Developing an Others Orientation

Philippians 2:1-11

May 8, 2005 | Brian Bill

On this day that we honor mothers, we want those of you who are moms to know that you matter!  Unfortunately kids don’t always let their moms know the depth of their devotion but some younger school children have done so with these answers to the following questions.

Why did God make mothers?

  • She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
  • Mostly to clean the house.
  • To help us out of there when we were getting born.

What ingredients are mothers made of?

  • God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world…and one dab of mean.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?

  • We’re related.
  • God knew that she would like me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?

  • My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
  • I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.

What’s the difference between moms and dads?

  • Moms work at work and work at home, and dads just work at work.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?

  • On the inside she’s already perfect.  Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.

If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?

  • She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean.  I’d get rid of that.
  • I’d make my mom smarter.  Then she’d know it was my sister who did it and not me.
  • I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes in the back of her head.

As we come to the second chapter of Philippians this morning, it strikes me that more than anything else, what makes for good mothers is the ability to think of others more than they think of themselves.  Actually, that’s Paul’s passion for each of us.  If we call ourselves Christians and want to grow, and we desire this church to be all that it can be, we must develop an others orientation.  The Philippian church had been infected with the deadly disease of disunity and the only cure was to recommit to biblical servanthood.

Please turn to Philippians 2:1-11 where Paul gives us four essentials to help us become more oriented toward others.

1. Fathom the excellence of what we have (2:1). 

Many of us forget what we’ve been given.  Look at verse 1: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion.”  Normally the word “if” conveys doubt.  But here Paul is using a Greek grammatical form that actually expresses certainty.  He’s really saying, “If such-and-such is true – and I know that it is.”  A better translation would be “since.”  

  • Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ.  The word “encouragement” means “to come alongside to support and help.”  This consolation that comes from Christ was predicted by Simeon in Luke 2:25: “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel…”  We should be encouraged because we are commended by Christ and never have to face condemnation from Him as Romans 8:1 states: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  
  • Since you have comfort from his love.  The word “comfort” means the “alleviation of suffering and misery.”  Knowing that He lavishes His love on us should give us great comfort and security because He will never abandon us as promised in Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  
  • Since you have fellowship with the Spirit.  Knowing that we have immediate access to the Almighty gives us confidence that He is always available as Hebrews 4:16 states: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  
  • Since you have tenderness and compassion.  The word “compassion” literally refers to feeling something in your gut, to be moved in your intestines, if you will.  MacArthur writes that the Hebrews expressed attitudes and emotions in terms of physiological symptoms, not in abstractions.  And, recognizing that Christ is compassionate toward us should fill us with that same kind of compassion and tenderness toward others as stated in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Paul had this kind of feeling toward the Philippians in 1:8: “…I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” 

Every Christian has received these blessings.  This is similar to what is said in Ephesians 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” and 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” Friends, we have been blessed way beyond what we deserve.  Paul’s point is this: Since you’ve been given all this, shouldn’t you grant grace to others and do whatever it takes to promote peace and embrace unity? 

2. Fulfill the expectations of what we must do (2:2-4). 

We must do something with what we have.  Notice the word “then” in the first part of verse 2If (since) you have all these blessings, then do the following.  And when believers fulfill these expectations, Paul says that this will “make my joy complete.”  Once again, we see how Paul weaves joy into this letter.  His joy would be full if they fulfilled these commands.  The tense of this means we are to do so immediately and without delay.  As we go through these specific expectations, remember that we’ve been given the spiritual resources of verse 1 in order to fulfill them.  As someone has said, “God’s commands are not demands upon you but rather a demand upon the God who gave the command.”

It’s not enough to just think good thoughts or even to have warm fuzzy feelings; we must also have our souls joined together in one purpose; that of bringing glory to God by getting the gospel out
  • Resolve to pull together (2).  This is a very strong appeal to unity.  Look with me at verse 2: “…by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”   To be like-minded literally means, “To think the same thing.”  To have the “same love” gets to our feelings and our unconditional commitment to every Christian, whether we like them or not.  And to be “one in spirit and purpose” touches on how we relate to one another.  The Greek is helpful here because this phrase literally means, “same-souled.”  We have shared heads, hearts and hands.  Our thoughts should be on the same page; our feelings should move us toward each other; and then we must reach out and walk hand-in-hand.  It’s not enough to just think good thoughts or even to have warm fuzzy feelings; we must also have our souls joined together in one purpose; that of bringing glory to God by getting the gospel out.
  • Resist selfishness (3a).  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…”  The phrase “selfish ambition” means strife that comes from ugly self-promotion.  One pastor says that this speaks of a competitive spirit that destroys unity by dividing the church into groups and cliques.  This person thinks only of himself or herself, similar to Diotrephes in 3 John 9-10: “Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us….”  Selfishness and pride are at the root of every sin.  If you find yourself positioning for personal profit, if you must win every argument, if you think your sin smells better than others, than you’re in danger of being a Diotrephes.  If you’re thinking of someone who fits this description and you hope they’re listening, or wish they were here today, James 4:1 reminds us that the source of our conflict might actually be closer than we care to admit: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” 

In his book, “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis calls pride the great sin: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free, which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else…If anyone would like to acquire humility I can think tell him the first step.  The first step is to realize that one is proud…If you think you are not conceited, it means that you are very conceited indeed.” You’ll know that you’re making progress in this area when you begin to think less of your own abilities and more of your imperfections.  One pastor suggests some searching questions that each of us should ask…

Do I love to argue too much?

Do I worry whether others recognize my contributions?

Am I secretly envious of others?

Do I sometimes rejoice at the misfortunes of others?

Am I quick to criticize those who are different from me?

How much time do I spend talking about myself?

Do I do more talking than listening?

  • Regard others as more important (3b).  “…but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” This is a tough one because most of us secretly believe that we’re better than those around us.  But humility is a prerequisite for unity.  The word “humility” was often used to describe the mentality of a slave and had the idea of “base, shabby, low, and common.”  Someone has described humility as “insight into one’s insignificance.”  This is captured in Romans 12:3, 10: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”   Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as a good model of humility: “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

“To consider others better” is to think of others as superior to yourself.   This is a mathematical term which means, “Think about it and come to a conclusion.”  We are to count what is really there, add it up, and find out what is true.  A wonderful biblical example is found in Genesis 13 where we read that Abraham allowed Lot to choose whatever land he wanted.  He thought more highly of his nephew than he thought of himself and verse 8 says Abraham did it for the sake of unity: “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.”  When’s the last time you specifically did something to avoid an argument?

Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist, tells of a Christian he once knew in China.  He was a poor rice farmer, and his fields lay high on a mountain.  Every day he pumped water into the paddies of new rice, and every morning he returned to find that a neighbor who lived down the hill had opened the dikes surrounding the Christian’s field to let the water fill his own.  For awhile he tried to ignore the injustice but then he couldn’t take it any more so he decided to meet and pray with another Christian and came up with this solution.  The next day the Christian farmer rose early in the morning and first filled his neighbor’s fields; then he attended to his own.  Watchman Nee tells how the neighbor subsequently became a Christian because of this genuine demonstration of humility and Christian character (as quoted by James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians,” Page 107).

  • Remember the needs of others (4).  I heard Ken Marley use an expression recently that I had never heard before.  Instead of saying, “Me-first,” we really should say, “Me-third.”  That means that God is first, everyone else is second, and I’m third.  Warren Wiersbe uses J.O.Y. as an acrostic to help us see the importance of putting the needs of others first.  “J” stands for Jesus first.  “O” is for others.  “Y” is for yourself last.  That’s what the Apostle Paul is saying in verse 4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  To “look” is to fix one’s attention on, with great interest in.  Some of us need to take our eyes off ourselves and literally lift them to look at others.  This lines up with what our Lord taught in Mark 10:44: “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

Chuck Swindoll suggests a great application for verses 3-4 by asking us to fill in the blanks of this paraphrase with the names of two people we’re struggling with right now: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard as more important that yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of.”

3. Follow the example of Christ (2:5-8). 

We don’t have to wonder how God wants us to live because the Messiah is our model

Aren’t you glad that you don’t have to make your own roadmap to maturity?  We don’t have to wonder how God wants us to live because the Messiah is our model.  Our attitudes and actions should reflect the example of Christ.  Look at verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” This means that we are to set our minds on the Master.

  1. Gresham Machen gave an unforgettable commencement address in 1929: “It is a serious step, in these days…to become a Christian…the man who today enters upon the Christian life is enlisting in a warfare against the whole current of the age.”  After challenging students to hold to pure doctrine by resisting an easier, culture-friendly version of Christianity, Machen gave the graduating class some advice that is equally applicable today: “Read the Gospels…Just read them; just let the stupendous figure of Jesus stand before your eyes and become convinced that the pathway of true progress leads to the feet of Jesus” (As quoted in, 5/3/05).

Let’s study the steps that Jesus took by looking at the different downward levels taken by the Lord.

  • Sovereign (6).  Philippians 2:6 states that Jesus has always existed and He is God: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”   He did not have to “grasp” on to the glory of God.  It was not something He had to defend or hold on to.  He let it go to come to our world.  Have you ever stopped to wonder what it must have been like for Jesus to leave the holiness of heaven and come to the woes of our world?   He had been eternally surrounded by unimaginable beauty and then He was birthed among beasts, both of the animal and human variety.  1 Timothy 3:16 speaks of the mystery of Godliness, namely that “He appeared in a body.”  This is the crux of Christmas.  That’s why He was given the name “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
  • Servant (7).  Jesus went from sovereignty to servanthood.  Verse 7 says that He made “himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.”  The Greek literally means that “He emptied Himself.”  Listen carefully.  Jesus never abandoned His deity, but He did empty Himself of some things while He was on earth.  

– He willingly gave up His glory.  That’s why later in His ministry, shortly before He died, Jesus asked the Father to give Him His glory back in John 17:5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” 

– He gave up His honor.  The Majesty allowed Himself to be mistreated, He was hated and mocked and spit upon.  Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

– He rejected His riches.  2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

It wasn’t that Jesus lost any of His divine attributes; He simply chose to not use them.  He had the prerogative of Majesty but chose the place of a menial servant.  Jesus described Himself this way in Luke 22:27: “But I am among you as one who serves.” 

  • Submission (8a).  As God, He emptied Himself, as man He humbled Himself. Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance as a man.”  In this step down, Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to hunger and pain and tiredness and emotions and other human limitations, and yet never sinned.  Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.” 
  • Sacrifice (8b).  In this final step down, we see exactly why Jesus came to earth.  He was born to die.  His death was no accident; He came on purpose to die in our place.  The last part of Philippians 2:8 reads: “He humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!”  Death on a cross was brutal and barbaric and was not even talked about in polite Roman society circles.  Ancient writers used to say that to die on a cross was to die a thousand times before you take your last breath.  May I suggest that this was not the worst of it for Jesus?  The most painful element of his death is that when He died, all the smelly sins and terrible transgressions of the entire world were placed on His shoulders.  And when He hung on the cross as our sacrificial sin substitute, God the Father had to look away, causing the Son to cry out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Because He was fully man He could take our punishment upon Himself and because He is fully God, the shedding of His blood satisfied divine justice.  Jesus is both just and the justifier.  1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 

4. Focus on the exaltation of Christ (2:9-11). 

The Sovereign became a Servant and was Submissive in order to be our Sacrifice.  And then He was exalted to the highest place once again.  Verses 9-11 describe this three-fold exaltation.

  • God has exalted His name.  Verse 9: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”  There is nothing higher than Jesus; everything else is below Him.
  • Everyone will bow in allegiance to Him.  Verse 10: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Those in heaven will hit the ground before His glory, which includes the angelic host and all the believers who have died before us.  Those on earth will bow, which includes skeptics, agnostics and atheists, even those who mocked Him when He was alive.  And those who are under the earth will bow, which refers to the unsaved who have died, and Satan and all his demons.  It’s much better to bow willingly while there is still time than to wait until it’s too late.  You’re going to bow either way.  It’s just a matter of time.  Here’s the question: Will you voluntarily humble yourself before the Lord or wait until you’re forced to do so?
  • Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  Verse 11: “And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the quintessential confession of Christianity.  To know Christ as Savior is to confess Him as Lord.  The Lordship of Christ is at the core of what it means to be a Christian.  Is He the Lord of your life?

I can think of two applications this morning. 

1. Decide to be saved. 

In hearing these last three verses, the question suddenly becomes very personal and very urgent: Have you bowed before Christ and have you confessed that He is your Lord and Savior?  If not, why not?  You’re going to do it sooner or later.  It’s much better to do it now, isn’t it?  You may want to pray this prayer along with me: “Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I bow before you right now and confess that you are my Lord.   I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  I believe and gratefully receive you as my Risen Savior.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I confess that you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and that you rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I want to cross over from death to life.  I ask you now by faith to come into my life so that I may serve you forever and learn to put you first, others second, and me last.  Amen.”

2. Determine to be a servant. 

According to one study I read, if a mom was fully compensated for all she does, her annual salary would be over $500,000!   Children don’t always appreciate their moms, but as we get older, we certainly celebrate all that you do!  It’s obvious that we can’t afford to pay you, but we sure want you to know how much we value you.  And for all of us, let’s fathom the excellence of what we have, and fulfill the expectations of what we must do by resolving to pull together, resisting selfishness, regarding others as more important, and by remembering the needs of others.  Make sure you’re following the example of Christ and focus on His coming exaltation.  You might get paid for other things you do, but to develop an others orientation…as the commercial says, “That’s priceless.”  And then you’ll hear those words we all want to hear from the lips of the one whose name is above all names: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?