Sermon for Sunday, September 27th, 2020, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 25:1-14; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:28-32
The Text: Philippians 2:1-13
The Topic: St. Paul’s exhortation to humility
Castleward, a stately home, was built in the 1760s about thirty miles from Belfast, Ireland. The original owners of the house were Bernard Ward, the first Viscount of Bangor, and his wife, Lady Anne.
One of the most striking features of the house is its two styles of architecture. The rear of the house is built in Gothic style, while the front is neoclassical. It’s built that way because Bernard and Lady Anne could not agree on one style. Not only did they differ in their architectural preferences; they apparently had other differences, because Lady Anne eventually walked out of the marriage.
Depending on your point of view, the house is either a celebration of diversity or a monument to stubbornness.1
— Alan Wilson, Nyon, Switzerland
In marriage, the goal is not to build our own monuments to selfish stubbornness, but to fulfill the needs of our spouses and families, and to love and serve them as the Lord Jesus Christ came to serve. In all our relationships, following the example of the love and humility of the Lord Jesus should be a high priority.
In our Epistle/Second Lesson today, St. Paul begins his exhortation to the Philippian Christians by appealing to them to look to the Lord Jesus Christ as the source of consolation, comfort, love, fellowship of the Spirit, compassion and mercies (Philippians 2:1). He asks them to fulfil his joy on the basis of these virtues of which Christ is the source. So he calls them to be like minded, having the same love, in full accord, and having one mind. This appeal is made on the basis of the Lord Jesus Christ’s being the source of all the grace and all the virtues that they need to attain to this unity and to maintain it. The Lord Jesus Christ is both the source of all grace and virtue as well as the supreme example of all virtues.
By being firmly rooted in Christ the source of all grace and virtues, and by abiding in him through keeping his commandments and teaching, we shall grow in unity with him and with one another as Christians, having the same love and being united in one faith and purpose. In Ephesians 4:4-6 (KJV), St Paul reminds us:
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
This expression of the unity of God and the Church flows in the Epistle to the Ephesians from the exhortation to lowliness, meekness, patience, and loving forbearance (Eph. 4:2).
THE PERSPECTIVE OF HUMILITY
In explaining the practical outworking of humility, St. Paul considers motives, and the way in which we are to view ourselves and others. First of all, he declares, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory” (Phil. 2:3a, KJV). What does he mean by this? The Greek word translated as “strife” or “contentiousness” could also mean “selfish ambition,” or “selfishness”. The word “vainglory” means “personal vanity” or “conceit”. None of our words or actions must be motivated by selfishness or conceit. In fact, we should not do anything to try to impress others that we are somehow better than they are. In the second half of this statement, St. Paul exhorts Christians to be lowly in mind, humble, regarding others as better than ourselves. There is no place for the rat race in the Christian way of life. Indeed, we must not only do nothing out of selfishness, while being humble enough to regard others as better than ourselves, but we must go further, by not only having our own concerns in mind, but also those of others (Phil. 2:4).
Beyond these considerations, it is necessary for Christians to look to Christ for the kind of humility which they need to show in their lives, so much so, that the mind of Christ revealed through the humility of his birth here on earth, his life, his passion, and death on the cross, continually instructs the faithful. Though the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ did not think of his own divine nature and status something to be retained greedily, but he relinquished it all, “emptying himself” of divine glory and privilege, taking on human nature and the form of a servant. He further humbled himself to the point of obedience to God in dying on the cross (Phil. 2:6-8). What was the result of his humble obedience to death on the cross? The redemption of the world, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and God’s high exaltation of him by giving him a name above every other name, so that all creatures may worship him and acknowledge him as Lord, to the glory of God the Father ((Phil. 2:9-11).
LOOKING TO CHRIST’S EXAMPLE OF HUMILITY
In conclusion, as we look to Christ’s supreme example of love, obedience and humility, each of us must take care to follow that example of humble obedience to God’s perfect will, wherever it may lead us, so bearing the fruit of our salvation, honoring God and living in awe of him (Phil. 2:12). As we do this, we know God is at work in each of us, putting in our minds both good intentions of doing God’s will and the fulfillment of such intentions.
1p.270, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.