Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept. 28, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Philippians 2:1-4; 14-18
Sermon Theme: “From Unity to Gladness and Joy”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 24, Part 4, Series A; original ideas; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Introduction to Philippians, Concordia Self-Study Bible; Nelson’s Three-in-One)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ernest T. W. Hoffmann, the writer of the original stories in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, once visited the home of a person who had just come into considerable wealth. The man loved to brag about how much money he had, and when he showed Hoffmann his palatial home he boasted about how many servants he needed to keep it going.
The wealthy Berlin millionaire explained that he needed three servants for his personal attendance. Hoffmann, convinced that sarcasm was the only way to respond to such a person, replied that he had four servants just to take care of his bath: one to lay out the towels, one to test the temperature of the water, and the third to make sure the faucets were in good order.
The rich man was perplexed. “And the fourth,” he asked.
“Oh, he is the most important one of all,” said Hoffmann. “He takes my bath for me.”
I love that story! And it’s a good way to lead into our sermon text for today from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.
It’s important to know that Philippi was a prosperous Roman Colony; its citizens were citizens of Rome, and they were very proud of their citizenship, even the members of the Christian congregation there, which Paul oversaw. There were very, very few Jews in Philippi, and these Gentile Roman citizens were just a tad haughty. So, in our text, Paul is teaching them five important lessons, lessons we too could stand to hear: Unity, Humility, Peacefulness, Scriptural Wisdom, and Gladness and Joy. We’ll look at each of these.
One. Unity. “Live together in full accord,” says Paul, with one mind, in loving fellowship. When each of us is controlled by the mind of Christ, we are united in love and service.
In many ways, we Americans are like the Philippians. In America, we emphasize independent thought and doing your own thing. Christianity emphasizes having Christ’s mind and unity of Spirit. Being of one mind is expressed in Christ-like self-giving love.
I am always suspicious of those couples who claim that they have never had an argument or a cross word. Yet I must admit that my maternal grandparents, as far as I could tell, fell into that exalted category. She looked to him for leadership and he gave it. He looked to her for support and he got it. Their joy was to make one another happy. Every action was directed by love and consideration. They were truly of one heart and mind, the mind of Christ.
Two. Humility. Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit; instead, be humble. Like the Philippians, we Americans are not so inclined to practice humility. We tend to say things like, “If you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will.” Or, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make your own way in the world. Go from rags to riches.” Or, “Look out for Number One; don’t let anybody stand in the way of becoming great!” Unfortunately, that mentality has even reached the church in some forms. Get a bigger church! Build that huge new sanctuary with all the latest technology! Get the most people through the doors you can so that others will see how big a congregation you have. Be the best!
While it is good to be industrious and work hard, the drive to be number one goes completely in the opposite direction of our text. Jesus, the Son of God, left His heavenly throne to not only take on human form but also to die a horrible, tortuous death. If He is our example, we cannot look to be a Christian and yet look out only for Number One! As Paul says in the text, “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 interest, but also to the interest of others.”
To be sure, humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
Three. Peacefulness. Do all things without grumbling, questioning, or fighting. You know the old saying, “It takes seven Lutherans to change one light bulb, — one to change it and six to argue about the right way to do it.”
I have one friend in San Marcos and know at least one person in East Bernard who is a keeper of bees. My friend and her husband in San Marcos have several bee hives in their garden behind the house. They have posted on my facebook wall, photos and videos showing how they take care of their bees.
One thing they will tell you is that everything has to be quiet for bees to make honey. All you need to do to keep them from making honey is to tap on the hive. Just tap it, and they will buzz around. When they quiet down, tap again and they will buzz some more. But everything has to be quiet for them to make honey. It’s a fact.
Fussing, arguing, debating, verbally fighting over issues that divide us in the church, — as long as we are doing those things, we will never “make honey for the Lord.” It is when we become quiet, when we are like-minded, when we are one in spirit and purpose, that’s when we make our Lord’s joy complete, and that’s when we can be builders of the church.
Four. Scriptural Wisdom. Paul says in the text, “Hold fast to the Word of Life.” There were almost no Jews in Philippi; in fact, there were almost no Jews in the congregation in Philippi. The Word of God, that is, Holy Scripture, at this point in history was the Old Testament, because the New Testament was in the process of being lived. This very letter, along with the other letters Paul wrote, later became the part of the Bible known as the New Testament. But at this point in time, Scripture was just the Old Testament.
If you read all of Philippians, you will notice that Paul does not quote the Old Testament anywhere, as he does so often in his other letters. Paul knew that the Gentiles in the Philippian congregation would not have been brought up on the Word of God in their homes. There was no Jewish grandpa in the home to quote Scripture to them, so many would not have recognized quotations from the Word of God. Even though, at age 30 or 40, they might be hearing Scripture for the first time, Paul wants them to know that God’s Word is the Word of Life.
That it is never too late to begin learning “Scriptural Wisdom” is good news for those folks among us who were brought up in un-churched homes. You can still become imbued with the Word of Life. And I’ll tell you a secret, there are many “churched” folks from infancy to old age who are Scripturally ignorant, so this is good advice for all of us, — “Hold fast to the Word of Life.”
Five. Gladness and joy. No doubt there was a lot of grumbling and griping in the congregation in Philippi, just as there is in congregations today. Those folks in Philippi were rather affluent, some coming from the professional class and the wealthy class. The poorer, persecuted congregations, like the one in Jerusalem, needed help and subsidy from the more affluent ones. However, it often was the congregations who suffered poverty and persecution who had the most Christian joy in their hearts. Paul himself was in prison when he wrote this letter, yet he was always able to be glad and rejoice.
The joy and gladness was really the thing that made the Christian stand out among unbelievers.
To be sure, Paul gave the Philippians and us, lessons from A to Z in this text, or, I guess we should say from Unity to Gladness and Joy. The bottom line is what the Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter: “In this [the promise of salvation], you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.