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“The Essential Attitude of Peacemaking”

Philippians 2:1-5
Bob DeGray
June 26, 2005

Key Sentence

Only in Christ can you begin to look out for the interests of others.


I. The Soil of Humility (Philippians 2:1-2)
II. The Secret of Humility (Philippians 2:3-4)
III. The Example of Humility (Philippians 2:5)


        I met someone this week I’d never heard of before. His name is John Stuart Blackie. He lived from 1809 to 1895, and for his last 45 years was professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Blackie wrote poetry and hymns, scholarly works on the Gaelic and Celtic languages, and was very involved in the student Christian work campus. In his day he was well known and widely quoted. One of his quotes was "A fair face without a fair soul is like a glass eye that shines and sees nothing." One of his poems, “All Things are Full of God”, says in part “Go, take thy glass, astronomer, and all the girth survey of sphere harmonious linked to sphere, in endless bright array. All that far-reaching Science there can measure with her rod, all powers, all laws, are but the fair embodied thoughts of God.”

        But what made me really like Blackie was an incident from his classroom. He was listening to students present oral readings, and when one young man rose to recite, he held his book in the wrong hand. The professor thundered, "Take your book in your right hand, and be seated!" At this harsh rebuke, the student held up his right arm. He didn't have a right hand! For a moment Blackie hesitated. Then he made his way to the student, put his arm around him, and with tears streaming from his eyes, said, "I didn’t know. Please, will you forgive me?" His humble apology made a lasting impact. The story was told later in a large gathering of believers. At the close of the meeting a man came forward, turned to the crowd, and raised his right arm. It ended at the wrist. He said, "I was that student. Professor Blackie led me to Christ. But he never could have done it if he had not made the wrong right."

        Humility. It’s an attitude we’ve talked about often, but it’s hard to talk about, because it seems so delicate a virtue that even to speak of being humble or of trying to be humble would shatter it. Nonetheless, this ability to get out of your own way, this attitude that cares more about the needs of others than your own pride and self interest is a key attitude in peace-making Our text today is Philippians 2:1-5, and as we look at it I hope we’ll see that only in Christ can you begin to look out for the interests of others. Humility grows in the soil of what Christ has done for us, and expresses itself by putting the needs of others first, as he did on the cross.

I. The Soil of Humility (Philippians 2:1-2)

        Let’s read the text. Philippians 2:1-5 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, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

        Paul ties our behavior directly to how God has treated us and continues to treat us. He lists four things God does in verse 1, then in 2 to 4 he shows how each of these should make a difference in our lives, with the emphasis on the practice of humility. So what God has done for us is the soil in which humility flourishes. As Puritan pastor John Flavel wrote “They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves cannot be proud.” When we reflect on the gifts God has graciously given us we will recognize his greatness and our own utter dependence.

        Paul starts by saying “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ.” One of the great nutrients in the soil of the Christian life is our union with Christ. Believers are inseparably joined to him, where once we were far separated from him and from his Father. Ephesians 2:12 says “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Probably the greatest encouragement possible in our lives is this encouragement of the Gospel, that God loved us so much that while we were still sinners he sent his son to die for us, so that as we take hold of his free grace we are forgiven, brought near to him, given His Holy Spirit, and adopted into his family.

        Verse 2 completes the thought ‘if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, be like minded.’ This is a peace-making command, a conflict resolution command, like the others in this passage. The encouragement of being one with Christ calls us to be one with each other, of the same or one mind. This is what Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23 "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” Jesus wants us to be one, At peace and in unity with each other. He died to make that possible. But conflict breaks that bond.

        In the same way Paul says, verse 1“if you have any comfort from his love,” verse 2 “have the same love.” Our attitude toward one another is a response to him. His love is the foundation for our love, and the comfort we receive from his love gives us the strength to love others. Jesus said “as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Paul is about to show that Christ loved us sacrificially and gave himself up for us. In the same way we give up ourselves to love others, even in conflict.

        Again, Paul says “if you have any fellowship with the Spirit,” then “be one in spirit and purpose.” Jesus promised in John 14 that “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- 17the Spirit of truth.” The Spirit comes alongside us to be our comforter, to strengthen and encourage us, and to partner with us in the work God is doing.

        Because we all share the same Spirit, we have fellowship with one another, and we are called to have unity with one another - to resolve conflict. Paul says in Ephesians “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The presence of the Holy Spirit, who is at work in our lives and in our works, makes it imperative that we be one with each other and united in our minstry purposes.

II. The Secret of Humility (Philippians 2:3-4)

        So we’ve seen three gifts we’ve received as believers: union with Christ, the comfort of his love, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. From these should grow like mindedness with each other, love for one another and unity in Spirit and purpose. But Paul doesn’t stop there. The fourth gift he lists is ‘tenderness and compassion’, and because of the parallel with the first three, I assume he means tenderness and compassion from God. Certainly this is something we have received - he has not treated us as our sins deserve, but as a father has compassion on his children, so he has had compassion on us. And our response to that compassion is found in verses 3 to 11. Paul devoted a phrase to the first three, but he devotes a whole section to the fourth. And what is that response? Humility. Listen to verses 3 and 4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

        We are called to do all things with affection and compassion toward others, which means we do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Nothing. All our actions are to be selfless; all the motives behind our actions are to be selfless. This humility is a key attitude for peacemaking, conflict resolution. The Greek word is a mouthful: tapeinophrosune. It literally means humility of mind, humility in our thinking. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines humble as ‘not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive’. They define it by citing it’s opposite, which isn’t very helpful.

        Paul does better when he says that it is ‘considering others better than yourselves; looking out not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’That’s a powerful definition. The secret of humility is considering others better, or more important, than ourselves; looking out for their good, not our own. But humility doesn’t mean cutting down your own talents or achievements. In Romans Paul says “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” In a sense humility means forgetting about yourself entirely. William Temple said “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.” Phillip Brooks said, "The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is." Paul knows the secret of achieving this - by filling up your thinking with thoughts of others, with the interests of others, the needs of others, and then forgetting yourself and your dignity to meet those needs.

        Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, was an outstanding example of this truth. Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace.

        A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady. The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. "It's perfectly all right, Madam," he replied. "I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it's always a delight to do something for a friend." She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him to her. She ended up being one of the primary supporters for his Tuskegee Institute.

        Here’s another example. In 1973 Senator John Stennis was robbed and shot after parking his car in front of his own home. News of the shooting shocked Washington and the nation. For nearly seven hours, Senator Stennis was on the operating table at Walter Reed Hospital. Another politician was driving home when he heard about the shooting. He turned his car around and drove directly to the hospital, where he noticed that the staff was swamped and couldn’t keep up with incoming calls about the Senator's condition. He spotted an unattended switchboard, sat down, and voluntarily went to work. He continued taking calls until daylight. Sometime during that next day, he stood up, stretched, put on his overcoat, and just before leaving, he introduced himself quietly to the other operator, "I'm Mark Hatfield. Happy to help out." Then Senator Mark Hatfield unobtrusively walked out. The press could hardly handle that story. There seemed to be no way for a conservative Republican to give a liberal Democrat a tip of the hat, let alone spend hours doing a menial task and be "happy to help out."

        Humility cares more for the needs of others than for your own pride or dignity, and this is key to conflict resolution. We talked last week about the Golden Rule and the Golden Result. The Golden Rule is ‘treat others as you would have them treat you.’ The Golden Result is ‘others will treat you the way you treat them.’ So in conflict, if you come at it with an attitude of pride, with an attitude of self-centeredness, with an attitude or the idea that you are always right, you’ll be met with pride, selfishness and an inability to admit wrong. Only humility diffuses these attitudes. Humility says “I’m not always right. I’m a sinner myself. It could be me who is being selfish in this case.” Furthermore only humility begins to think ‘what’s best for this other person? What is in their interest in this situation?’

        In the summer of 1986, a Soviet passenger ship, Admiral Nakhimov, and the freighter Pyotr Vasev collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died in the rapidly sinking ship. News of the disaster was further darkened when investigators found the cause. It wasn't a technology problem or a weather problem. It was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship; either could have steered clear, but both captains were too proud to give way. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late. Doesn’t some of your conflict feel just like these two ships? You know it’s going to happen but you’re just unwilling to change course. Humility - a willingness to be the one who changes, looking out for someone else’s best interest, is a key to resolving conflict.

        And the secret of humility, Paul has said, is simply to put other’s interests ahead of your own. Do you see that this is a really powerful concept? And practical? One way to think about applying this is to rehearse a script in your own mind as you interact with other people. Ask yourself questions like ‘What would bless this person? What does this person need? What does he or she want? What can I actually do to meet those needs?’ I know you’re not infinite, and can’t meet the needs of every person - but if we’re all operating with this attitude, lots of needs are going to be met.

III. The Example of Humility (Philippians 2:5)

        So out of all the attitudes he could have emphasized to promote unity among believers; our union with Christ, the love we have all received, the Holy Spirit within us; out of all of these the one he focuses on is humility, which we practice by focusing on the needs of others. We see clearly that humility is the key attitude called for in these verses because of verse 5: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

        The verse literally says “let this thinking be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This was the way Jesus thought about things folks: he put the interests of others ahead of his own interest. And you are called to be his imitator. Peter says Jesus ‘left us an example, that we should follow in his footsteps”; his humility in his suffering and crucifixion.

        That the same thing Paul is pointing to in verse 5, and expands on in verses 6 to 11. We don’t have time to fully explore these verses, but I want to read them to you, and I hope by now your ears are tuned to the concept of humility, of considering others more important than yourself, because you will hear it here. Philippians 2:5-11 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that 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.

        Do you hear the humility? Though Jesus was God in every sense of power and authority, he did not choose to stand on that dignity or hang on to that glory. Paul says ‘he made himself nothing’ or ‘he emptied himself’. That’s our example. In conflict, or any part of life, do you have an instinctive desire to empty yourself, to make yourself nothing? No? Neither do I. But that’s the attitude Paul says we should cultivate. And in that emptying, if we are to imitate Christ, we become servants. Jesus took on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness - not an imitation but the real thing. And since he lived the perfect human life by serving others, we too should live not with the attitude of being served, but with the attitude of serving - giving our lives in daily, mundane self forgetfulness.

        But it goes further and gets clearer than that. Verse 8 says that being found in appearance as a man he then humbled himself. The incarnation was not enough - stepping from the glory of heaven to the scorn of an impoverished human life was not enough. Even as a man this king did not take hold of what was rightly his. He humbled himself and became obedient to his Father by going to death on the cross. Notice that the verbal link between the verses we just studied and Jesus is this humility. He humbled himself, and we in humility are to consider others better than ourselves. He is the example we’re following, the footsteps we’re tracing. No act of humility, no giving of self on our part to serve others, can begin to compare to his humility in bearing on the cross the sins of others, taking a punishment he did not deserve.

        And yet, Paul says, your attitude should be the same. Over in Corinthians Paul criticizes the believers in Corinth for going to the secular courts with lawsuits against each other. He says these conflicts ought to be resolved in the church, and as for going to the law courts he says “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” If Jesus was willing to so humble himself that he bore sins he had never committed, how much more should we humble ourselves to be wronged in conflict, at least to admit the sins we have committed, and to reconcile with our brothers.

        But the story doesn’t end there. The example of Jesus also tells us that God brings great good from humility. In our case this good might be reconciliation between people in conflict. In the case of Jesus the good he brings is salvation and God testified to that good by raising Jesus from death and honoring him above all. Paul writes: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

        God raised Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord in heaven and Lord over the earth. These verses present a great picture of how we are to respond to him. We see that humbled himself and became a sacrifice, and that God honored that sacrifice. But each individual has to make a choice as to how they will respond.

        The verses say that every knee will bow before him, and every tongue confess he is Lord, so that’s not the choice. But the timing is a choice that determines your fate. If you choose now you are saved. If you choose to wait you are in peril and if you wait until you die, you’re too late. The time to bow your knee to him is now. What does that mean? It has to do with worship, submission and humility. It’s worship because when we bow the knee we recognize him as God, glorious and worthy. It’s also submission; when we bow we own him as king - King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

        But at the core, it’s humbling yourself. The good news about Jesus is that because of his love he sacrificed himself to pay the price of our sins. The bad news that precedes it is that we’re sinners; we sin against God’s law, Jesus’ commands. We see it in relationships, and in conflict as much as anyplace else. The worst news is that we’re too proud to admit it. We would rather continue in sin to judgment than to humble ourselves, turn from sin, and be rescued. And you’ll rarely humble yourself in conflict if you can’t humble yourself in admitting you are a sinner.

        Picture it this way: you’re headed down the path called sin toward a place called judgment, and you need to turn from your sin, which the Scriptures call repentance. You agree with God that your sin is catastrophic, and turn from the direction of sin and turn to Jesus. The very first words Jesus says in Mark are “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" You repent, turning from sin, but more than that, you believe, which means trusting in Jesus, and in the good news of his salvation. Only as you humble yourself and put your trust in him will that rescue become yours. So you have a choice and it should be clear which one is the right course. Will you humble yourself and bow the knee now before one who is Lord and Savior, or will you continue in sin and bow the knee later before one who is Lord and Judge? That’s a choice some of you need to make today.

        But as we close, we have to ask ourselves how does all this relate to conflict? It’s like this: The humility required in day to day conflict resolution is born in the resolution of our rebellion and conflict against God. If we recognize our sin and humble ourselves to trust Jesus as Savior, we will be much more likely to humble ourselves before others and put their interests first. In fact, humility becomes the model for peacemaking. You recognize your sin and humble yourself to confess it to others, and that becomes the basis of a restored relationship. The simple truth is that only in Christ can you begin to look out for the interests of others. Only in Christ can you begin to be humble, to look out for the interests of others. And the discipline of looking out for the interests of others is a discipline believers have to master to avoid and or resolve conflict.