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United We Stand - Part 3

Tom Pennington Philippians 2:1-5


In the year A.D. 30, the Sunday that preceded Passover was in the Jewish month of Nisan on the ninth day of the month. It was this Sunday almost 2000 years ago. Two days before, on Friday, Jesus had arrived at Bethany at the home of His dear friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus. There He stayed for the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday. Bethany, and the small nearby hamlet of Bethphage, which was mentioned in the passage I read a few minutes ago, were just over the hill from the Mount of Olives. And in fact, both were less than a mile from the eastern gate of the city of Jerusalem.

On Sunday of the Passion Week, as the day dawned on this Sunday in A.D. 30, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on the small foal of a donkey accompanied by the shouts and hosannas of a large crowd, undoubtedly many of them there, part of the two million plus who gathered in that small city, for the celebration of Passover annually. Matthew tells us that Jesus did this to fulfill Zechariah 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you … Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Think about that for a moment. It's really staggering. The Son of God entered the city of Jerusalem not on the powerful symbol of a white stallion, not even on a full-grown donkey, but on a donkey's small colt, a small, humble animal. Occasionally in the Old Testament, kings rode donkeys as they entered a city if their intention was peace toward that city. But Zechariah tells us that there was another reason Christ made this unusual choice. It was to demonstrate His own humility. "Your king is coming to you … humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

That kind of humility stands in direct opposition to the mindset and attitude of the culture in which we live. A couple of years ago, I read an article about a program that had appeared on MTV. It was called, "The Seven Deadly Sins" was the name of the program. It reviewed those sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, envy, gluttony and sloth. Now those aren't a biblical list; rather they come from medieval theology, from the Middle Ages. But this program was a collection of sound bites from various people who were famous in our culture meant to summarize our culture's attitudes about those sins. None of those sins were as roundly defended as the sin of pride. One rap star said, "Pride is a sin? I wasn't aware of that." That's not shocking. Another popular musician, Ice-T, said, "Pride is mandatory. That's one of the problems of the inner city. Kids don't have enough pride. I got into a gang because of pride." But I think actress Kirstie Alley summarized in chilling terms the attitude of our culture when she said, "I don't think pride is a sin, and I think some idiot made that up."

The most common New Testament word for pride literally means "to show one's self above." It describes a haughty superiority, to kind of see one's self as the standard against which everyone else should be measured. Pride was the first sin in the universe, the mouth of Satan who lifted himself above the very throne of God. It was part of the first human sin; in fact, some theologians argue that pride was the essence of that first sin. And it comes naturally to us through our sin nature. Romans 1:30 says that pride is a part of the package we inherited from our parents.

Jonathan Edwards, the famous American theologian, wrote this about pride,

Pride is the worst viper in the heart. It is the first sin that ever entered the universe. It lies lowest of all in the foundation of the whole building of sin. It is the most secret, deceitful and unsearchable in its ways of working of any lust whatsoever. It is ready to mix with everything and nothing is so hateful to God, contrary to the spirit of the gospel, or of so dangerous consequence. And there is no one sin that does so much, let in the devil into the hearts of the saints and expose them to his delusions.

Did you notice he said pride is deceitful? That is, we don't even recognize it in ourselves often. It's like the man who wrote the book The Ten Most Humble People in the World and How I Taught the Other Nine.

Pride is deceitful. It makes its way into our hearts and lives and demonstrates itself in ways we don't even notice. Pride, in fact, expresses itself in a variety of ways. I can't give you all of them because they're endless, but let me give you a few ways pride expresses itself in our hearts.

First of all, we can be proud of our accomplishments and our wealth, our accomplishments and our wealth. Listen to Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon. Daniel 4:30, "The king reflected and [as he looked at that incredible city, home of one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon] he … [says,] 'Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?'"

Well, maybe we don't use those words, but we too can be lifted up because of our accomplishments or because of our wealth.

We can also be proud of our position and our status. In Matthew 23:6 and 7, Christ, speaking of the Pharisees and the spiritual leaders of the day, He says,

"They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men."

They like titles. They like position and status and we too can become proud of our position and our status, whatever that may be in our particular circle.

We can be proud of our spiritual activities. Matthew 23:5. He says of the Pharisees, "… they do all their deeds to be noticed by men…." He's talking about their spiritual deeds. All of their spiritual activities were done so that other people would praise them. It's a remarkable statement. They do all their deeds to be noticed by men, and then He gives a couple of examples. They wanted people to see their spiritual activity, and they wanted to be puffed up, to have their pride stroked, because others noticed. We too can be tempted in that way.

Fourthly, pride can express itself in our being lifted up because of our spiritual gifts, responsibilities and privileges. Listen to Romans 12:3. Paul says, "… through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think … as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." In that verse, Paul is talking about spiritual gifts and he's saying, "Listen, you're going to be tempted to look at your spiritual gift, your privileges, your opportunities and be lifted up, but I want you to have a sober judgment. I want you to see that you have had this allotted to you. You've had this doled out to you by God."

We can be lifted up with pride because of our knowledge. That's a real temptation in a teaching church like ours, a church that's committed to the faithful exposition of God's Word. We can become lifted up because of what we know. Listen to 1 Corinthians 8:1. "Knowledge makes arrogant." And his point is if it's not accompanied by love, if it's not accompanied by a corresponding growth in our spiritual virtue, knowledge only puffs us up.

We can also be proud of our spiritual convictions. First Corinthians 4:6 is a very interesting verse. Paul says this, "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us [listen to what he says] you may learn [the meaning of this saying] not to exceed what is written, [not beyond what has been written]." [You see, there is a temptation in all of us to go beyond what Scripture has to say. But the construction of this verse shows that Paul was referring to a saying that was common in the early church. It's one that my father-in-law beat into my head, "mei huper hagiographi," not beyond what has been written. What happens when we go beyond the Scripture, when we start setting and defining standards and convictions beyond what the Scripture does? Listen to what Paul says,] "so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." [That's what happens. We can become proud of our convictions.]

First Corinthians 4:7, the very next verse though answers all temptation to human pride against other believers, against other people. Listen to what Paul says, "For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" There's the answer to all of those things. Why do we boast in what we've received? It was given to us as a gift by God. Whether it was accomplishments and wealth, whether it's position and status, whether it's the ability to do spiritual exercises and activities, whether it's our own spiritual gifts, whether it's our knowledge, whether it's even our desire to obey God by setting up convictions, all of that was a gift from God so why do we exalt ourselves? It's because we are naturally prone to pride.

Pride is the greatest enemy to unity. We saw that last time. As we looked at Philippians 2, we saw that those two twin sins of selfishness and empty conceit are built on the foundation of pride. God wants us to be different from our culture. And through Paul, He demands our unity and He tells us that our unity can only flourish where pride is replaced by humility. That's the message of Philippians 2 and I want us to look again this morning at the first five verses of Philippians 2. We've looked twice before at this passage and this morning I hope to finish it. You follow along as I read Philippians 2:1 to 5. Paul writes,

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there's any consolation of love, if there's any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.

This passage is all about spiritual unity. We've been studying it together. Let me remind you of what Paul has taught. In the first verse, we saw the basis of our unity, that is, those realities that draw us together. We've all been consoled in the love of Christ. We've all been encouraged by that love. We've all enjoyed the fellowship of the Spirit. We've participated in and received the affection and compassion of God shown to us in forgiveness. Therefore we can be united.

Verse 2 identifies the essence of our unity. Basically, it defines what real unity is. It's having the same mind, thinking alike and specifically "maintaining the same love" for each other that God has for us, being one soul, they're "united in spirit," and having one cause, "intent on one purpose." There's the essence of unity.

Last time, we looked at the first part of verse 3 which describes the enemies of unity. Verse 3, the first part of verse 3, uncovers two specific attitudes that are always the enemies of unity, "selfishness or selfish ambition" and "empty conceit."

But that brings us today to Paul's final point. It begins in the middle of verse 3 and runs through verse 5, and it's the mindset of unity, the disposition that guarantees unity. Specifically, there are four very specific attitudes that will foster, promote and encourage unity, four very specific attitudes that will promote unity in the church. We must as a church and individually commit ourselves to pursuing these attitudes. And if we do, Paul says, it will produce unity.

Now what are these necessary attitudes?

The first one I would put it this way: cultivate genuine humility, cultivate genuine humility. Notice verse 3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind." The word "but" introduces the opposite attitude of selfishness and empty conceit, and it's their only antidote. The word "humility of mind" never appears in Greek literature before the New Testament. A form of it occurs, but it's always used negatively to describe someone who's timid and weak and spineless. But a related word, "lowly," occurs 270 times in the Greek Old Testament, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. We meet that often, remember, in various passages in the Old Testament where we're told that God dwells with the lowly of mind.

This word in Philippians 2 translated "humility of mind" really means lowly-mindedness. Now it's not an attitude of self-abuse. It's not somebody who sits in the corner and moans about how awful he is. It's not the sort of Eeyore approach to Christianity. Instead, it's a willingness to assume the position of a servant. This is a necessary virtue. If you're in Christ, this is a necessary virtue for you. Listen to what the Scriptures say. Paul in Acts 20:19 says to the Ephesian elders, that he "served the Lord in all humility." Ephesians 4:2 says if we're going to walk in a way worthy of our calling, it will be in humility. Colossians 3:12 says if you've been chosen by God, then put on humility. First Peter 5:5 says, "all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." This is an absolutely crucial virtue for us as believers.

And by the way, this virtue has always been important to God. Let me show you even in the Old Testament. Turn to Psalms, the book of Psalms, and specifically Psalm 138, Psalm 138. And this is just a sample of some of those 270 occurrences of the word "lowly" in the Old Testament. Psalm 138:6: "For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty [or the proud] He knows from afar." God holds the proud at arm's distance, but He knows the person who is lowly in his thinking about himself.

But let me show you an illustration of this. Turn to 2 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 34, 2 Chronicles 34. Let me remind you of the scene. The king in Judah at this point is Josiah, a young man who has a heart for God. And in the process of repairing the temple, the book of the Law of God is found. It's unthinkable that it had been lost, but it's found. And notice 2 Chronicles 34:18,

Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, "Hilkiah the priest gave me a book." And Shaphan read from it in the presence of Josiah. When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes.

[And then he sends to inquire of, in this case, a prophetess Huldah. And she says in verse 23,]

"Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Tell the man who sent you to Me, thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am bringing evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the curses written in the book which they have read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place and it shall not be quenched."'

[But notice the response to Josiah, verse 26.]

"But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you," declares the LORD. "Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants. And they brought back the words to the king."

God responded to the humility of Josiah, and He held off His judgment until Josiah's death. God has always responded to those who are humble toward Him.

When we come to the New Testament, we discover that humility always accompanies genuine salvation. You remember in the Sermon on the Mount, the very first beatitude? Christ says to the crowds that were listening, "[Happy or] blessed are the poor in spirit." Literally, "happy or blessed are those who see themselves as beggars in spirit." They have nothing to offer God. They come to Him as beggars. That's the very first step on the road to salvation. It's coming to the end of yourself. It's recognizing that you are a beggar in spirit. If you've never come there, then you're probably not in Christ.

In fact, when you come to Luke 18:14, you remember the story Christ told of the Pharisee and the tax gatherer, both of whom went to the temple to pray. And the Pharisee in his pride issues his prayer, and then the tax collector won't even raise his eyes toward heaven, but instead he beats on his breast and he says, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner." Listen to what Christ's commentary on that was. Jesus said, "I tell you that this man [that is, the tax gatherer] went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." You see what Christ is saying? Humility always comes with the heart that seeks salvation.

Moreover, in the New Testament, God, and in the Old, God directly links humility in the heart of a believer to God's giving of grace to that person. Three times we find the verse repeated, Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5. We're told in all of those verses that God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. In fact, let's look at one of those passages together. Turn with me to 1 Peter 5, 1 Peter 5. I want to take just a moment to walk you through this because it has a very practical application for how you and I can pursue humility. First Peter 5:5 to 7. The heart of this passage is the Proverb. You see it in the New American Standard Bible it's in all caps. "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT HE GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." That's a quote from Proverbs 3:34. God is opposed to the proud. That word "opposed" is a military term. It means to set up arms against. We could put it this way, God surrounds to conquer the proud heart. He resists, He takes up His military weapons against, but He gives grace to the humble. Now let me just say that the, the humble don't deserve grace. Grace by definition means it's unmerited. But God for His own purposes has chosen to bestow grace on those who are humble.

Now when you look at this passage, verses 5 to 7, around this Proverb are three very practical commands. And these practical commands are what I would call the path from pride to humility. You want to lose the pride that wraps itself and, and captures your heart? Then obey these very practical commands and you will be moving away from pride toward humility. Let me show you what they are.

First of all in verse 5, the first command is "be subject to your elders." Now, I believe that's not referring to older men, but rather to the office of elders. Let me, if I had time, I could thoroughly defend that, but let me just give you a brief reason. If you'll notice, the first four verses of this chapter are talking about the office of elder. There's no reason to believe he changes in verse 5. Also, the verb that Peter uses here in verse 5, "be subject," he uses that verb six times in his epistles. It always has to do with those who are in a position of authority, subjecting yourself to those in a position of authority. So younger men are singled out here honestly because it's often younger men who struggle the most with this very practical command. But we're all to be subject to the elders of the church.

The general principle though that flows out of this, the first step on the path to humility, is to submit yourself to all of those who are in proper human authority over you. Maybe it's the elders of this church. Maybe it's your employer. Maybe it's the government. Maybe if you're still living at home, it's your parents. But humility begins by recognizing that God in His wisdom has put authority in your life, and you must submit to that authority. Proud people refuse to do that, and that's why he's urging this upon them.

There's a second very practical step in the path from pride to humility here. Not only be subject to your elders, but notice also, verse 5, "clothe yourselves with humility." The word "clothe yourself" is a rare Greek word. In fact, it's only here in the New Testament. It refers to tying the white scarf or apron of a slave onto your person. It's what distinguished in the Roman culture, what distinguished slaves from free man. It was a piece of clothing. Peter, of course, is remembering one very stark event in the life of Christ on the night before His crucifixion when Christ gird Himself with the apron or towel of a slave and washed the feet of the disciples. What is Peter saying? He's saying clothe yourselves with humility, that is, be willing to become the servant of others. You want to move from pride to humility? Then be subject to those God has placed over you in positions of authority. And secondly, determine to become a servant of other people. Tie on the apron or towel of a slave.

The third practical command is found in verse 6, "humble yourselves before God." This is really the first step. The word "humble" literally means to make low. There's a synonym for this word that's used in James and it means to place or rank under. It's a military term. It means to submit to your superiors. It means to submit your will to the will of another. Humble yourselves, submit your will to the will of God. How do you do that? Well, verse 7 shows us how, "casting (all your care upon Him or) all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." You'll notice that "casting" is a participle if you remember a little bit of your English from school. It's modifying the main verb of the sentence which is "humble." So "casting" tells how you "humble." You humble yourself before God by casting all your anxiety upon Him. So in other words, to humble ourselves before God means that there is a prayerful spirit of dependence on the God whose power has no limits. You see, true humility begins with a recognition of the character and perfection of God. And that always leads, when we get a picture of who God is, that always leads to a sober recognition of what we really are and that produces humility.

You remember Isaiah, in Isaiah 6? I saw the Lord, "in the year that King Uzziah died [he says] I saw the Lord high and lifted up." What was his response to that overwhelming vision? Verse 5, he says, "Woe is me, I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King." If you want to be humbled, then look at yourself honestly, but start by looking at God. Look at His greatness, look at His holiness, look at His magnificence, and you will be humbled as a result. You see, when we struggle with pride, it's because we haven't really come to know God in all of His glory and majesty. Therefore, we haven't really gained a right perspective about ourselves.

You and I must cultivate genuine humility by submitting to proper human authority, by willingly becoming the servant of others and by humbling ourselves before God by casting in prayerful dependence all of our anxiety upon Him and not feeling that you and I can bear it alone. What Paul wants us to understand in Philippians 2 is that when each of us cultivates that kind of humility, we will be united. So, if we want to pursue the mindset of unity, first we must cultivate genuine humility.

Secondly, back in Philippians 2, Paul tells us we must contemplate others' importance, contemplate others' importance. Notice verse 3, "but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves," regard one another as more important than yourselves. The word "regard" means to think or consider. It doesn't mean to pretend. You know, proud people often can pretend they're humble, and they do often do that. But this word "regard" instead describes what one writer calls "a conscious, sure judgment resting on a careful weighing of the facts." Many of you have had to do your term in the jury system serving on jury duty. You were called upon as a juror to hear the evidence, to weigh that evidence and then come to a verdict based on the evidence. That's what this word "regard" means. It means you and I are to listen to the evidence, we're to weigh the evidence, and we're to come to a verdict.

What is the verdict? Paul says that others are more important than we are. To be more important literally means to rise above or to surpass or to excel. It's used in an interesting way in the papyri, that is, those little pressed together reeds from the bank of the, of the Nile that were used for writing in the ancient world which were found in the sort of dump piles of the ancient world and now are useful in helping us understand biblical words. This word is used in this way, of a boy who was preparing for the games, "In an exceeding short time, he will far excel them," speaking of his competitors. That's what it means, "to excel, to go beyond." This same word is used two other times in Philippians, in 3:8 of "the surpassing value of knowing Christ" and in 4:7, of "the peace which surpasses all comprehension." What's Paul saying? The bottom line is this. We are to take a careful look at the evidence and come to the sure verdict that other people are superior to and surpass us. Now what does that mean?

Well, it doesn't mean, and this is important, it doesn't mean that everyone else's gifts are superior to yours necessarily. Nor does it necessarily mean that everyone else is more intelligent than you are or more capable than you are. We're told by Paul in Romans 12 that we're to think soberly about ourselves, we're to assess honestly where our gifts lie. Sometimes our gifts are superior to others. Sometimes they're not. That's not what Paul is saying. What he's saying here is that we are to see everyone else as deserving of more honor and more respect, as being more important to the work of God than we are. You see, humility changes our perspective not only about ourselves, but about others.

Lloyd-Jones writes this, "We are all to hold such a view of ourselves and our own condition that we esteem others better than ourselves. This is the apostle's way of saying that if we only knew ourselves as we really are, we should inevitably behave like that."

You see, we know our hearts better than we know anyone else's heart, but we don't even know our heart as well as God knows our hearts. Remember Jeremiah 17? "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can know it?" But we know almost nothing about the person sitting next to us and what's in their heart. In fact, as we learned last week, we're supposed to believe the best about that person.

So, you can see that if I begin to compare what I know to be true about myself with what I know about others, the scale quickly tips, and it really becomes no effort at all to believe that others are more important to the work of God than I am. You say, is this really practical? I mean, has anybody ever lived this way? The answer is yes. Paul himself is consistent. Listen to what Paul says about himself. Remember, we're talking about the apostle Paul, personally handpicked by Christ. He saw the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road. Listen to what he says in Ephesians 3:8, [I am] the very least of all saints." Paul wasn't putting on a false humility. He believed that. I am the very least of all saints. First Corinthians 15:9, "I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." First Timothy 1:15, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am [chief or] foremost of all." I'm the biggest one. Again, Paul wasn't feigning a false humility. This was the expression of his heart.

How could Paul, how could the apostle of Jesus Christ conclude that about himself? Well, I think there were two realities that kept Paul humble like that. I think the first is that he habitually viewed himself in the contrast of the blaze of God's glory and majesty. You see, if you and I would honestly look at God for who He is, then it wouldn't be much at all, much effort at all, to come to the conclusion that we are nothing, that we are awful sinners, and we deserve nothing but His wrath and that anybody must be better than we are.

But I think there's a second reality that led Paul to see himself as less important than others and that was the cross of Jesus Christ. I think as Paul looked at the cross and he saw what was paid there for his sin, he was humbled. Again, Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it like this.

I am told that I am to esteem others better than myself, and there is only one thing that can make me do that. There is only thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God and especially to contemplate the cross. Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner and that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I am humbled to the dust. I say that no one can be worse than I am. I am the chief of sinners and anyone must be better. Nothing but the cross can make a man esteem others better than himself. Nothing but the cross of Christ can give us this spirit of humility.

Isaac Watts put it like this. "When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride." You see, when we struggle with pride, it's because we haven't recently paused to contemplate God's majesty, His greatness, His holiness. Or we haven't stopped to meditate on the cross of Jesus Christ and what was done there because of who we really are. If we had, we would be humbled. And if we were humble, the necessary result would be unity.

The specific attitudes that encourage unity are one, cultivate genuine humility, two, contemplate others' importance. And thirdly, verse 4, consider others' interests, consider others' interests. Notice verse 4. "do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." The word "to look out for" is also translated "to keep one's eye on," "to watch out for." Watch out for the interests of others. You see, it's natural for us to look out for our own interests. Philippians 2:21, Paul says of everybody except Timothy "they all seek their own interests." That's just the way we are. It's part of who we are as sinners. What Paul is talking about here when he's dealing with this issue of humility is not the false humility that some put on, you know, those who pretend to be humble so that other people look at them more and look at how humble they are. That's not what he's talking about. Instead, he's saying true humility is not self-focused at all. It is always looking at others, always looking to serve.

What does it mean to look out for the interests of others? Well, obviously it doesn't mean to neglect your own affairs. That's not what Paul is saying. We have a responsibility and a stewardship. What it is saying is that we are to look out first for the interests and needs of others. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:24, "Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor." It means to seek the welfare of others before I seek my own.

Now how will this practically affect your life this week? If you put the interests of others ahead of your own, what difference will it make? Well, there are a number of ways that it would express itself. Let me give you just a few.

First of all, according to Matthew 18:6, if you're really putting others' interests before your own, you will make every effort not to cause others to sin. If you really care about others more than yourself and their welfares before your own, then even if you're about to do something that may be allowed you by Scripture, if you know it's going to cause someone else to sin, you won't do it because they're more important to you than you are. Their interests are ahead of your own.

Romans 12:15 says that you will "rejoice with those that rejoice." You see someone else get a promotion, you see someone else put forward and you'll rejoice with them instead of being filled with jealousy and envy because you put their interests ahead of your own interests. You'll also "weep with those that weep." You see someone who's distraught in the midst of life's troubles, you will weep with them. In other words, you will allow the troubles of others to unsettle your own rest. You'll weep with those that weep.

Romans 15:1 says that we'll "bear the weaknesses of those without strength." If you're thinking about others instead of yourself, you're going to look for those who are struggling, either struggling because of their temporal issues, maybe they're without work, maybe they have someone in the hospital, they have a dying relative. Or perhaps they're struggling spiritually. You're going to come and you're going to bear their weaknesses. You're going to put your arm around them and try to help. Even though you're busy, even though you have much to do, you're gonna put their interests ahead of your own.

First Corinthians 12:22 to 26 says that we will honor and prefer those with less visible gifts. If we're really going to look out for the interests of others, we're not going to be self-promoting, but instead we're going to hold up those who maybe serve the Lord, but not in such visible and obvious ways. We're going to encourage them. We're going to look out for them.

And 2 Corinthians 11:29 says that if we really put others' interests ahead of our own, we will be deeply affected by the struggles of others. Listen to what Paul says, "Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?"

You see, if you put others' interests ahead of your own, what happens in their lives matters to you. You don't operate blissfully on, shaking your head as if, "Oh well, there must be something awful going on in their life. God must be judging them." Instead, you're going to be deeply concerned about what's going on. You're going to share that burden and that struggle.

As you can see, to consider others' interests before your own means that we really begin to live for others. And folks, let's just be honest. This is extremely difficult. Contrary to what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, and you'll rarely hear me quote him favorably and this is no exception, he said, "It's easy to live for others. Everybody does. I call on you to live for yourselves." Now there's a man out of touch with reality. To live for others requires dying to self. It requires an act of divine grace because we are naturally prone to live for ourselves.

Let me ask you a question individually. Do you want this church to be united, to be unified, to maintain the same love that Christ has for us, to be united in spirit, to be intent on one purpose? Then you and I as individuals, we must cultivate humility, we must contemplate the fact that others are more important than we are, and we must consider others' interests before our own. That's the cause from which unity results.

The final attitude that Paul shows us here that will promote unity is, verse 5, "copy Christ's example, copy Christ's example." "Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus." Now verse 5 is a transition verse. It looks back to the issue of unity and humility and it looks ahead to the supreme example of humility, Christ Himself, that we'll study in verses 6 through 11. Have this attitude, he says. That refers back to that mindset of humility, of regarding others as more important than yourself, of pursuing first the interests of others. And he says that mindset is crucial for unity. We're told to have it in ourselves, "in yourselves," he says, verse 5 - probably better translated "among yourselves." In the community of the church, as we live together among yourselves, have this attitude.

And then Paul sets forth Christ as the supreme example of the kind of humility that puts everyone else first. And Christ was that way. The story of His life is an amazing example of that. Listen to just a few of the verses the New Testament records about Christ. Matthew 11:29, Jesus says of Himself, "I am gentle and humble in heart." Matthew 20:28, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." Luke 22:27, "For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves?" Which one is greater, the guy sitting there at the table eating or the servant who's serving him? Christ responds, "Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." Even though I'm greater than you are, I'm here to serve you.

Romans 15:2: "Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself." First Corinthians 10:33 through the first verse of chapter 11 says:

just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I am also of Christ.

Paul says, "Listen, I'm seeking for others. I'm living for their interests. I'm imitating Christ in doing that and I want you to imitate me."

Two weeks from today, we'll study Philippians 2:6 through 11. But notice briefly the mindset that we're to imitate, the mindset that Christ had that we're to copy, verses 6 through 8,

who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing [to be held onto] to be grasped, but He emptied Himself, [that is, He laid aside His divine privileges] … [and He took the form of a slave,] and … [He was] made in the likeness of men. [Now to us, that doesn't sound very bad because we're made in the likeness of man, but for the divine, eternal Son of God to take on temporal flesh, to take on the flesh of a creature, was a great act of humility]. [And] Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. [Think of it, the eternal Son of God subjecting Himself to death. But not just any death, Paul tells us. It was] "… death on a cross."

You remember the Law said, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." He subjected Himself not to the noble death of a king fighting as a warrior, but to the death of a common criminal slain as if He were a sinner. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." Christ is the supreme example of one who put others' interests ahead of His own.

How can you and I truly cultivate the mindset that we've learned about in this passage this morning? Let me just give you a couple of thoughts in closing, a couple of practical things you can do to pursue this mindset.

Number one, begin by realizing that you're proud. That's a hurdle for us as humans, but it's a temptation that's common to all of us. Begin by acknowledging and realizing that we're tempted to pride.

Secondly, work to cultivate humility by meditating on the cross and on the holiness of God and by being honest about our own condition.

Thirdly, pray for God's enabling grace. You remember 1 Peter 5:7? We show our humility before God by casting all of our anxiety upon Him. Start by doing that. Stop shouldering everything yourself as if you could run your own little world and humble yourself before God.

Number four, choose to regard others as more important than yourself. Just make a choice. Choose to regard others as more important than you are, as more important to the work of God, as deserving of greater respect and honor than you.

Number five, determine to focus on the interests and needs of others. Determine to get outside of yourself, to stop thinking about yourself and wallowing in self-pity or whatever it may be and to begin to live on behalf of others.

And number six, copy the amazing example our Lord has set. "Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus."

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for Your Word. Thank you for the clarity with which it speaks to the issues of our lives. Lord, we want to be unified as a church. Help us to cultivate humility. Lord, help us to consider each other as more important than ourselves. Help us to put each other's interests ahead of our own. And Lord, help us to follow the amazing example of our Lord.

And Lord, I pray this morning for someone who perhaps has come in and is worshipping with us, maybe a long-time participant in this church who still lives in pride, who has never bowed the knee in humility before You, has never submitted to Your Son. Lord, I pray this morning You would bring them into the dust, that You would crush their hearts before You and that they would see themselves as deserving only of Your wrath, that the pride they have exerted is an affront to You. And Lord, may they humble themselves before You, seeking Your forgiveness, acknowledging their utter dependence on You, their Creator and Redeemer.

We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.


United We Stand - Part 2

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United We Stand - Part 3

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