Following Jesus As The Way: Serving

YouTube video sermon

Read:  Philippians 2

Back in 2015, Doritos made a Super Bowl commercial that featured an Amish family who was discovering an elevator for the very first time in their lives.  (Do you remember this?)  The commercial begins with the family pulling up to the Big City Mall in their horse and carriage, and quickly it shows them walking into the store.  Their heads are back and their mouths are open and they’re just standing at the entrance in awe.

Just inside the door they see a vending machine that’s full of Doritos.  As they’re standing there inspecting this machine, an older lady wearing a pink dress walking with a cane puts money in the machine and mashes a button and a bag of Doritos falls out.  She opens the bag and begins to eat the chips as she makes her way toward the elevator.  Meanwhile, this Amish family is still in awe and wonder at everything around them.  The older lady with the Doritos gets on the elevator and, of course, turns around and the doors close and she’s gone.

The Amish father and son are standing there looking at each other asking, “Where did she go?  What happened?  Is she coming back?”  All of a sudden, the elevator dings and the doors open and a young beautiful brunette in a pink dress walks out of the elevator eating a bag of Doritos.  The Amish man looks over at his son, snatches the bag of Doritos from his hands and says, “Quick!  Go find your mother!”

The commercial cuts away to the actual advertisement and a special plug for the new Cool Ranch Doritos, and then it fades back to the Amish man shoving his wife into the elevator, saying, “Here, try the Cool Ranch.”

We love stories of transformation.  It’s about a journey that someone takes and the trial and the travail and the triumph of becoming someone new, of discovering a new part of who you are, or maybe even a better version of you.  Over these last nine weeks we’ve been on our own journey.  We’ve been giving our attention to becoming better followers of Jesus, to becoming a better church, to incorporating some disciplines and practices that draw us closer to one another and closer to God through following Jesus.  And today we’re going to conclude this series.  Let me invite you to turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2.

Looking Out for Others’ Interests

I think this is the heart of this series, and what we’ve been talking about for the past two months as we learn how to be better followers of The Way, better disciples of Christ.  It’s stated most clearly in verse 4, and then Paul illustrates verse 4 by pointing to the lives of Jesus, himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.  So that’s what we’re going to do.  We’ll take note of verses 3-4, and then look at four ways it’s lived out in four different people’s lives in Philippians 2.  Let’s begin with verses 1-4:

“So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV)

The word “interests” there is a filler.  It’s absent in the original Greek text.  In the original, it’s open-ended.  All that’s specified is “your own . . .” or “the other’s . . .”  So it could be, “Let each of you look not only to your own financial affairs, or your own property, or your own family, or your own health, or your own reputation, or your own education, or your own success, or your own happiness – don’t just think about that, don’t just have desires about that, don’t just strategize about that, don’t just work toward that, but look to the financial affairs and property and family and health, and reputation, and education, and success, and happiness of others.”

In other words, verse 4 is Paul’s way of restating Jesus’ words from Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  That’s what Paul is saying.  He’s taking Jesus’ words and rephrasing them; make the good of others the focus of your interest and strategy and work.  Find your joy in making others joyful.  If you’re watching television and a friend calls and says, “Hey, can you help me?” don’t just think about how tired you are.  By an act of gospel-fashioned, Christ-exalting will, put their interests before the pleasures of your relaxation.

Counting Others as More Significant

One of the keys to this radical way of living is in the second half of Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  

Last month was Black History Month, and I believe it was Parker that asked me to help him on an assignment associated with Kobe Bryant.  Well, after helping him I somehow found myself reading some accounts of other famous African-Americans and stumbled upon this one from Booker T. Washington, the long-time president of the Tuskegee Institute in AL.

Shortly after he took over the presidency, he was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman.  She didn’t recognize him by sight, and so she proceeded to asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her.  He had no pressing business at the moment, and so he 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.  The woman’s little girl recognized him, and later that evening told her mom who it was that chopped wood for them.

The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the school and apologized profusely.  “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied.  “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor.  Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.”

The point is not who others are, but who you count others to be.  The focus is: Will you count them as worthy of your help and encouragement, whether they are or not?  Not are they worthy?  But will you count them as worthy?  Will I serve my brother or sister?  Will I take thought not just for my interests but for theirs?  Will I encourage them and take the time to help them and build them up?  Will I stop shooting buckets in the driveway . . .  Will I turn off this TV show . . .  Will I give up this opportunity . . . and show interest in them?

Humble Service and Its Source

And where does that other-oriented commitment come from?  Verse 3 says, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  It comes from humility.  Literally: “lowliness.”  This is the great opposite of a sense of entitlement.  Humility is the opposite of “You owe me.”  Paul said, in Romans 1:14, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish”.  In other words, they didn’t owe him.  He owed them.

Why?  Why do Christians walk through life feeling a humble sense that we owe service to people, rather than them owing us?  The answer is that Christ loved us and died for us and forgave us and accepted us and justified us and gave us eternal life and made us heirs of the world when He owed us nothing.  He treated us as worthy of His service when we were not worthy of His service.  He took thought not only for His own interests but for ours.  He counted us as greater than Himself: “Who is the greater,” He said, “one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

That’s where our humility comes from.  We feel overwhelmed by God’s grace: former grace in the cross and moment-by-moment arriving grace promised for our everlasting future.  Christians are stunned into lowliness.  Freely you have been served, freely serve.

So, the crucial relational mark of the culture of our church should be Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  This is the “mind” or the thinking that we should have in life together.  This is the relational atmosphere where God will grant wisdom for the perplexing work of living in this world.

Four Examples of Jesus’ Mindset

Now, let’s take a real quick look at four examples of this mindset.  All we can do is glance.  Later you can read this chapter slowly with this one verse in view and see how central it is to Paul’s purpose in the way he illustrates it four times.

First is Jesus.  Verses 5–8:

“Have this mind among yourselves [the mind of verse 4!], which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count [notice the word!] equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing [literally emptied Himself], by taking the form of a servant [that’s what it means to look to the interests of others], being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself [He laid down all His legitimate entitlements] by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

If you ever struggle with humility or self-denial or serving those who are hard to love, think on this picture of Christ.  This is what He did for you.  He is the great example of verse 4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  That’s what He did when He came to die in your place, in my place.

To be sure, verses 9–11 show that He was gloriously rewarded for this self-emptying, servanthood even unto death: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so 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, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).  And it will be true for you as well.  “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

Second is the example of Paul.  Verses 17–18:

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  

Likewise, you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

Paul loved this church.  He loved all the churches.  And he died every day to serve them.  “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31).  He compared his life to a drink offering poured out on the sacrifice of their faith.  In other words, he didn’t take thought just for his own interests; he took thought for their faith and was willing to deny himself over and over, and in the end die, that their faith would be strong.

Third is the example of Timothy.  And here’s where the wording is an explicit recall of verse 4.  Watch how Paul contrasts Timothy with others.  Verses 19–22:

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.  For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare [literally: your interests, your things].  For they all seek their own interests [there’s the exact wording of verse 4], not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”

Oh, how I pray that this mind of Christ – to take thought not only for our own interests but for the interests of others – will not be as rare at Mountain Hill as it was in Paul’s experience.  “They all seek their own interests.”  “I have no one like Timothy.”  Would you, with all your heart, join me in praying for this and pursuing this and willing this in the power of God’s Spirit?  Make this the mark of the relational culture of our church.

Finally, the example of Epaphroditus.  Verses 25–30:

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.  [Notice how amazingly their interests dominate: He was not distressed that he was ill, nor was he distressed that they had not heard he was ill, like most of us who want others to know if we are sick; instead he was distressed because they heard he was ill!  Would they be too worried?  Would they fear he died?  Their interests were on his heart.]  Indeed, he was ill, near to death.  But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. . .  So, receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”

The Beauty of Looking Out for Others’ Interests

There you have four illustrations of what I long to become, and what I long for our church to be like.  Call it “the mind of Christ.” Call it “the 2×4 factor” (Philippians 2:4).  Call it whatever you will.  It’s beautiful.  It was beautiful when Christ put our interests above His own earthly comforts and died for us.  It was beautiful when Paul suffered every day to plant the churches that brought us the gospel.  It was beautiful when Timothy served side by side with Paul, putting the interests of others first.  It was beautiful when Epaphroditus risked his life to complete the Philippian service to Paul.  And it will be beautiful in your life as God makes His wisdom grow up among us where the mind of Christ is so alive.

Lord, do it.  For Christ’s sake.