This sermon is part of the sermon series "Harmony and Humility in the Church". See series.
A few years ago, one of my students was speaking to our class about his denominational background. He told the class that the average church in his denomination lasts about 8 years, and then it splits because of some disagreement or dissension among the members or the leadership. He mentioned one instance in which a pastor and the elders were at great odds with each other. The elders met in secret to vote to have the pastor fired. The pastor heard about the meeting and retaliated. He had church members sign a petition denouncing the elders as disruptive, and then got a judge to issue a restraining order so that the elders couldn't come within 500 yards of the church building. Shortly thereafter, the elders started their own church and took almost half the congregation with them.
In light of that story, I thought of titling the message today, "How to Bring Joy to Your Pastor." I thought of that title because of something Paul wrote to a small church. He said to them: Let me tell how you can bring me great joy, what would make me completely happy.
Paul was writing under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trial before Caesar. The church he was writing was 800 miles away in the city of Philippi. He and the church had a long history together; he loved them, and they loved him. They had just sent him some money so that Paul could pay the rent for the house he was staying in rather than be thrown in a dungeon while he awaited his trial.
Paul was so grateful to them; their gift brought him great joy. Another thing that brought him joy was seeing his guards come to Christ. Over the past months, every six hours, day and night, another of Caesar's personal bodyguards would strap on the other end of Paul's four-foot chain, and one by one they became believers. That gave Paul a lot of joy.
A third thing that brought him joy was that local pastors in Rome became more fearless in their preaching. They began to speak out more boldly and confidently, to hold more public meetings, to preach Christ, and take a stand for godliness.
Paul had many reasons for joy—their gift, the faith of the guards, the preaching of local pastors. But there was something he wanted them to do in order to make his joy complete.
Be one in spirit.
In Philippians 2:2, Paul says: You'll make my joy complete if I hear that you're living in harmony—if I hear that you're like—minded, that your thoughts are focused on matters of ministry, that you love each other, and that you're one together in spirit and purpose. You'll make my joy complete if I hear that you're united.
When Paul uses the phrase "like-minded," he doesn't mean they should have the same opinions or agree about everything. Rather, he means that they should have the same way of approaching a matter. They should come at things with the same attitude: knowing that God has called them to be at peace with each other, that there is a larger purpose for them as a church, and that they've committed themselves to loving each other and living in harmony.
In verse 1, Paul essentially asks them: Would you do this for me? I know God's made it possible for you to do it.
When Paul writes "if" in verses 1 and 2, the implication is, "If you have any encouragement from Christ, and I know you do." He's not uncertain or wondering if it's true. It would be like my saying, "If it's my birthday, I get to pick where we go out to eat. If it's my birthday—and it is."
We could actually replace "if" with "since" in the phrases of verse 1:
Since you have encouragement from Christ to move you in this direction;
Since your hearts are secure and comforted in his love;
Since you sense the presence of the Spirit in your life and are aware of his promptings;
Since God has given you tender, compassionate hearts which move you toward kindness to each other;
Since God has made it possible for you to do it, make my joy complete by living in harmony with each other, by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
My friends, the crowning glory of a church is that its members live in loving harmony with each other. That's what Jesus prayed for the night before he was crucified: "My prayer is that they may be one." That's why he told his disciples, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
But what exactly makes this happen? What specifically brings it about? What causes this harmony to occur?
There's harmony in the church when there's humility in the people. There's harmony in the church when people place the welfare of others ahead of their own.
That's what Paul goes on to say in verses 3?4: "Act with humility toward each other."
Selfish ambition is insisting on my way; vain conceit is doing so because you believe yourself to be more important than everyone else. Selfish ambition wants to be prominent; vain conceit believes itself more deserving than anyone else. Selfish ambition makes others yield to what it says; vain conceit assumes its thoughts, desires, and happiness matter more than anyone else's. Selfish ambition and vain conceit cause dissension, create conflict, and lead to splits or departures.
Humility is just the opposite. It leads to harmony. Humility says, "It doesn't have to be my way, because I can see that others would benefit from your way." Humility says, "Things don't necessarily have to please me, because I can see that it's meeting the need of others." Humility says, "The music is not what I'd prefer; the board decision kind of goes against what I'd like; the refreshments are not handled the way I'd do it; but that can be OK, because what I want is not the deciding factor; what's good for others is."
Humility thinks of others ahead of itself. That's what the rest of verse 3 says: "In humility consider others better than yourselves." The English word better is kind of awkward and doesn't quite capture what Paul is saying. It raises the question, "How can I consider someone better than me when I know they're not? I can sing solos better than they can; my voice is better, and that's an objective fact. I can lead a meeting better everyone knows that. I can organize an activity better; I know how to do it. How can I consider someone better when I know realistically that they're not?" The word better doesn't quite capture what Paul is saying.
The word Paul uses simply means, "consider others surpassing you." Surpassing you, not in ability or skill, but in importance. Consider their needs, their interests, as coming ahead of, or surpassing, yours. Consider others more deserving than yourself.
Verse 4 makes it clear Paul means we should consider the needs of others ahead of our own. It is not humble to say, "You're better than I am." Instead, we should say, "Your needs and interests come ahead of mine. They matter more than mine do." Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it's simply thinking of yourself less. Humility says, "My voice may be better, but you need to sing this solo in order to develop your gifts." Humility says, "I probably lead a meeting better, but the people are more likely to accept a decision if they hear it coming from you." Humility says, "I think I just got the raw end of a deal, but that's OK, because what happens to me is not the main thing; keeping harmony in the church is more important."
Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it's simply thinking of yourself less. When there's that kind of humility in the people?each one considering others more important, more deserving than themselves, each one looking more to the interests and needs of others?there's harmony in the church. That brings this pastor a lot of joy.
Donald R. Sunukjian is professor of homiletics and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership Department at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.