4th Sunday after Pentecost July 7, 2019
348, 378, 402, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
A mother tells her children: “If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, we will go to the park.” An employer tells his employee: “If you do good work, I will give you a raise.” A politician tells his constituents: “If I am elected, I promise to…”
Our existence in this world is filled with conditions—“If…then…” In fact, there are very few aspects of our lives that we can point to and say that there is no condition associated with it. We make plans to do things and go places, but those plans often fall through. Why? Because something “came up” or circumstances changed that altered or maybe even ruined our plans. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a financial problem, maybe it was a sickness, maybe we were needed elsewhere, or maybe it was (-fill in the blank-).
The primary reason for this conditional existence in which we find ourselves is that we aren’t the ones in control of our existence. Our Creator God directs and controls all things. For the Christian, our conditional existence is not the hardship that it is for those who do not know God. The unbeliever is in confusion and turmoil, whether he acknowledges it or not, by this conditional existence. He views the circumstances in his life as nothing more than chance and bad luck. Knowing that, we Christians are in a position to exemplify stability and confidence to the world. One of the ways we do that is in regards to how we view and treat one another in the midst of all the conditions that come upon us. While life in this world is a conditional existence, our existence in the kingdom of God is unconditional. We turn to our text for further illumination, reading from Philippians 2:1-11:
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 rivalry 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. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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.
I said a few moments ago that our existence in the kingdom of God is unconditional. Perhaps you are wondering what I mean by that. What I mean is that we look, not to our circumstances, but to the words and promises of God for certainty and stability. If my car breaks down, my dog dies, and I fall and break my leg in the same week, neither is my relationship with God lost nor my inheritance in heaven in jeopardy. I can still be confident in God’s love for me and be certain that I will inherit eternal life because neither of them are tied to my earthly conditions. They are tied to God’s promises which He has made to me in His Word. Those promises are made in connection with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. They are therefore unconditional promises—neither requiring anything of us nor dependent upon our circumstances.
So why, then, does Paul write “IF there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…?” The use of the word “if” seems to imply that maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, that maybe such things are conditional. That is the way it reads in the English. In Greek, however, Paul’s words are more certain than that. Paul isn’t saying that maybe we do and maybe we don’t have such things in Christ, but that we actually do. The believer in Christ has encouragement, comfort, fellowship in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy, and all of these from God to us, unconditionally. They are the products of God’s grace toward us in Christ. One’s outward circumstances doesn’t affect such things.
When one is mindful of the circumstances of the Philippian Christians to whom Paul originally wrote these words, we can see how important this truth is. You may remember that it was in the city of Philippi that Paul and Silas had been thrown into prison and where the jailor that had been entrusted with their care came to believe in Jesus. There were others there also who were brought into God’s kingdom and who trusted His promises toward them in Christ. However, in chapter one of this epistle, Paul refers to a persecution that had broken out in Philippi against the Christians. Though not recorded in Holy Scripture, historians record that this was the earliest organized persecutions in that part of the Roman Empire. Christians were losing their businesses, their homes, and their freedoms. Under such circumstances it is understandable that some would begin wondering whether or not God was on their side. Paul answers that question by the first verse of our text. Essentially, he says, “You do have encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, fellowship in the Spirit, affection and sympathy…” It was theirs unconditionally in Christ.
The same is true today for Christ’s believers. Whereas others see turmoil, confusion, and cause for fear and frustration, the believer in Christ goes back to the promises of God toward him in Christ. He looks past all the “ifs” and to the One who has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and, “All the promises of God are yes and Amen in (Christ).” This is why it is so important for us to remain faithful in the use of the Means of Grace. Through the Word preached and through the Sacraments, God is constantly reassuring our hearts so that we can say with the psalmist, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved and though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof…for the Lord is with us, the God of Jacob is our Refuge.” (Psalm 46:2,7)
This unconditional existence that we have in Christ is something that we share in common with one another. Yet, because of the sinful flesh that clings to us, we do often take our eyes off of God’s Word and focus upon our earthly circumstances. We do get caught up in our individual conditions so that we lose sight of these wonderful blessings that are ours in Christ. Like Job of old, we often start out strong, but as our conditions linger, we begin losing our grip on God’s promises. It is for this reason that Paul pleads with us, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry 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.”
To Paul, it was a joyful thing when he witnessed Christians exercising the unconditional gifts of God for the benefit of those who were suffering. Contrary to modern opinion, in the kingdom of God we are not just to “mind our own business.” We have received gifts unconditionally, and we are to use them unconditionally for the benefit of one another.
To make this matter perfectly clear, Paul refers to our Savior in the well known words: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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.”
Two things stand out in these words: 1) it is precisely because the Son of God did not “mind His own business” that we have been saved. In fact, He willingly entered into our suffering to save us; 2) having the mind of Christ means being willing to endure suffering ourselves for the sake of others, especially our fellow Christians, knowing that the suffering that we endure in the here and now cannot compare to the eternity of glory which we will share with those for whom we willingly suffer.
Think about it for a moment, and what it means. It wasn’t that Christ wasn’t mindful of what He would suffer, but He despised it. It wasn’t that He was powerless to prevent it, but He found joy in doing it. It wasn’t that Christ had nothing else, but He set it all aside. He humbled Himself, endured the cross, and purchased our redemption so that our salvation would be unconditional.
The attitude which Christ possessed in redeeming us is the attitude that has been given to us along with our faith in Him. He saw our pitiful condition and He came to our rescue, knowing what it would cost and what conditions He would have to endure. So also, it’s not that God promises that we won’t have to suffer painful conditions to assist our fellow Christians in their troubles, but those conditions cannot overturn the promises of God. We can share in their troubles, as Christ shared in our troubles, being confident that all will remain well between us and our God because Christ did suffer for us.
It is impossible to calculate the value of living an unconditional existence. We live in such a topsy-turvy world and the individual circumstances of our lives are constantly changing. This often leads to frustrations, fears, and failures on our part. We become frustrated because things aren’t going as we planned. We become fearful because we are not in control. We fail to love our neighbor as ourselves because we are so focused on our own circumstances. In Christ, all of the conditions are gone along with all of the frustration, fear, and failures. Our failures are gone, because He took our sin away on the cross. Our fears are gone because our futures are safely in the hands of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Our frustrations are overcome by the eternal plans of our God who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. This is our encouragement, comfort, affection, and sympathy in Christ. This is also, therefore, our joy to have this mind in Christ Jesus toward one another. AMEN!
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.