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“The Essential Humility of Family”

Philippians 2:1-4
Bob DeGray
June 9, 2013

Key Sentence

The necessary condition for a healthy family is selfishness.


I. Give what you have received (Philippians 2:1-2)
II. Pursue essential humility (Philippians 2:3-4)


In May 2011, barely two years ago, I did a message on ‘usness’ from Philippians 2. I’m going to share a lot of the same message today, mostly because I have a short memory for details and a long one for concepts and principles. When we began to discuss a family series the concepts of humility and ‘usness’ were immediately something I wanted to include, but the detail that I had preached on those concepts and this text relatively recently slipped my mind.

Nonetheless, I’m happy to preach it again. In previous messages about usness I’ve either focused on marriage or applied it beyond family, but today I get to focus on families. But mostly I’m happy to preach it because it’s important. When I finally started to read the May 2011 sermon I immediately began saying ‘Oh yeah, that’s true, that’s important; how come I’m not living this way?” That response convinced me these were truths worth sharing again.

So as I did in 2011, I want to begin this message in the dictionary. Sometimes you just need a definition. The Collins English Dictionary defines essential as “vitally important; absolutely necessary” and “fundamental or basic.” They define essence as “the characteristic or intrinsic feature of a thing, which determines its identity; fundamental nature,” and “the most distinctive element of a thing the essence of a problem.” In the realm of philosophy they define essence as “the unchanging and unchangeable nature of something which is necessary to its being the thing it is.”

So what is the essential thing in family relationships? What is the vitally important, absolutely necessary element without which these relationships don’t work? Our text today will show that the vital, indispensable essence or primal stuff that makes relationships happen is humility. Without humility there is no giving yourself to other people, and thus no such thing as a healthy family.

Back when I revised my pre-marital counseling handbook I ran across this concept of ‘usness’ which has since loomed large in my thinking. It came from Dr. Terry Hargrave, a Fuller Seminary professor and nationally recognized marriage and family expert. He says that even with his experience and expertise, he’d never really figured out what made a good, healthy marriage. He had only learned how to help couples eliminate some negative marriage behaviors, not how to achieve a good marriage or family. He says “The gap in my knowledge surfaced hard when confronted by my college students. I share openly about my marriage of 21 years and will say I believe I have a good marriage.”

They asked, "What makes it good?" Was it that my wife made me happy? Was it that the relationship fulfilled me personally? Was it because we had good communication and intimacy?” “Yes, Yes, and Yes--sometimes. Other times, my wife would drive me crazy and we wouldn't look much different from the couples we helped in therapy.” After long consideration he concluded that “marriage is a relationship: a living, breathing relationship, as real as the two individuals that form the bond. It is, if you will, a separate entity--a third person--that is created when two individuals give themselves in a bonding manner. It is not just that they participate together for each other's good, it is that they create a whole new being when they marry.”

He says “I was first introduced to this concept by pioneering family therapist, Carl Whitaker. During a conversation over breakfast, he was talking about his wife, Muriel. Carl said that as much as he would miss his wife if she were to die, he’d miss what they were together even more. He called it ‘we-ness’ or ’us-ness.’ A committed relationship is not just individuals who share, it is individuals who give up part of themselves to create an "us,” which takes on a personality with its own characteristics.

“In my marriage, there is Sharon, there is Terry, and there is "us," which has its own personality, its own likes and dislikes. For instance, I don't like ballet, but "us" does like ballet. When I say this, I do not mean that I do not like ballet and I just give in to my wife because she likes it and I suffer through a performance. I mean that when I go with my wife, the activity becomes enjoyable because of how we dress up to go, where we go to eat, and how we interact about the performance. Our relationship really does like the activity of ballet, even though I would never choose to go by myself. But it is not only in the activities of "us," it also has personality characteristics that are predictable. For instance, I can tell when "us" is getting ready to have a fight. "Us" may be invisible but it is a living, breathing relationship that is kept alive by spouses caring for it and giving to it in a trustworthy way.

I’ve shared this concept with many basically happily married couples, and I sense that Hargrave’s idea puts words to what they experience: usness; relational oneness that is greater than the sum of the parts and blesses the participants. But today we’re not focusing exclusively on marriage ‘usness.’ Families too have an ‘usness,’ a unique identity that makes them different from every other family. I can see and celebrate these uniqueness all the time in my own family: the way we take vacations, the way we camp, the way we talk around the dinner table, our use of money, the way we look at dating and marriage and health and use of time; it’s all part of our family personality.

But in order for us-ness to develop, Hargrave says it is essential for there to be humility or selflessness. Each person needs to give something of themselves away to the relationship. So the title of Hargrave’s book is The Essential Humility of Marriage; the title of this message is ‘The Essential Humility of Family.’ The vital, indispensable essence that makes families healthy is humility, giving ourselves away for the sake of others. To the extent that we attempt to survive by hoarding ourselves, and only receiving, or maintaining a distance without giving, we will wither and die. To the extent we sacrifice ourselves for our family, we become part of a larger identity that blesses us.

Hargrave says “I willingly give a part of who I am for the sake of the relationship. It is the mutual giving to the relationship that, in turn, creates the context for intimacy. This is one of life’s paradoxes, that as we give up part of our individuality to create this relationship, we ourselves are nurtured. When we give to “us” we actually receive the happiness and satisfaction we desire.”

This, I think, is a foundational concept for families. The essential ingredient for relationships is humility; you’ve got to humble yourself and give yourself to family relationships or they will not thrive.

I believe Paul reveals this clearly in Philippians 2:1-4, where he teaches us to give in family relationships what we receive from Jesus, and to pursue in relationships the essential humility that alone leads to usness. Let’s read Philippians 2:1-4: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul opens the letter to the Philippians with thanksgiving and prayer for them. He then describes his imprisonment, and mentions that the Philippians are also suffering. His desire is that they do well in their circumstances, which will bring him great joy in his. And his definition of doing well is relational. He longs for them to experience the us-ness of their relationships.

The structure is great: Paul points to the realities of their relationship with Christ, then applies those realities to their relationships with others. First, remember your encouragement in Christ. By trusting him, depending on him you receive the benefits of his sacrifice on the cross: forgiveness, renewal, peace with God and a new standing ‘in Christ.’ This unity with Christ is dynamic; we take hold of it each day, coming to him daily in prayer and the word for cleansing, renewal, encouragement and strengthening.

Just as we are encouraged by being in Christ, we are comforted by His love. The knowledge that his love is unconditional, that nothing will ever be able to separate us from it, gives comfort in the hard times, and in the struggles of family relationships. We have the freedom to cry out to Jesus, or even better to sit in peace at his feet to know the unchanging fullness of his love. It is his self sacrificing love that has created the relationship at the heart of our lives.

Next, if there is any participation in or fellowship of the Spirit. Jesus teaches that God the Holy Spirit is your comforter and guide. Paul says in Romans that we have hope because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. It’s not so much that we fellowship with Him but that he participates in us: he lives in us, and his presence produces spiritual fruit that uniquely prepares us for relationships: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

The last thing Paul mentions as a resource is the affection and sympathy that God has shown you. His gentle offer of the Gospel, his gift of faith in Jesus, his care for you despite your inclination to remain in sin, all this tenderness and compassion is the resource by which you can live tenderly, compassionately and selflessly with others.

In verse 2 Paul turns a corner and begins to show how our relationship with Christ is the resource for relationship with others: “If you have any encouragement in Christ, complete my joy by being of the same mind.” Just as you have encouragement and hope because of your relationship with Jesus, so your relationships in the family should be a source of encouragement and hope to them. We’ll talk in a few weeks about being a cheerleader in your family and how much difference it can make in people’s lives to receive words of encouragement and hope. That’s what Paul is talking about here.

Next he says ‘if there is any comfort from his love, you have the same love.’ You are receiving unconditional love from Jesus; give unconditional love to each other. All kinds of conflict in our families comes from our tendency to make others earn our love: I’ll love you only if you’re good enough, do enough for me, and don’t mess up. But if Jesus can love you, knowing fully who you are and how you fail, then you, in caring for each other have no grounds to make your love conditional. Earlier Paul had told the Philippians “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Love is the fruit of righteousness; it comes through Christ.

I remember a family years ago in Illinois that you wouldn’t think had any of the tools needed to create a healthy family. They both came from broken homes which modeled only hurtful relationships. Neither had a decent job, and that was made worse when their second child was born with medical special needs. But what they did have was Jesus; they spoke often of the love they received from him. And that made all the difference, because is empowered them to love and care for each other even with those extreme difficulties.

In the same way Paul says ‘if you have any fellowship in the Spirit, then be in full accord and of one mind.’ If God has given all believers the same Holy Spirit to indwell them, to comfort and guide, then our relationships will be shaped by his goals and desires. Thus we will have one mind, one set of goals and desires. One of the key characteristics of family usness is the decision to share certain family values. Ideally each family member chooses to embrace faith in Jesus, and to value loving him, serving him and ministering for him. Even beyond that, usness is the result of a conscious decision by each member to submit their own inclinations to the larger purposes of the family.

Now I know some people push back on this, as if I was saying that people lose their individuality, or become non-entities in their marriage or their family. It’s just not true: especially in families ‘us’ rejoices in our differences. While I was in Nepal it was such a joy to see the usness of Tim and Abbie’s family. Ellie and Hope are vastly different in personality. Benjamin is showing signs of being different from either of them. That’s why a family has a unique personality; it is created as we offer our uniqueness in service to others.

The final two resources in the first verse were God’s affection and sympathy. One could argue that these two qualities: his tenderness toward us, and the mercy or compassion he shows us are not reflected in the verses below. And in one sense that is true, though there is absolutely no doubt that a healthy family, a family with usness is deeply characterized by affection and tenderness and compassion and mercy and sympathy – in short by grace that imitates God.

But I believe Paul does reflect those traits based on us in verses 3-4 in a surprising way that is key to our thinking this morning. He gets there by pointing out that humility is the essential quality of usness, the essential quality of family relationships: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. True affection and gracious sympathy toward others can only exist where there is humility or selflessness, some sense in which we have gotten outside ourselves and allowed the needs and circumstances of others to touch us at the heart level.

Therefore we must cultivate this essential humility in our families: do nothing out of selfishness, vanity, ambition; those things can only hurt relationships, but practice humility by thinking of others in preference to yourself. Families fail to develop usness when family members hide inside themselves and will not give themselves away to feed relationships, considering others and even the relationship as more important than their individual selves.

This is a critical area for families. Far too many of us think only of ‘my way; my needs; my convenience; my desires.’ But there is almost no family situation where clinging to self interest will make things better. In a family, each day is the time for each member to lay self-interest down and care for the interests of the others. I think of a very simple example from our own family life: camping. For many years our camping vacations have often involved long days on the road and late arrivals at the campground. When we’ve all set aside our own fatigue or desire to get away and see the scenery and focused on setting up the camp and cooking the meal, we’ve had wonderful experiences. But when selflessness fails, we’ve had miserable experiences.

This is so important Paul repeats it: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s essential. It’s also practical. What can I do at this moment that is in the best interests of someone else? It may be that at this moment the best thing I can do is be a listening ear; to come alongside and help with practical needs; to pray for my brother facing temptation; to encourage my daughter or spouse facing discouragement; to give a hug; to share a Bible verse. Don’t let the world tell you that if you don’t look out for yourself no one will. No: pour yourself out for others, and count on Jesus to pour his sympathy and affection into your life. By means of humble selflessness in marriage you create a bond that sustains you; in family you create a family identity that prepares your children or even your brothers and sisters for a difficult world.

I read a World War 2 novel called The Eleventh Hour while I was traveling. It was a little ‘romancy,’ but it did have a strong Christian family that modeled usness well. At one point the father and a guest are talking about preparing children for a difficult world, and the father, who loved garden metaphors, talked about starting plants in the greenhouse or starting them in the wild. The plant grown in the wild can be tough and hardy, but it will often be misshapen and stunted. But the plant grown in a greenhouse and encouraged to develop deep roots and solid growth is also very hardy. That’s how he and his wife are raising their daughter: protected in the family, but encouraged to grow strong and deep. That’s what we need to do: an usness that protects and nourishes will also prepare our children to do well in a difficult world.

I was proud of what I saw Tim and Abbie doing in Kathmandu; they are flourishing in a culture that could easily be totally daunting. And they are making family a priority. Just yesterday we were Skyping with them and Elaine joyfully told us that tonight was ‘family movie night’ and they were going to watch ‘Angelina Ballerina.’ Now that’s sacrificing for your kids.

But Paul caps this discussion with the ultimate example. Verses 5-8: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

If Christ can have humility, so should we. He was, after all, in very nature God. Scripture teaches that he who has seen Christ has seen the Father; he is the ‘the exact imprint of God’s nature;’ the visible expression of God’s invisible glory. But Christ did not think that having this “equality with God,” should lead him to hold his privileges at all costs. Instead, he counted the interests of others as more significant than his own. So he emptied himself, made himself nothing, became a servant. For the sake of usness with us, he became poor, humble and obedient, even to the point of death on the cross.

And Paul says our attitude should be the same. He humbled himself, poured himself out for us, so we should pour ourselves out for others. This is the essential attitude that enables healthy families. The visuals we’ve been using support that; Jesus and others pour into you to create relationship, but only as your pour yourself out. But the visuals don’t capture the choices you must make. You can choose not to receive; you can choose not to invest yourself. But if we two in a marriage, we several in a family, will pour ourselves out we create the usness, a relationship larger than the sum of its parts.

We give ourselves for each other. And that’s right and good because God will not let our outpouring go to waste. Instead, he honors it. That’s what he did for Jesus. Verses 9-11: Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

When Jesus had poured himself out to death, God raised him up and exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name. He rewarded Christ’s sacrifice with honor, so every knee bows before him. And our recognition of Jesus as Lord brings glory to the Father who raised him.

So what have we said? First, that in a healthy family you give to one another what you’ve received from Christ. You’ve received encouragement; encourage your family. You’ve received love; share love with your family; you’ve been made one with God through the Holy Spirit; be one with one another. You’ve been shown affection and sympathy; So practice humility; it is essential; without it a healthy family just won’t happen. The necessary condition for usness is to give yourself away; each of us should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.

And God will use this outpouring of selves to bestow a huge blessing; and identity as a family that can do more than the sum of its parts. I mentioned The Eleventh Hour that described a family in World War 2. The father is not the stereotypical German; he’s a devout Christian, a nobleman, a landholder and a friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All of these things bring him under deep suspicion and ultimately persecution from the Nazis. But that doesn’t stop him from using his large manor for good. He houses Bonhoeffer’s students when their seminary is closed, and ultimately creates a major hiding place for Jews escaping from Germany and Poland to Switzerland. There were such escapes – not many compared to those killed in the holocaust, but some, and often with aid from the Christians who opposed Hitler’s rule.

But the unintended point of the story for me is that Baron von Dortmann and his family model an usness that allows them truly love and care for each other, to minister to others, and to be attractive to those who are spiritually seeking. I’m sure the author never heard of usness, but he knew that when a family receives strength from Christ, they are able to love, encourage, comfort and sympathize with each other. Each of the people in this family practices humility. Baron von Dortmann works in the fields with his laborers to bring in the yearly harvest. His wife organizes the care and feeding of their secret guests. His daughter rejects a Nazi suitor and an open door to escape Germany so that she can be part of the crucial ministry her family is performing. That’s usness. That’s humility. That’s our calling as well. And at the end of the novel Baron von Dortman sacrifices himself to insure the escape of his Jewish guests and of his wife and daughter. His attitude was the same as that of Christ Jesus. May ours be as well.

Famly movie night