Alexander the Great was a king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father King Philip II to the throne at the age of twenty. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign and had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the age of thirty. It stretched all the way to northwestern India.
Alexander’s father, Philip, conquered a Greek town named Crenides that was important because of its gold mines and its position on the main trade route. He renamed the town after himself and at the time of the first Christians it was still called Philippi, and it was still very important.
Philippi had the status of Roman territory. Most of the inhabitants were Roman and Greek. It was a wealthy city with wealthy and proud citizens.
Philippi was the first place we know in Europe where the gospel was preached. Paul was travelling and wanted to go to Bithynia in Asia. Instead, the Holy Spirit took them west. Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia beckoning him to come and help them. Paul went to Philippi, where he learned that there were not enough Jews in the city to establish a synagogue. Paul went first to a Jewish woman’s prayer group, which became the first fellowship that Paul planted in Europe.
The church in Philippi was the gateway to Europe for the gospel. But the church was very small at first. Among the women who started this church with Paul was Lydia. Things did not go well for Paul, and soon he was arrested. After one night of the power and glory of God, his jailer was also converted. This was the only church that supported Paul with money.
It is to this group of people that many years later Paul writes his letter to the Philippians from a prison cell. He has heard of some of their problems and is writing to encourage and advise. His main topic is relationships.
At the beginning of chapter two, Paul addresses the topic that is on his mind.
“Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (verse 2)
The trouble seems to be that people are not agreeing with each other. People are not loving one another. And people are not working together with one mind and purpose.
This is not a strange problem to us either. We also find that even when there are no disputes over doctrine, we still cannot get along. We fall out with friends. We become disagreeable.
Paul is not worried about wrong doctrine in this letter, but wrong attitudes.
It seems to be an issue of pride.
Competition for honour was intense in Roman society, and this was exaggerated in Philippi. You may have noticed a tendency toward this in your life. There is a great deal of competition in modern society. Life can sometimes seem like a contest to win a race to the top. In Philippi this race to the top seems to have got into the church. Paul notes however that we ‘must live as citizens of heaven’ and not as citizens of this world.
Our example in how to do this is Jesus and the way he lived.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (verses 3-5)
The beautiful passage that follows declares that Jesus was God. Jesus had all the privileges and rights of God. That’s even more than the rights and privileges of the emperor of Rome or Alexander the Great. It’s certainly more than the rich and important people in the church in Philippi.
These people are clinging to their own importance and demanding that other people serve them or obey them. They feel their importance is above that of others in the church, and that their opinions matter more than anyone else’s.
Paul points out that Jesus wasn’t like that. Jesus became a slave. He gave up all of his privileges. He took on human form. He was obedient to God, even going to the cross. He is our example. We are called to be obedient to God, even if it means allowing wicked sinners to crucify us for something we didn’t do.
We normally dare not give up one small part of what little honour we have. We fear even the slightest loss of status. We shudder at the idea of other people looking down on us. We tremble at the thought of what other people might think of us. Advertising sells the message that we are inferior if we don’t have certain products. And so we spend a lot of money to ensure we measure up to arbitrary and changing standards.
Paul notes that the effect of Jesus giving up more than we can imagine, was not what we fear for ourselves. The misery and degradation was merely temporary. It lasted for a fraction of time. And what follows is the lifting up.
We do not lift ourselves up.
“God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names.”
Because he was so humble and obedient, now every knee shall bow to Jesus and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord.
We will be lifted up like him, if we humble ourselves like him. God will lift us up.
It is so easy to get distracted in our walk as Christians. Often like the Philippians it isn’t false doctrine that is leading us astray, but lack of humility. We drift into a life that lacks love and concern for others. It may be that every time we’ve tried to be humble, other people have taken advantage of us. So we stopped being a doormat. We stopped being that person everyone else just walks over.
But that isn’t what Jesus did. We have to be like Jesus and follow his example.
Paul says, “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
Being like Jesus is not a matter of forcing ourselves to be perfect. God is doing this work in us.
Paul says they should take this instruction as seriously as if he were standing right in front of them rather than writing a letter.
He says they should work to show the results of their salvation. “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”
The task for us as followers of Jesus is to let God’s glory shine in our lives. Let the bright light of the Holy Spirit shine from us so that the world can see.
The members of the fellowship in Philippi and members of the fellowship in Jinju are called to the same task. Then and now, Christ followers are called to shine with his light. We don’t need to try to shine with our own light. Doing that just gets in the way of God’s work.
Get out of the way. Let go of your ego. Set aside your pride. Embrace humility. And then God’s light will shine from you. People will see the glory of God, and they will fall at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Your faithful service is an offering to God.
At the end, we shall rejoice over each other. We shall share a great joy.