Him-is complete surrender. Dying to my desires and pursuing His. We must choose to pick up our cross day in and day out and follow Jesus. The beauty of the Gospel is that we really start enjoying Him forever the moment we surrender—die to our selfishness, our own me-first mentality. The instant we stop living for ourselves—our own ambitions, our own glory—and start living for Him—joy begins. We start living selflessly and as we learn to do this thru the power of the Holy Spirit our joy increases. Following Jesus unleashes sanctification—this process where God begins defeating our internal struggle and desire to be self-seeking, self-focused, and self-absorbed, and He gives us new desires to be selfless, humble, and compassionate. We pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We die to ourselves, so we can truly live the way He designed us to live—in fellowship and submission to Him.

In verse 3, the Bible says, “In humility consider others more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) There’s some humble servants of God right now that are living this command out by teaching our 2, 3 year olds, pre-k and elementary aged kids. They are humbly serving them and considering their needs and the needs of tired moms who need a break ahead of their own. When you came this morning and you grabbed a donut and coffee. Chances are you didn’t hop over the kitchen counter and grab the goods yourselves. It’s likely Alex, Hector, Sam, David or somebody else from the Connections Team served you. You were blessed by their servanthood, but the truth is they are blessed too even more. Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 And here’s another blessing. By humbly serving you, your children, these brothers and sisters are growing spiritually, because they are following the command and example of Jesus.

When Paul says adopt the same attitude of Christ Jesus, he’s saying you need a new mindset. You need to embrace a new identity. Another way to understand this command is what Paul tells the Colossea Christians when he says, “Clothe yourself in humility” (Colossians 3:12). Humility doesn’t just magically happen. Abra cadabra I’m humble! You have to take action. These sisters and brothers who led us in worship this morning—they took action to set the alarm clock earlier than most of us—because they started practice around 0800. When Cayman, Jackie, Hope, Rebekah, Kat and others quarantine shop and deliver Joe for Joes to the quarantine barracks, they are making a conscious decision to put on the towel like Jesus did and start washing feet.

When Paul says in verse 4, “Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) you are seeing what that looks like this morning. The world says, “Look in” to find meaning and purpose. God says, “Look up.” Find me, and you’ll find yourself. Meaning and purpose in life won’t be found in anything or anyone other than your Creator—God. Once we do that, God says, “Now Look out.” Look out for others. Look to serve the interests of others.”

Here’s another great benefit when we embrace humility—we get more joy. The Holy Spirit awakens us to see those around us who are serving the body of Christ—and we see the impact it makes for the Kingdom.

What if everyone obeyed the command in verse 4—”Don’t look in—look out. Serve those around you.” You think the world would be different? It can be. If we do love our neighbors, our co-workers, our colleagues by serving them—they’re going to see a different way to do life. We’re gonna gain opportunities for Gospel conversations and introduce them to the Way of Jesus.

3. Stop Exploiting. Start Emptying.

When Paul writes “Adopt the same attitude as Christ Jesus,” he’s launching into a hymn that the early Christians would sing. The hymn begins by discussing Jesus’ divinity but how he chose to set his divine rights aside to serve.

Paul introduces two contrasting ideas in this passage—exploitation versus emptying. Exploitation is using one’s access to power to take from someone else. The result is you become more powerful and gain more control while the other person loses power and control. This is what Adam and Eve tried to do in the Garden of Eden with God. They tried to take advantage of their relationship with God and seize power from Him by eating the forbidden fruit. They valued power over God’s love.     

We are all like Adam and Eve. We want power, control, and comfort—and we chase after it instead of love. Our natural, sinful desires cause us to view people as means to an end. Like Adam and Eve, we want to be god—we stretch out our hands and try to take what rightfully only belongs to God. But Jesus, who IS God, did just the opposite. He didn’t stretch out his hands to exploit or take anything from us. He stretched out his hands on a cross to GIVE us what we could never GRASP for ourselves. He gave us the gift of salvation—eternal healing—by giving His life and then rising from the dead.

So God instructs us to adopt the attitude of Jesus—stop exploiting, start emptying. Stop grasping, start giving. This is how we combat the temptation to exploit others. Because when we empty ourselves in humility, when we give, we are putting to death our desire to take from others.

Paul continues with the hymn:

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.

My brother Trevin writes, “In a culture built on a code of honor and shame, the cross was the most shameful, most embarrassing way to die. Most depictions of the crucifixion show Jesus clothed. But crucifixions almost always involved stripping the person completely naked, so that they hung there, exposed and vulnerable. Crucifixion was meant to be a long and drawn-out death. People would suffer for days, slowly suffocating in their blood, while wild dogs circled below waiting to leap up and tear off their flesh.”

The Creator of the universe slain by his creation in the most humiliating way imaginable. By enduring the agony and humiliation of the cross, by dying, Jesus, the author and source of Life, was showing us, “This is what love looks like. This is what being God looks like.” This is how much I love you and the depths I will go to pour my life out for you, to serve you, to free you from sin.” This is true greatness.

When world leaders conduct international visits like Reagan’s summit in Moscow-all their movements and activities carefully scripted. All their interactions are meticulously planned. That’s why it was so odd to see the leader of the free world strolling thru Red Square shooting the breeze with Russians in the midst of the Cold War. It was weird. It was historic. It showed the world that maybe—just maybe–peace was possible between two long-standing adversaries. And it was completely off-script.

Here is something truly amazing. In Philippians 2, we see how the God of the universe humbled Himself to become a man and came to earth—thru the person of Jesus. But Jesus didn’t just walk the dusty streets of our cities chatting up townspeople about peace. He proved His power by healing the sick, defeating the darkness by casting out demons, calling out injustice. And then He humbly endured an agonizing death on the cross to free us. To end this war that we began against God when Adam and Eve’s rebelled in the Garden. Jesus’ death and resurrection made peace and reconciliation with God a reality. Jesus proved his longing for peace with a long-term adversary by his decision to go to the cross. He is the greatest peacemaker the world has ever seen—He earned the peace, He earned reconciliation we could never earn on our own. He did it as a servant, and at the cost of His own life. And here’s the other kicker—it was completely on script. See ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden—God promised a rescue plan—and everything in the Bible points to it—from the exodus, to the Judges, the Prophets, the exile—all were opening acts leading up to Jesus arriving on the scene.   

What should be our response? God tells us in this passage—go the distance to serve others. There’s no task that should be beneath you. So how do we become servants? We must adopt the habits of servanthood.

In the New York Times best-seller Atomic Habits, author James Clear explains we often fail to break bad habits and adopt new ones, because we usually try the wrong approach. Most habits we adopt are either outcome based or process-based. These are the first two levels of habits. Here’s an example. An outcome-based habit would be, “I want to volunteer 3 more hours each week.” We’re thinking about implementing a habit in terms of what we want to achieve. But Clear states there’s a far more impactful  way to approach habits that lead to lasting change and it involves changing our identity. So Clear would advise us to reframe the question and think not in terms of what we want to achieve but who do we want to become. I will volunteer 3 hours each week to become a servant of King Jesus. This is the identity-based approach to habits—and this is what Jesus commands us to do. I believe Jesus helps us understand this truth when he renames Simon Peter and James and John, the Zebedee brothers, the Sons of Thunder. He gives them faith-fortifying names that encourage them to lean into their new identity. Likewise, He is calling us to embrace a new identity. And in this passage, he’s telling us to embrace our identity as servants.

Growing up, my grandfather, repeatedly told me and my 3 siblings, “I never want to hear you say I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” Then he’d point at us and say “Ya’ll are King’s kids!” I would think to myself, “Okay, cool. So when does the game come on again?” I was a teenager. Attention span was minimal. Next Sunday, we’d head over to Grandpa and Grandma’s house after church. Same schpeel from Gramps, “I don’t ever want to hear ya’ll say ‘I’m just an old sinner saved by grace’ Ya’ll are King’s kids!” I didn’t really get what he was saying. I did understand he was emphatic about it. Sometimes he would say it with tears in eyes and get emotional. He was still saying it when Bethany and I were dating and married years later. Twenty years later—I understand. My grandpa was forcing me, my brothers, and my sister to understand we had a new identity. We weren’t captive to our sinful desires. We had been liberated from our sin thru Jesus, and we had become adopted sons and daughters of the King of Kings. And my Grandpa and the King of Kings wants us to live in that reality.

We are King’s kids—and so we are of infinite worth to God. But living in our identity as servants of the King who humbled himself and died for us on the cross reminds us both of our worth and our unworthiness. The road to greatness—true Kingdom greatness-is paved with humility. When we embark on this path, we’re traveling the pathway to joy. Why did Jesus empty instead of exploit? Because it was His identity as the Son of God and His nature to do so. We are called repeatedly throughout Scripture to start living in our new identity as sons and daughters of God and servants of the greatest Servant.

Some of you may be thinking, “I’m already a servant. I serve with Agape Kids, the worship team, quarantine, or Connections Team—and I’m tired.” You feel discouraged. You might be thinking, “I’ve been doing this during a pandemic over a year. But we need more help—PCS season is upon us—we’re losing other faithful servants to the movement cycle. But I need a break. I need a rest.” Let me just encourage you and tell you—it’s okay to feel tired. It’s OK to rest. God commands us, “Be still and know that I am God.” Isaiah tells us to wait on the Lord—so we pray for God to raise up fellow servants to help us, and we ask Him to renew our strength. Let me remind you, on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” We aren’t going to earn salvation, and we won’t earn God’s favor by serving. Jesus already did that for us. There will be moments when we need to pull back and rest. Times when we must ask God to renew us and reinvigorate us. He will. When He does, we continue along the pathway of joy by letting go, trusting Him, and following the example of our King and serving.  

How did God the Father respond to Jesus’ incredible humility and servanthood.

For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God the Father lifted the Son to the Heavens because of his incredible humility and sacrificial love. And one day—everyone in heaven and earth—will bow the knee, everyone in heaven and earth will confess and acknowledge the true greatness of Jesus. You and I have a choice—we can either bow the knee now and worship the King by obediently following the example of Jesus. We can bow the knee, empty ourselves, pick up the towel and serve others as an act of worship and service to the King. This is the path of true greatness. Or we can keep rebelling against him, trying to be god, demanding others serve us, exploiting people, but we’re going to eventually have to bow the knee. We’ll be forced to acknowledge His lordship on judgment day. But if we wait until then—it’ll be too late. Our rebellion against God will meet His justice—and it will be swift and final. The Bible consistently says those who reject the gift of God’s Son will spend eternity in a place of misery and suffering in hell. The Bible also tells usLife is a vapor. James 4:14 We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. If you haven’t already, you need to surrender TODAY.

Closing questions:

How about you?

1) Where do you need to start serving? What step will you take this week to serve the King? What would it look like to consider others more important than yourself?

2) Whose Kingdom are you building? Are you emptying yourself—pouring yourself out serving as an offering to King Jesus to build His Kingdom? Or are you exploiting people to build your kingdom?

Your kingdom won’t last. You can’t take it with you. Your possessions won’t bring you lasting joy. Advancing the Kingdom that never ends brings peace, meaning, and joy. You can make that decision today by asking God to forgive you of your sins and following Him in faith and obedience.

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