Text: Phil 2:12-30
Welcome back to the college students! Hope you had a restful summer and you are recharged and ready to tackle another year of challenging problem sets, tear-inducing midterms and sleepless nights. While having fun, of course. I want to extend a special welcome to the freshman. If you are a freshman, can you stand? Let’s give them a hand. They’re going to need all the encouragement they can get to survive the next few years.
You can always spot a freshman from a crowd of college students because the freshmen are all wide-eyed because they’re not jaded yet. There is an innocence about them. You’re like a kid in a candy store. There seems to be so many good options. Which dorm do I want to live in, which major should I choose, which club should I join? Your eyes are wide open because there is a vast sea of opportunity in front of you. By the time you are a senior, your eyes get a bit smaller. You’re cool. Things become old hat. Routine. Been there. Done that. You are not as easily excitable. Upperclassmen, can you vouch for what I am saying?
By the time you’re my age, your eyes get really small, like mine, because people my age are more cynical. We have been beaten down my life. We have no more options. We can’t decide not to go to work the same way you can decide not to go to your class. The choices are, do I go to work OR does my family starve? That’s about the ranges of choices you have left when you’re my age. The wide eyed world of a freshman with infinite possibilities gets narrowed down to this–work or starve.
The point being, enjoy your college years. Some of the best years of my life were my college years at UC Berkeley. For many, you are away from your parents for the first time in your life. If you didn’t like who you were in high school, the good news is that nobody here knows you. So you can reinvent yourself. Maybe you were a nerd in high school, but you come here, and suddenly, everyone thinks you’re a jock. It’s all relative. If your life didn’t turn out the way you had planned before coming here, starting college gives you a reset button. The past is the past. Today is the beginning of your new and improved life. So, college students, breathe it in. Don’t get too stressed. A few years out of college, the bad grade you got on a final, which seemed like the end of the world at the time, will be a distant memory. Enjoy the good times and keep the rough times in perspective.
Last week, we talked about the humility of Christ and the importance of knowing Christ, not knowing about Christ, or knowing of Christ, but knowing Christ. Christ is not an idea, he is not a fallen hero who died for us 2,000 years ago, but he resurrected from the grave, meaning today, He’s still alive. He’s a living person. One way to distinguish whether or not you are following an idea about Jesus vs. following the real, living Jesus is character. Jesus describes himself as gentle and humble in heart, and if we are getting to know this Jesus, His character rubs off on us. We, too, become gentle in our dealings with others. And this gentleness that we see visibly in our relationships flows from an internal character of humility. It doesn’t matter if you have the influence of a Rick Warren and you write books read by millions, if you treat others harshly and you are proud, then perhaps, you are pursuing something other than Christ. You could be pursuing evangelism or ministry or church or your own ego as your goal, but you are not pursuing Christ. If Christ is your passion and He is the love of your life and you are spending time with him, then your life will be characterized by gentleness and humility.
Phil 2 is the famous chapter about the humility of Christ, where Christ, who is fully God, empties himself and forgoes all the privileges of heavenly glory by submitting to the will of God the Father and Jesus becomes a man, then a servant, then a lowly servant who washes feet, then the lowliest servant of servants who dies a shameful, horrific death.
Consider again how utterly ridiculous the scene of Christ’s shameful death on the cross is. Jesus is the Son of God. We are mere creatures. We are his creation. And with the very muscles in our face that God created, we are producing spit and we are spitting on the face of Christ. And with the metal that God created when he spoke the elements in our universe into being, we are fashioning hammers and nailing Jesus on a cross. Mere creatures are doing this to the Creator God.
If Christ wanted to, he could have called down a legion of angels to come to his defense. But he didn’t. He remained silent. Christ humbled himself and placed his life in the hands of God and what did God do? God exalted Christ high above every name that at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
This is an obvious point, but when our tongue confesses that “Jesus, you are Lord,” we need to quickly confess right after, “and we are not lord.” Jesus, you are Lord and we are not. This chapter gives us the pattern of Christian life. As followers of Christ, we follow Christ in this downward mobility of humility and we leave the rest in God’s hands and wait on Him to exalt us in this life or certainly in the next.
There are only two ways to live life. Either to follow Jesus downward in ever-increasing humility as the Lord of your life OR to follow your pride because you are the lord of your own life and it’s up to you to exalt yourself. The way of humility or the way of hubris, or pride. The way of Jesus as Lord or the way of you as the lord. Waiting on God to exalt your life, or I got to exalt myself. Only two ways to live life.
These two divergent ways of doing life are outlined here in this chapter.
3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
The way of pride is described here in terms of rivalry or conceit where you are basically only concerned about yourself. Vs. the way of humility where you look at the person in front of you and say, you’re more important than me. Your interests matter more than my interests.
These verses are reminiscent of Phil 1:15-18.
15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. 16 These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice…
Paul seems to contradict himself. In chapter 1, he says, rejoice, don’t worry about preachers who proclaim Christ out of rivalry because, after all, Christ is preached so rejoice. Then, in chapter 2, he says to the Philippians, do NOTHING out of rivalry or conceit. On one hand, rejoice at the fact that Christ is preached, even if Christ is preached out of rivalry. And on the other hand, don’t you dare do anything out of rivalry or conceit or pride.
To flesh out this apparent contradiction, let’s read a couple of verses.
6 But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: God resists (or opposes) the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Two ways to do live. You can be proud and God will resist and oppose you OR you can be humble and God will give grace to you.
Another passage is Isaiah 2:11.
11 Human pride will be humbled, and the loftiness of men will be brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
Again, two ways to do life. Living in the lofty stratosphere of human pride or living in the lowliness of humility. It says, proud people will be brought low on that day sometime in the future when Jesus returns. And on that day, the Lord Jesus alone will stand exalted. That means, until Jesus returns, proud people will keep exalting themselves because things seem to work out well for them.
This answers the question that often comes to mind as we live life–why do proud people seem to flourish and prosper here on earth while humble people get taken advantage of? It’s because God doesn’t always resist or oppose proud people right away. He waits and waits and waits, hoping that the proud will humble themselves. And eventually, they run out of time and will have to face the Judge. But don’t be mistaken, just because God seems to allow the proud, even proud ministers, to thrive here on earth doesn’t mean he is pleased with them. These proud preachers may think they are lofty beings worthy of adoration and respect. But on that day, the true state of their human condition will be laid bare and the verdict will be delivered and if you were proud here on earth, you’re not going to like the verdict.