The Gospel: Spectator or Participant?

Philippians 1:1-3


Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  Super Bowl 50 will take place later today in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.  Two teams, the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, will do battle for the right to claim the title of Super Bowl champions.

An estimated 184 million Americans are expected to watch.

43 million people plan to host Super Bowl parties.

Approximately $14.3 billion will be spent on Super Bowl related activities.

$4.2 billion will be wagered.

As of Thursday, the lowest price for a Super Bowl ticket on the official NFL website was $10,375.

Super Bowl Sunday is a bad day for chickens.  Today Americans will devour 1.3 billion chicken wings.

And holy guacamole!  139.4 million pounds of avocados and 14 and ½ tons of chips will be consumed.

All of this revolving around the question of who can get a 15 oz. ball past the opponents’ goal line (or over their goal posts) more times than the other team.  Whichever team can do that will be crowned Super Bowl champions and will forever more hold their place in history as the Super Bowl 50 NFL Champions.

It’s a big deal.  And a lot of people are going to participate.  I’ll probably watch some of the game myself, though I don’t really care much who wins the game.

A lot of people—players, coaches, assistants, executives, referees, broadcasters, advertisers, entertainers, commentators, spectators, merchandisers, restaurant owners, etc. etc.—will participate in the event in one way or another.

But as important as the event is—there is a participation that matters far more than that.  Participation in this matter matters not for a day and not merely in the earthly realm.  Participation in this matter is a participation sourced in God Himself.  It is a participation having eternal consequences.  And it is a participation that happens not once a year, but every single day.  It is the “participation in the gospel” of which Paul speaks of in Philippians 1:5.

I would draw your attention to the heart of the Apostle Paul in this as he writes from a prison cell.  Note how he speaks: “I have you in my heart” (1:7).  He thinks of them: “In all my remembrance of you” (1:3).  And as he thinks of them he thanks God and rejoices in prayer (1:3-4).

These folks mattered to Paul.  Nothing mattered more to the Apostle Paul than sharing the gospel with folks and seeing them grow up in Christ.  Colossians 1:28-29 speaks to this: “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

So, as he writes from his prison cell, he writes with joy in his heart and thanksgiving to God as he thinks about how God has worked to both bring these people to saving knowledge of Christ, and then, to grow them in Christlike maturity.

And as he thinks of them and writes of the specific reason for his remembering and thanking God and rejoicing: “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5).

From the “first day until now” they had participated in the gospel with Paul.  And we’ve looked to Acts chapter 16 and have seen how God worked to bring the gospel to Philippi.  Remember the stated purpose of the mission team in going there.  Acts 16:10, “And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

And so they went there and preached the gospel.  And the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the gospel and she and her household were saved.  And then the Lord saved the slave-girl, fortune-teller.  And then through a God-orchestrated chain of events, the Lord worked through the gospel to save the Philippian jailer and his household.  And a church was born in Philippi through the preaching of the gospel.

And now, 10 years later, as Paul is again in prison, and has been led by the Spirit to write to these dear friends, he writes of their ongoing participation in the gospel.

The word translated “participation” is the Greek “koinonia,” which means “communion, fellowship, sharing in common.”  Some translations translate it that way.  KJV says “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”  But the word “participation” is a suitable translation in this context.

One of the definitions of our English word “participate” is simply “to have a part or share in something.”  So a participation speaks of a shared interest of a group of people in a common thing.  In this case they were (we are, as believers) partipants in the gospel.  Philippians 1:27 speaks to this spirit of this phrase: “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

So note that we are not spectators with respect to the gospel.  It is not as if we are fans in the stands watching.  We are participants in the gospel.  God has privileged us to have a participation in the gospel.  We were made participants by Him when we believed in the gospel and placed our faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.  We are participants by definition.  We might not be very good participants.  We might not be giving much devotion or attention to the cause, but we are nevertheless participants because God has made us so.

What’s involved in this participation?  That’s an important question.  If we are participants—which we are—it is important for us to understand what’s involved.



The term “gospel” appears repeatedly in this little epistle.  9X.  It is here in the beginning of the book (1:5) and appears again at the end (4:15).  In between Paul speaks much of gospel truths.  This is a “Together for the Gospel” book.

The term “gospel” translates the Greek “euangelion,” which means literally “good news” or “good message.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary explains how it refers in the NT to the “good tidings of the kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension.”

That’s the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  The gospel is a matter of first importance.  It is the message through which a person is saved.  It is the message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Note that there is some bad news in that good news.  Christ died for OUR SINS.  The bad news is that we are all born sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12).  The bad news is that the wages of sin is death.  The worse news is that if something isn’t done about a person’s sins, that person will spend eternity “away from the presence of the Lord” and pay the penalty of eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

But then there is the good news.  The good news is the truth about Jesus Christ had what He has done.  Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God purposefully died for our sins.  Then, having defeated sin and death and the devil himself, He rose from the dead.  Salvation by grace through faith is availed to all who receive this message of the gospel.

This gospel message is not merely a message.  It is not a set of facts to which we merely assent as some kind of mental exercise.  According to Romans 1:16, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  The power of God lies behind the message.  And the salvation spoken of involves more than just the forgiveness of sins.  The one who believes “is born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine.”

There is a Divine alteration of things that takes place at the moment of saving faith.  The rebellious child of the devil is not just forgiven, he is brought into a real and eternal fellowship with God through Christ.  He is born again and made to be a new creature in Christ.  His affections and interests are changed.  He is delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we want to make something clear.  When it comes to the Super Bowl you can be a spectator.  You don’t have to choose sides.  You don’t have to decide whether you are for the Denver Broncos or for the Carolina Panthers.  You can be for one or both or neither.  It doesn’t matter.  But it doesn’t work that way with the gospel.  You are either on one side of the other.  1 John 3:10 speaks to two different groups of people—the children of God and the children of the devil.  Those are the only two categories.  We are all children of the devil by birth.  The only way we can be made children of God is through receiving the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation.  But no one can remain ambivalent.  You can’t be a spectator.

And if you’ve believed, you’ve been made a participant.  A participant with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.  A participation in the good news, the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11).


When is it okay for a believer in Christ to stop caring about the gospel?  Never.

Look again at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Look at the verbs that are used with respect to the gospel:

  • Paul preached it.
  • They received it.
  • They stood in it.
  • They were being saved by it (ESV translates this phrase “being saved”). The verb is in the present tense.
  • They needed to hold fast to it.

The gospel is not just a message to be received, it is a message to be lived out.

We find the same thing in Philippians 1:27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”  So here we have it.  Participation in the gospel involves more than just believing the message, it has something to do with the way we live our lives.

There is a kind of conduct that is in a “manner worthy” of the gospel.  The Greek term translated “worthy” means literally “that which balances the scales.”  So the picture is like this.  You have one of those double-sided balance scales.  On the one side you have the gospel.  This message of how Christ has worked to save us from our sins.  On the other side of the scales there is our conduct.  The nature of the walk needs to be consistent to the content of the message.

The gospel is not just something we believe, it is something that we live.  Romans 6:1-4.  The person who has genuinely believed in Christ is a person who has been baptized into Christ Jesus.  They have been completely identified with Him and in His death and resurrection.  The Risen Christ now lives in them, so that “they might walk in newness of life.”  And it is that “Christ in us” kind of walk that is in a manner worthy.

Philippians 2:14-16 speaks to the kind of conduct that is worthy of the gospel.  No grumbling.  No disputing.  Proven to be blameless children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  Holding forth the word of life.  We’ve been called to this kind of conduct.  This is the kind of conduct that is worthy of the gospel.

Note how we are called in this salvation to strive together in this common cause—to live out the gospel.  Philippians 1:27. “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  The Lord’s Supper is in there.  It reminds us of our common belief in our common Lord and the common sacrifice through which we have been saved and our common identity and our common purpose.  That’s one of the reasons why it is so important for us to observe it in community.

That’s what this divine participation in the gospel looks like.  It looks like teamwork.  It looks like cooperation.  It looks like be led by the Spirit according to the mind of Christ.  It looks like the pursuit of Christ-likeness and Christ-like love.  It looks like doing that together.

Those two Superbowl teams have gotten to where they are today because of teamwork.  Their coaches have preached teamwork. They’ve adopted that mentality.  They are all, as individuals, willing to put aside and sacrifice of personal prerogatives for the sake of the team.  And when we look at the church today, we don’t find enough of that.  There is far too much divisiveness and strife and competition and that sort of thing.  God has called us to a divine participation in the gospel, but instead we fight amongst each other.  There are far too many casualties that are the result of friendly fire.  But God has called us to love one another and to work as a team in the divine participation of the cause of Christ.


And finally, this gospel is a message which we share.  We are participants together in belief in the gospel, in living out the gospel, and in sharing the gospel.

Paul’s life was devoted to the cause of sharing the gospel.  That’s why he went to Philippi in the first place.  And now, as he writes from a prison cell, that is still his utmost concern.  Notice what he says.  Philippians 1:12-14.  Though he writes from prison, that hasn’t deterred his ability to reach others with the gospel.  Some of the praetorian guard were reached.  Others were emboldened by Paul’s example to share the gospel.  All of these things were working “for the greater progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).

This was not just Paul’s concern, it is God’s concern.  1 Timothy 2:4, “Who desires all men to be saved.”

And God’s concern expressed through the Lord Jesus when He told His disciples: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

“The greater progress of the gospel.”  That is God’s concern.  That is Christ’s concern.  That was Paul’s concern.  That was the concern of the folks in that Philippian church.  That is to be our concern.

We are participants together in this glorious God-given cause.  And this participation applies to all that we do.

As participants we share the gospel.  Now we need to correct a subtle but wrong way of thinking.  The church is not primarily a place where lost people go to be saved.  The church is a place where saved people are encouraged and instructed and sent out to take the gospel to lost people.  The church gathers for edification and scatters for evangelism.  And you take the gospel with you wherever you go.  And that’s one thing that participants in the gospel do.

As participants we work together with others in gospel outreach.  We are not that big of a church, but you might be surprised by how much goes on by way of outreach in our community:

  • Care Center Ministry.
  • Clatsop Care Memory Community.
  • Gideon’s.
  • Astoria Rescue Mission.
  • CEF and Good News Clubs.
  • Warrenton Senior Center.
  • Coast Pregnancy Clinic.

People go and serve.  And other people pray for those going.  We participate together in the gospel.

As participants we work together in supporting missionary endeavors around the world.

And that’s at the heart of all that we do in worshipping the Lord Jesus.


If you are a believer in Christ, you’ve been called to a participation in the gospel.

Your participation began when you first trusted in Jesus Christ.  You believed in Christ, confessing Him to be Lord.  You were baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ and enjoined to a host of other folks who’ve likewise been called and have been engaged in the cause of the gospel since the beginning of the church.

You are not a spectator.  God has not called you to sit in the stands and cheer and boo.  You are on the field.  You’ve been called to “fight the good fight.”  The gospel message is not just something you believe, it is a walk that God called you to.  There is such a thing as “adorning the gospel.”  We do that as we conduct ourselves and the affairs of our lives in a manner consistent with the message.  What is the message?  That Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save us from our sins.  It will do us little good to share the gospel if our walk is




Jesus Changes Lives


Philippians 1:1-2


“What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart.”

Jesus Christ changes lives.  For those who trust in Him for salvation, He works a dramatic change.  Not only are they forgiven, He works to change them in an amazing way.  He alone has the power to do that.

We’ve seen some of this in Acts chapter 16 as we considered what happened when the gospel first came to Philippi.

Philippi was located in Macedonia (modern day Greece).  It was a Roman colony.  It lay on a main highway leading from east to west.  The people of that day were pagan worshippers.  They worshipped false gods of nature and believed the gods could do to them either good or bad depending on how they worked to appease them.  They were also worshippers of Caesar.  They were people in darkness without God and without hope in the world.

Paul was on his 2nd missionary journey.  He and his team would travel hundreds of miles sharing the gospel.  He was joined by Silas, Timothy and Luke.  Their original intent was to go to Asia, but the Holy Spirit said no to Asia.  They intended them to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them.  Then Paul had a vision.  A “Man of Macedonia” was pleading for their help.  So they headed for Macedonia.  They visited a place of prayer.  A God-fearing Gentile by the name of Lydia was there.  The Lord opened her heart to respond to the gospel.  She and her household were saved.  They went on preaching the gospel.  A demon-possessed slave-girl fortune-teller was working to distract Paul in his preaching.  So the Lord delivered that girl of her demon and she was saved.  That caused quite a stir as her masters were then upset that they lost their source of profit in her fortune-telling.  They drug Paul and Silas to the magistrates.  Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten and imprisoned.  But then God caused and earthquake that worked to set everyone free.   The jailer, facing the penalty of execution for losing his prisoners, was about to kill himself.  But Paul intervened.  The jailer asked “What must I do to be saved?”  And Paul told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.”  And he and his household all believed.

And this was the group with which God began the work in Philippi—a businesswoman and her household; a former slave-girl, fortune-teller, and a jailer and his household.  We read in Acts 16:40 of how they all met in Lydia’s house.  We can’t know for sure, but it’s likely that the church was founded there.

Fast-forward a decade or so.  Paul had subsequently finished that 2nd missionary journey and made another.  Along the way he had visited the church in Philippi a couple of times.  At the time of the writing of this epistle he was in prison.  Just like on that first visit.  Only this time he’s in Rome.  And his imprisonment is for 2 years.  Read Acts 28:30-31.

And he writes to the church in Philippi.  And in the first two verses we have his greeting to the church.  A number of persons or groups are mentioned in the greeting.  Paul.  Timothy.  The saints in Philippi.  The overseers.  The deacons.  But the most important person mentioned is Jesus Christ.  He is referred to three times in these two verses.  In fact, Jesus Christ is referred to by name (in various ways) 51 times in the 104 verses of this epistle.   We have in this short little epistle one of the most Christ-centered of all of the books of the Bible.  The entire Bible is, of course, about Jesus.  But here it’s as if Paul can’t say or write anything without referring to His Lord and Savior.  And he does so in a very personal way.  Philippians 1:21 and 3:7 are examples of this.



“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus.”

Paul is the author of the epistle.  Timothy is included in the greeting also, not because he was a co-author, but because of his relationship both to Paul and to the church in Philippi (Cf. 2:22).

Note that Paul doesn’t refer to himself as an apostle here in this greeting.  That’s what we typically find in his epistles.  And it might very well be the case because of what he has to share with them.  Servanthood is a main theme in this epistle.  And that theme is apparent from the very first verse.

Servant translates the Greek “doulos.”

Vine’s, “doulos, an adjective…frequently indicating subjection without bondage.”

So a bond-servant is one who gladly puts himself in the position of being a servant.  We have an example in Exodus 21:1-6 of the idea.  According to the OT law a slave would serve for six years and go free on the seventh.  But that slave could decide, if he loved his master, to voluntariy submit himself to serve his master permanently.  The master would bring him to God, then to a door.  Then he would pierce his ear with an awl.

Now Paul is not a reluctant servant.  He is a willing servant.  He is glad to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It was Paul himself who wrote, “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

There is an old Bob Dylan song which had this line, “You’ve got to serve somebody.”  The lost person, whether he recognizes it or not, serves the prince of the power of the air.  He dwells in the domain of darkness and does the bidding of the devil.  He may think himself to be his own man, but he is not.

Now what was true of Paul then wasn’t true of Paul before.  About 25 years previously the Lord Jesus intervened in his life.

Before that day he was a ruthless persecutor of the church of Christ.

In this respect it is amazing to consider who Paul (Saul) was before he was saved.  Every lost person is radically depraved and undeserving with respect to salvation, but that is not always as obvious as it was in Paul’s case (Cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21).  He was “breathing threats and murders against the disciples” (Acts 9:1-2).  When they were being “put to death (he) cast (his vote against them” (Acts 26:10).  In “raging fury against them (he) persecuted them” (Acts 26:11).  “(He) persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13).  He was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Timothy 1:13).

What brought about this change in Paul?  The short answer—Jesus did.  Read 1 Timothy 1:11-17.

He saved him and transformed him and made that persecutor of Christ to be a servant of Christ instead.

And here he is writing to the church in Philippi from a prison cell.  And is not so much concerned with his own personal welfare.  His concern is in serving Christ.  From that prison cells he shares the gospel with others.  From that prison cell he is encouraged that others are emboldened by his example to share the gospel without fear.  From that prison cell he speaks about how much better it would be to go and be with Christ, but how, at the same time, if he stays it will mean fruitful labor for him in serving the Philippians.  From that prison cell he speaks of how his life is being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.  He’s a servant of Christ Jesus.

Timothy is too.  Paul testifies to Timothy’s example.  Philippians 2:19-22.

Now, you might say I don’t care much for serving.  I don’t even like the concept.  But the fact is that if you are a believer you’ve been called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.  And it is not something to shy away from, it is something to embrace.

Jesus is our example.  The church in Philippi was born on that day when the Lord opened the heart of a woman named Lydia to the gospel.  She was saved.  And you know what she did once she was saved.  She served.  She was saved to serve.  We all are.  And the book of Philippians will have much to say about that.  Note in particular what it says in Philippians 2:3-5 about having the mind of Christ.

But go with me to Mark 10:43-45.  The world has its own way of looking at things—sin and selfishness reign.  And people aspire to greatness in their possessions, sinful pleasures, and power.  But God deems servanthood to equal greatness.  And Christ is our example.  He came to serve.  His entire life was a life of service.  And when He had given up everything but His own life, He gave that to.  He said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Now, believer in Christ let me ask you.  Are you living your life to be served, or to serve?  Are you in your marriage to be served, or to serve?  Are you here at church today to be served, or to serve?  Do you relate to others to be served, or to serve?  God would have you to serve.  Christlikeness looks like servanthood—and it’s a beautiful thing.

Most would not have envied Paul in his position.  He was writing from a prison cell.  He had devoted his life to preaching the gospel of grace and it was because of that he was where he was.  But that’s looking at things from man’s perspective.  He was looking instead to the day when He would be brought into God’s presence.  He was longing to hear those words from His master, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

And we need to realize this about our lives.  Only one day, ‘Twil soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”  If you want to live a life without regrets, endeavor to live your life to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.


Paul addresess his epistle to the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.

The word saints means literally “holy ones.”  That’s a term we are familiar with.  God is a holy God.  We have a Holy Bible.  There are holy angels.  But how is it that any person—born sinners as we are—could be called a holy one.

The short answer to that question is “in Christ Jesus.”  But let me explain.

How men make saints (according to the Catholic Church):

  1. Normally a person is recommended for sainthood by a bishop.
    2. This usually takes place no sooner than five years following their death.
    3. A thorough investigation is made of the person’s writings, speeches and sermons.
    4. A detailed biography, based on eyewitness accounts, is prepared.
    5. A certification is made that no superstitious or heretical worship has grown up around the person or his tomb.
    6. A recommendation is made to the pope that the person be proclaimed “heroic in virtue.”
    7. Prayer cards and other materials are printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle to be wrought by the person.
    8. To be canonized as a saint at least two miracles must have been performed by the deceased person.
    9. The canonized saint is assigned a feast day, parish churches may be built in his honor, and the faithful may freely honor him.

How does God make saints?

By a sovereign work of grace.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  They are made saints through the saving work of Jesus Christ.  They are identified as saints from the moment they place their trust in Him unto salvation.

So Paul writes to the church.  These were not perfect people.  But he writes to them as saints because that is what they are.  They are holy ones.  They are holy in their position.

Now he writes to them because God wants these holy ones to be holy in their practice.  Philippians 2:14-15.

And he writes to them because their destiny is a holy place.  Philippians 3:20-21.

But, again, these sinners were made saints by the work of Christ.  Jesus Christ changes lives.’


A decade or so earlier the church in Philippi was born.  It was small.  It had no leadership.  What would happen to that small work that had begun?

Now as Paul writes to them, that little church has grown.  It has matured.  We should note this about the epistle.  The closest thing we can find to a rebuke is Paul’s admonition for two sisters in Christ to get along with each other and a warning regarding the need to beware of false teachers.  The church had demonstrated maturity in providing for Paul in his physical needs.  And the church had an established leadership.

Its interesting to note that Paul addressed the church and the leaders.  He didn’t want to speak to the people apart from the leaders.  He probably might have done that if the leaders had been in error in some teaching.  But that wasn’t the case.

So he addresses the leaders.  And note the language.  Overseers and Deacons.

The word “overseers” translates a Greek term “episkopos” from which we get the English term Episcopalian.  It means to watch over.  The same term is used of Jesus in 1 Peter 2:25 as he is the One who is the “Guardian” (literally “overseer”) of our souls.  Two other terms are used synonymously to describe these men, “elders” (presbuteros) and “shepherds” (“poimen”).  All three terms are used in reference to the elders in Ephesus in Acts chapter 20 (verses 17 and 28).  This is the way that God has designed things.  That the church should be governed by a plurality of overseers who are called by God to serve in that role.

The other group spoken of is the deacons.  That particular word means literally “servants.”  The Greek “diakonos.”  These are men who attend to the physical needs of the congregation.  Men with an aptitude to serve.

So we have a church grown up from its infancy.  And if we ask the question, how did that happen?  The answer is Christ did it.  The same One who said “I will build My church,” grew up His church in Philippi.

Note in the close of Paul’s greeting—Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace is unmerited favor.  God is rich in grace and He bestows His grace not only in salvation, but ongoingly unto His children from His throne of grace.  We are always in need of His strengthening and sustaining grace.  And Paul prayed for that for these believers.

And peace.  The term needs to be understood in three dimensions—peace with God, peace with others, and peace in our hearts.  The believer has been reconciled to God through Christ’s she blood.  We are exhorted to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the fellowship of believers.  And God is able to impart His peace to our hearts in even the most troublesome of circumstances.


So, what do we find in this greeting.  Jesus Christ changes lives.

He took a Christian persecution (a servant of the Devil) and turned him around and made a servant of him.  And Oh My, what a servant.  It is doubtful that anyone has ever had a greater influence for good in this world, besides Christ Himself, that that man.  How did it happen?  Christ did it.

He took a group of sinners and made saints, holy ones, out of them.  He set them on a heavenly course to a place where there will be no more sin.  How did it happen?  Christ did that.

He took an infant church, populated by a business woman, a former slave-girl fortuneteller, and a jailer and his household, and grew that church up so that it possessed a Biblical leadership and some degree of maturity.  How did it happen?  Jesus Christ did that.

Jesus Christ changes lives.  Do you know Him?  Have you trusted in Him for salvation?  Acts 16:30.

If Paul were still around.  If he wrote an epistle to our church.  And we were to read the greeting.  It would sound no different than the one that he wrote to that church in Philippi a couple of thousand years ago.  A servant to the saints and the leaders.  Grace and peace to you.  Praise God for the work He does is saving and transforming lives.

Divine Disturbance: How God worked to birth a church in Philippi (Part 2)


Jesus’ promise: Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.

  1. It is His church.
  2. He is building it.
  3. It faces opposition.
  4. It will prevail.

Jesus’ plan: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Jesus’ plan?  Ordinary people Spirit-empowered bearing witness of Him.  A simple plan.

The church in Philippi came into existence according to Jesus’ promise and Jesus’ plan.


Beginning of our study through the book of Philippians.

Going to begin at the beginning.  In Acts 16 we read of how the church came into being.

Let me give you some dates, so we can understand things according to their timeline in which they occurred.

  • 33 AD – Pentecost
  • 50 AD – Paul’s missionary team comes to Philippi.
  • 62 AD – Paul writes the book of Philippians.

So the events we read about in Acts 16 are about 17 years after Pentecost.  And Paul’s letter to the church is written ~12 years after the church began.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke are on a missionary journey.

They were sovereignly led to go to Macedonia.

God brought them there and to a riverside prayer meeting where they preached to some women.  Paul shared the gospel with Lydia.  The Lord opened her heart to the gospel.  She became the first convert to Christianity in what we now call Europe.

The gospel ventured forth to the remotest part of the earth.

But their missionary work in Philippi was not complete.  They remained there and found opportunity to preach the gospel there.

In fact, their preaching of the gospel was met both with opposition and opportunity.  The gates of Hades were there waiting for them.  But the message of the gospel would prevail in the hearts of some and a church would be borne in Philippi.

We have an amazing set of characters in this chapter:

The team of missionaries: Two Jews, a half-Jew, and a Gentile.  The head of the team had previously been a persecutor of Christians.  But God called him as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  And he was willing and determined to expend himself in preaching of the unfathomable riches of Christ.

  1. The women meeting at the place of prayer.
  2. A God-fearing businesswoman, Lydia.
  3. A demon-possessed fortune-teller.
  4. Some unethical profiteers.
  5. The chief magistrates.
  6. An angry mob.
  7. Some eavesdropping prisoners.
  8. A panic-stricken jailer.


According to God’s plan. God sovereignly and deliberately purposed to send the mission team to Philippi.  They had thoughts of going to other regions, but they were Spirit-led to not go to these places.  God led them instead to go to this particular place.  God led them there and God worked through them to begin a good work in that place.  We are reminded of what Paul would later write to the church: Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  It was God who began that good work in the church in Philippi and in the lives of the individuals who made up that church.  And because it was God who began the work, they (we) can be confident that He will finish what He started.

Through the preaching of the gospel. That was their purpose in going (Acts 16:10).  They went to preach the gospel—the glorious message of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead; that power of God unto salvation to all who believe; that matter of first importance to which we must be faithful.  The plan was simple, preach the gospel and leave the rest up to God.  We should note that the term “gospel” appears in the book of Philippians 9X.

Amidst much opposition. The preaching of the gospel message met with much opposition.  And that’s always the case.  First a demon-possessed slave girl worked to distract Paul.  When Paul exorcised the demon from her, her masters got upset.  Then the whole town was in an uproar.  The magistrates had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten, and imprisoned.  The Devil and the world are opposed to the truth about Jesus.  And any attempt to further the cause of the gospel is met with this kind of thing.  Paul would later write to these Philippians: Philippians 1:27-30.

In triumph amidst opposition. Despite opposition, the cause of the gospel went forward.  Lydia and her household were saved.  The demon-possessed fortune-teller was delivered and saved.  The Philippian jailer and his household were saved.  In fact, God used the difficult circumstances to further the cause of the gospel.  In jail, Paul and Silas were singing hymns of praise and praying.  And the prisoners were listening.  Then God caused an earthquake, and shook everything up.  The jailer was about to kill himself, but God used all of it—and the jailer and his household came to faith.  God works this way.  Paul would later write to the Philippians from jail in a subsequent imprisonment, saying: Philippians 1:12-14.  God loves to turn things around.  He is a powerful God.  The same God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our lives.  The surpassed greatness of His power has been availed to us.  God can use your difficulties to advance the cause of the gospel—trust Him; depend on Him; look to Him amidst your troubles.

In an unexpected manner. It’s not the way that we would have done it.  It’s not the way that we would have drawn it up.  Note that there is no mass conversion here.  God did that at Pentecost.  But not in Philippi, when the church was borne there.  A businesswoman and her household; a slave-girl fortune-teller; a jailer and his household.  Luke apparently stayed there, so he was a part of this work too.  But they weren’t many, and they aren’t the kind of people men would have chosen.  They were ordinary people.  People like you and me.  Why does God choose people like that?  We don’t have to wonder.  He has told us—1 Corinthians 1:26-31.  And, if you are a believer, God has chosen you too.  And He did not choose you because of your wealth or intellect or influence or good looks.  He saved you by His grace and by His grace He equips and leads you to serve.  The key to your success is not your own ability, but your availability.  Lydia serves as a good example for us.  She was saved and then she made herself available.  She welcomed the missionary team into her home.  And then, after the salvation of the jailer and his household, she welcomed them all into her house.  And a church was born.

God did the work. He was at work.  He saved those folks.  He began a church.  He did it according to His own wisdom, love, and power.

  1. To the lost. There is a message to you in this passage.  Perhaps you now understand yourself to be in a place like that Philippian jailer.  Without God and without hope in this world.  Here is God’s message to you: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.”  It’s a very simple message.  You are drowning in your sins.  God has provided for you a life-boat.  He asks nothing more of you than to get yourself into that lifeboat.  You cannot save yourself.  There is nothing you yourself can do to atone for your sins—but God has provided, through the death of His Son for sins and His resurrection from the dead, a means of salvation.  You need to trust in Him.  You need to get into the boat!
  2. To the saved. The work of saving souls is God’s work.  He privileges us to have a part.  We can plant and we can water, but it is God who causes the growth.  Too often we try to take on God’s responsibilities.  He does the work.  Our part is to trust Him, obey Him and be used by Him in the work that He is doing.  To be available to be used by Him as a channel of blessing.  Are you available?  Can God call on you?  Are you listening to what He has to say?  Are you being led by Him?  You are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared beforehand for you to do.  Are you available to be used by Him that others will be blessed by Him through you?

Divine Disclosure

Divine Disclosure: How God worked to bring the Good News to Philippi

Acts 16:11-15


Beginning of our study through the book of Philippians.

Going to begin at the beginning.  In Acts 16 we read of how the church came into being.

Let me give you some dates, so we can understand things according to their timeline in which they occurred.

  • 33 AD – Pentecost
  • 50 AD – Paul’s missionary team comes to Philippi.
  • 62 AD – Paul writes the book of Philippians.

So, the events we read about in Acts 16 are about 17 years after Pentecost.  And Paul’s letter to the church is written ~12 years after the church began.

The city of Philippi

Located in Macedonia (modern day Greece)

About 10 miles inland from the Aegean Sea.

The name was given to the city by King Philip II of Macedonia (in the mid-330s BC) when he enlarged the city.

Acts 16:12 tells us that it was a leading city in Macedonia.  It became a Roman colony in 42 BC.  Evidence from a later period shows that the term used here was an honorary title given to certain cities.  It is apparent from the response of the citizens that they took some pride in their Roman identity (Acts 16:20).

The city lay in a strategic location along what was called the “Via Egnatia,” a great Roman military road which led from Asia to the west.

There were evidently few Jews in Philippi.  Paul made it his practice to first visit the synagogue whenever he came to a town.  But he does not do that in Philippi, most likely because there was no synagogue.  Since it took a quorum of ten male Jews to from a synagogue, it is likely that there were few Jews there.

The people were then overwhelmingly Gentile.  They were pagans and animistic, recognizing deity in spiritual presences that they believed had the power to render aid or do harm.  They also worshipped the emperor.  As one commentator put it: “The Christian faith came to a world hungry, and insecure and unsatisfied, to a morally disintegrating society, and to utter religious confusion.”

So how did the gospel come to Philippi?  How was a church born in Philippi?


  1. The Providence of God

Paul and Silas were sent out on a second missionary journey.  They were joined by Luke (the author of the book of Acts; we know that he was with them because he speaks in the 1st person plural; Acts 16:11-12).  We should note that he must have remained in Philippi because after Acts 16 we don’t find the word “we” used anymore in the account.  They also were joined by Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16:1-3).

They went from city to city preaching the gospel and delivering the decree which had been decided upon at the Jerusalem council.  The Jerusalem council affirmed the truth that salvation is by grace and not by keeping the Law.  The decree has already proven itself to be of great encouragement to the church in Antioch (Acts 15:31).

Now these four men had the Holy Spirit for their guide on their journey.  He was leading the way.  They were being directed by Him.

Acts 16:6. “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  The Holy Spirit closed a door to them.  We are not told exactly how the matter was disclosed to them—a prophetic word, an inner prompting, or circumstances—but there was no doubt to what the Holy Spirit was saying.

Acts 16:7. “And when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go to Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.”  Mysia is on the western shore of modern day Turkey.  They wanted to go to the NE to Bithynia, a highly civilized region.  A logical place for them to go.  But the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them to go there either.

So, no Asia and no Bithynia.  And note that Paul and his companions are listening and responding to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Acts 16:8-10.  “And passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Now what are we to make of this.  God closed two doors to them.  But then Paul was given a vision which opened another door.  Now God is the ultimate cause of the vision.  And the man is speaking by way of God’s design.

This is the matter of which the hymn speaks when it says, “We have heard the Macedonian call today, ‘Send the light!  Send the light!’  There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save, Send the light! Send the light!”

When Paul and his companions cross the sea to what is now Greece, they were entering another continent.  The church in Philippi became the first church began in what is modern day Europe.  That wasn’t Paul’s original plan, but that was God’s plan.  He was providentially leading them there.

And notice what happens when they set their course to Macedonia— “Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis.”  They made the journey from Troas to Neapolis in only two days.  By way of contrast, the same journey in verse later took Paul five days (Acts 20:6).  God sped them along.

What are we to make of this?  The church in Philippi came into being by God’s providence in a remarkable way.  God closed some doors to Paul.  Then the vision.  The birth of the church in Philippi didn’t happen by accident or coincidence or any plan of man.  It was God’s idea.  He led Paul and his companions to go there.  To that specific place.  And later, as the church grew and was established, they could remind themselves of how God had worked to bring the gospel to their city.  And how God had worked to start the church there.  And there is a lot of encouragement in that.

There is something else here of great importance.  We noted in our previous study of how the early church was Spirit-led and empowered to do what it did.  The birth and growth of the church was not by human wisdom or effort.  The Spirit of God was at work.  And we see the same thing here.  Paul and his companions are being led by the Spirit.  They are listening to the Spirit.  They are submitted to the Spirit.  The Spirit is out in front where He belongs.  Now this is the terminology that is applied to us with respect to the Spirit of God.

Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”

Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”  Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”

The Spirit is still at work.  We, as a church, need to be led by the Spirit in our ministry.  You, as a believer, need to be led by the Spirit in your Christian life.

You say.  But no prophet is speaking and I’m not receiving any visions like Paul.  But you are indwelt by the Spirit and the Spirit is able to speak to your heart.  Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Cf. Romans 8:27.

  1. The Preaching of the Gospel

Acts 16:10, “Concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Acts 16:13, “And we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.”

So, Paul and his companions made their way to Philippi.  And they spent some days in the city.

On the Sabbath they went down by the river supposing that there would be a place of prayer.  As we’ve already noted, they would have gone to a synagogue if there would have been one.  But there wasn’t, so they went to find the best alternative.

They found a “place of prayer.”  And some women there who were evidently praying.  Now we don’t want to skip over this detail.  There are some women in Philippi praying.  These folks are not believers in Christ.  Lydia is a “worshipper of God,” and we might suppose that the others were either Jews or God-fearing Gentiles.  But they are praying.  And God is in the process of answering.

And we read about this dynamic in the book of Acts.  The Apostles and others were continually devoting themselves to prayer and then came Pentecost.  Cornelius was a man who was “praying to God continually,” and then God revealed the truth to him in dramatic fashion through the Apostle Peter.

Closer to home we’ve had our own experiences.  In the Masaka Region there are about 100 churches in five alliances in a work that has been much blessed by God.  But before any of that happened, there was Paul Mwesigwa and his wife, Lydia, praying— “God what can be done for all these children?” And then later Pastor Bob was in the habit on his visits of walking to the edge of the village so that he could pray, asking God to take the gospel over the hills to the surrounding villages.

But these folks are praying.  And God is sending an answer to their prayers by way of Paul and his companions.

Lydia came from Thyatira.  Her name was derived from her home town which was in Lydia.  Literally she was “the Lydian woman.”

The people of that region were famous for their skill in the manufacture and use of a purple dye.  She had come to Philippi as a trader.  Since there is no mention of a husband, it may have been that she took over her husband’s business.  She had her own home in Philippi, so she was evidently there for some time.

So, the group—Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke—were speaking to the women who had assembled.

And Paul was speaking to Lydia.

What were they saying?  They were preaching the gospel to them.  These were folks how had some understanding of the Scriptures but didn’t know about Jesus.  So, they spoke to them about Jesus.  One might suppose that Paul’s message to them was much as what he had to say when he spoke previously to Jews and proselytes in Pisidian Antioch.

Acts 13:26-41.

Christ died for sins and rose from the dead.

In Him is forgiveness of sins to everyone who believes (Acts 13:39).

Now this was Paul’s pattern wherever he went.  He understood certain truths of the gospel.  He would later write of the gospel, inspired by God as he was:

  • He called it “the matter of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
  • He called it “the glorious gospel the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11).
  • He acknowledged it to be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

The plan was according to God’s plan.  Remember Acts 1:8 and Christ’s plan for the building of His church— “ordinary people Spirit empowered to bear witness of Christ.”  That’s the same plan that Paul and his companions were following.  Not very complicated.  Preach the gospel by the power of the Spirit.  People are saved.  Churches are established.  Not very complicated.

  • The Preparatory Work of the Lord

Acts 16:14, “And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”

ESV, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

Now this is the necessary order of things.  And it is a good reminder of the true nature of what happens when a sinner is saved by grace.

The Lord opened her heart.  Preceding her response to the gospel the Lord was at work in her heart.  He opened her heart to receive the truth.  And there can be no salvation of a soul apart from this preparatory work of the Lord.

Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).  God’s work precedes man’s response.  Salvation happens by God’s intervention.

Salvation is God’s work—from start to finish.  1 Corinthians 1:30, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus.”  Are you in Christ Jesus today?  That happened by God’s doing!

How are blind eyes open to the truth?  2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  How then is anyone saved?  They experience the same thing that Lydia experienced.  The Lord opens their hearts to the truth.  2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

The Lord opened her heart.  The heart is what needs to be opened to the truth. The message of the gospel must penetrate to the deepest part of a man.  It will do no good to merely understand the facts of the gospel.  It is the heart that is desperately wicked.  It is the heart that needs to be corrected and changed.  Salvation happens when a person confesses with their mouth Jesus as Lord and believes in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Cf. Romans 10:9).

Jesus taught of such things when he spoke of the parable of the sower.  The sower sowed the seed.  And it fell on hard ground, and rocky ground, and thorn-infested ground, and finally on good ground.  Only the good soil worked to bear much fruit.  The good soil is representative if soil that is first prepared.  The hard-preparatory work has been done.  And in the case of Lydia it was done.  And it was the Lord who did it.

But this phrase transcends just the matter of salvation by way of our first experience.  Every believer must come to salvation in this same manner.  But God’s design is such that we would remain in this place—in a place where our hearts are opened so that we might pay attention to the truth of God’s Word.  This is the happy and healthy place for us as believers.  And should we find ourselves in any other place we ought to pray that God might return us to that open heartedness that He bestowed upon us in the beginning.

So, Lydia believed.  She became Paul’s first convert in Europe.  She was baptized, along with her other dependents and servants.  She gave evidence of her salvation by way of her extending hospitality to Paul and his companions.  And a church was born in Philippi.  And even after the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family, it is to her home that they all precede (Acts 16:40).


Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).  And here we read about one part of that work that He has been doing.  That He has been doing since the church was born on the day of Pentecost.

And the work was done according to His plan.  He said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  These Spirit-led and empowered men were providentially led by God to go to this particular place and bear witness of Christ in preaching the gospel.  They were doing that which the Lord had given them to do.

The work that started in Philippi was a work of God.  That church was founded on that reality.  I’m sure the church was henceforth instructed and reminded of how things began for them.  They would have looked back in wonder on what God had done.  Remember how God led the Apostle Paul to come to us.  Remember how he found Lydia at the place of prayer.  Remember how she responded to the gospel.  God began this work that we are now a part of!  How encouraging to know that you are a part of a work that God had started.  And that’s true of all of us.  Read back in the history of LCBC.  God worked to start a church here.  Remember 1990.  The church was about to close its doors.  And Jim and Vic and others humbled themselves before the Lord in prayer.  And God worked to revive the work.  Look to the other side of the world to the Masaka Region of Uganda.  The pastors over there will tell you how they prayed for help from someone.  How they needed Bibles and instruction in the Word.  They will tell you the story of how God passed over the big-city pastors of Kampala and brought us to help them.  And they give God all the glory for that, as they rightfully should.

And note what happened in Lydia’s case.  Luke is the inspired author.  Note how he wrote about what happened.  Why and how did Lydia respond to the gospel?  She responded because the Lord opened her heart.  No mention is made of Paul’s charisma or outstanding personality or persuasion.  The attention is not drawn to any theatrics of Paul or any of his team—here’s the explanation given for Lydia’s response— “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was being said by Paul.”  And in that way a church was born.  And it is no different today than it was back then so many years ago.  All the glory goes to God in the birth of a church or the salvation of a soul!



Christ-like Consideration

Philippians 2:3-5


In 1973 a man named Robert Ringer wrote a book entitled “Winning Through Intimidation.”  After the manuscript was rejected 23 times by publishers, he decided to self-publish the book.  It became a #1 bestseller and spent 36 weeks on the NY Times bestseller list.  In 1977 he self-published another book, “Looking Out for Number One.” That book also became a #1 bestseller and is still considered to be one of the top 15 self-help books of all time.  That second book was based on the premise that since man’s inherent nature is to look out for number one, we need to do a better job of looking out for number one.  Here’s a quote, “We sometimes lose sight of the fact that our primary objective is really to be happy as possible and that all our other objectives, great and small, are only a means to that end.”

That phrase—“looking out for number one”—has since become a part of our culture’s vernacular.  And there have been songs written that express the need to do just that.  For example, in 1992 Travis Tritt wrote a song having this chorus: “Lord everyone around me, I’ve tried so hard to please.  ‘Till the only one unhappy, feeling broken down is me.  But things are going to change, with each new setting sun.  Starting now I’m looking out for number one.”

But “looking out for number one” is nothing new to any one of us humans.  We don’t need a book to tell us to do a better job of it.  In sin, selfishness reigns.  And since we are all born sinners, we are all born with a natural inclination to put ourselves first.

We are, in sin, self-worshippers at heart.  At the beginning of the second chapter of his book, “Improving Your Serve,” Chuck Swindoll writes this: I, ME, MINE, MYSELF.  Those four words stood out in bold print.  They appeared as if they were forming an enormous monument, each letter seemingly chiseled out in granite.  At the base of this strange “monument” were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people with their arms held up high, as if worshipping at a shrine.  And then in very small letters, this caption appeared at the bottom of the editorial cartoon: “Speaking of American cults…”

This, beloved, is the culture in which we live.  It is a self-consumed and self-preoccupied society.  Worshipping at the idol of self we mistakenly assume that there is virtue and lasting benefit to be gained in the worship of self.

2 Timothy chapter 3 warned of the days in which we live, saying: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.”  Now we live in these difficult days.  And each of the maladies spoken of in this passage are readily recognizable in our society.  But note this about the passage, “lovers of self,” comes first.  And it would be fair that the rest of the maladies follow that first malady.  The “Looking Out for Number One” philosophy is, in fact, a recipe for social chaos and disaster.  As it has been ever since Adam and Even fell in the garden and sin entered into the world.  We read about that in chapter 3, then in chapter 4 we read how Cain, as he was “looking out for number one,” killed his brother.

The long history of humanity is filled with such examples.  The reality is that in sin we are selfish and being selfish we don’t relate well to one another.  In sin, we are impatient, unkind, envious, prideful, rude, self-seeking, easily angered and embittered.

There is but one example—in the annals of human history—of a man who lived a purely selfless life.  And that man is Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2:5-8 speaks of Him: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance of a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

What happened when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?  Jesus Christ was the Divine Son of God.  He was also a perfect man.  He was a man without sin.  In Him there was no sin.  He never sinned.  He was perfectly submitted to the Father in all that He did.  And He lived His life according to the godly character that was innate to His person.  And so what do we see and find in this God-man, Jesus Christ?  He became man and took on the form of a bond-servant.  He lived a life of servant-hood.  He came into the world with no entourage.  He had none of the trappings of royalty.  He had no home and no possessions.  He came as a servant and He served others.  Purposefully.  Relentlessly.  Sacrificially.  And when He had given all that He had but His own life, He gave that up too.  And, as I said, His like is unique in the annals of human history.  He never exercised a selfish thought.  He never did a selfish thing.  He never uttered a selfish word.  Instead of looking out for number one, the Divine Son of God came into this world looking out for everyone but number one.

Now, by the Spirit, you—believer in Christ—have come to understand something of the beauty of the person of Christ.  You’ve worshipped at the shrine of self, but you came to the realization that “self” if a false god that can never work to satisfy your deepest needs and desires.  Christ alone can do that.  You thought, perhaps, that the universe revolved around you, but you came to realize that it is Christ alone who is worthy of such love and devotion.  But you nonetheless live in this flesh and are surrounded by worshippers of self.  And that’s why this passage is so important.  It reminds us of how God has called us, as believers, to a higher plane of living.  A way of thinking and living in Christ that meets with Divine approval.  And which proves to be a blessing not only to ourselves but to those around us.


  1. God has called us, as believers, to a radically different way of thinking

“In the last days difficult times will come, for men will be lovers of self” (1 Timothy 3:1-2).  But we need to purpose, by the Spirit, to think differently.

Romans 12:2 speaks to the need for us to not be conformed to the world (to not allow the world to press us into its own mold), but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind.  This is one of those matters where it is essential that we purpose in Christ to think and live differently.

We are to have the mind of Christ.  Note the phrase in verse 5, “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

The Greek term translated “attitude” is the same term translated “mind” in verse 2.  It is in the present tense so it speaks of a continuous “mind” or a continuous “way of thinking.”  The NASB has translated it attitude and that gives a good sense of it.  What’s an attitude?  Sometimes we must use that in a negative way.  What’s up with your attitude?  But one of the definitions of attitude is: “a mental position with regard to a fact or state.”  Put simply, it is a way of thinking.

And as we look forward in the passage, to verses 6-8, we can readily identify that attitude in Christ that we are called upon to emulate.  It is in respect to His servanthood.  To “have this attitude…which was also in Christ Jesus” is to think about your life in relationship to others as that of being a servant.

Note the other phrase used to represent the mindset we are to maintain as believers: “with humility of mind” (2:3).

The term translates a combination of terms, one meaning “low-lying” and the other “mind.”  The idea is lowliness of mind.  It is set against the other term in the verse, conceit.

God calls us as believers to this mind-set, one of lowliness of mind.  Now humility is commonly disdained and likewise commonly misunderstood.  It’s good for us to have a good, Biblical definition of what is meant by the term.  Romans 12:3 is helpful, “For through the grace of God given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as god has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  Humility involves having a proper estimation of ourselves.

  1. J. Mahaney uses this definition: “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” In sin we are prideful and ignorant of these truths. But the Holy Spirit does a wonderful work in opening our eyes to the glory of God and His holiness and simultaneously convicting us of the depth of our sin problem.  Humility is essential not only in our relationship with God, but it also impacts the way we relate to others.  How important is humility in how we relate to God?  The Scripture repeats this principle of truth three times: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And when it comes to our relationships with others, pride is at the source of all kinds of strife and divisions.  That is why Peter says, “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).

There is a great quote regarding humility from Andrew Murray.  He said, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart.  It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feeling nothing done against me.  It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed and despised.  It is to have a blessed hope in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door and kneel before the Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.  The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.”

We have a great example of this attitude of Christ provided for us in the gospel of Mark (Mark 10:35-45).  James and John went to Jesus to ask of Him that he might give to them the privileged seats, on His right and His left, when He came into power.  Now they didn’t understand some things.  They believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But they couldn’t understand what He was saying when He spoke to them of His pending suffering and death.  They were all headed to Jerusalem, and then Jesus would be made to be king.  So they asked for those privileged positions of power.  And Jesus responded by again speaking of His pending suffering and the sufferings that they themselves would eventually face.  Now after this discussion ensued, the rest of the disciples “began to feel indignant with James and John” (10:41).  This is not the only occasion when we read of such a thing.  Later in Jesus’ ministry, after He shared the last supper with His disciples, a discussion ensued amongst the disciples as to which one of them was the greatest.  So these disciples were far from perfect men, they were prone to the same “looking out for number one” way of thinking that has infected us all.  But Jesus responded to the matter by distinguishing between two different ways of thinking and living.  He said that the Gentiles function according to man’s way of thinking.  Rulers “lord it over them.”  People vie for the highest positions and when they get them they use their power to command others and demand certain things from them.  And, according to man’s way of thinking, this is perfectly acceptable and normal behavior.  We might even speak of it according to what is commonly called “upward mobility.”  But Jesus said that that’s now how things work in God’s economy, “But it is no so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).  In God’s economy greatness is not defined in terms of “upward mobility,” but “downward mobility.”  Greatness in God’s kingdom looks like servanthood and Christ Jesus Himself is the great testimony to that truth.

In his book, “True Humility,” C. J. Mahaney differentiates between greatness as defined by the world and by God: “The difference couldn’t be more stark.  As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification.  Contrast this with the pursuit of true greatness as biblically defined: Serving others for the glory of God.”

Note that phrase there, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”  Philippians 2:5 is telling us that we are to think the same way as Jesus.  And we ought to be able to say the same thing about ourselves.

  • In our marriage: I am not in this marriage to be served, but to serve.
  • In our family: I am not in this family, to be served, but to serve.
  • In our relationships at work or at school: I am not here to be served, but to serve.
  • In our church: I am not here to be served, but to serve.

We would say: “I am glad to serve you in Jesus’ name.  My great goal and aspiration is to know and love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and these things I do by following His example.”

With respect to the radical way of thinking God calls us to, the hymn, “May the Mind of Christ, my Savior,” puts it well.  And it is a prayer.  That the Holy Spirit may work through the Word of God, so that in our walk with Christ we might have the attitude of Christ: “May the mind of Christ my Savior, live in me from day to day, By His love and power controlling, all I do and say.”

  1. God has called us, as believers, to a radically different way of relating to others

We are likewise called to a radically different way of relating to others.

“Do nothing from selfishness.”  The term translated “selfishness” denotes “ambition, self-seeking, rivalry.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary explains that “self-will” is the underlying idea in the word.  So it is that in us that is self-centered and demanding and contributes to a spirit of divisiveness.

The cause of this self-seeking behavior is an overestimate of one’s own importance.  “Empty conceit” and selfish behavior go hand in hand.  And, as we’ve already stated, there are a host of miserable consequence that go along with this kind of behavior.  As someone has written: How to be Miserable…

  • Think about yourself.
  • Talk about yourself.
  • Use “I” as often as possible.
  • Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others.
  • Listen greedily to what people say about you.
  • Be suspicious.
  • Expect to be appreciated.
  • Be jealous and envious.
  • Be sensitive to slights.
  • Never forgive a criticism.
  • Trust nobody but yourself.
  • Insist on consideration and the proper respect.
  • Demand agreement with your own views on everything.
  • Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown to them.
  • Never forget a service you may have rendered.
  • Be on the lookout for a good time for yourself.
  • Shirk your duties if you can.
  • Do as little as possible for others.
  • Love yourself supremely.
  • Be selfish.

This recipe—for being miserable—is infallible.

We’ve got a couple of great examples in Scripture of both the positive and negative to what is expressed here in verse 3.  In 3 John we read of Diotrephes.  It is said of him that he “loved to be first among them.”  Apparently Diotrephes had a problem with pride.  This was a man who called himself a Christian.  But his behavior was hardly Christ-like.  He denied the authority of the Apostle John.  John was an apostle appointed by the Lord Jesus Himself.  He had walked with Jesus and had witness Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He had faithfully served Jesus for decades.  He had suffered much in bearing witness of the Lord Jesus, but in his prideful arrogance, Diotrephes showed no respect to that wonderful man of God.  And then there was the matter of showing Christian hospitality.  When other associates of John would go there to visit, Diotrephes wouldn’t receive them.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, if anyone dared to receive these friends of John, Diotrephes would put them out of the church.  Diotrephes was not living his life according to the truths of this verse.  He was of the “looking out for number one” mindset.

Look at Philippians 2:19-21.  Here we find another man, Timothy—Paul’s beloved son in the faith.  Paul was hoping to send Timothy to the church in Philippi so that he could receive a report on how things were going.  He said that he had no one else of “kindred spirit who (would) be genuinely be concerned for (their) welfare” (2:20).  Timothy was of kindred spirit with Paul, but they both were of kindred spirit to the Lord Himself.  They had that “attitude which is in Christ Jesus.”  Note what Paul went on to say.  “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (2:21).  Timothy is a wonderful example of this Philippians 2:3 way of living.  Now I know of nothing that will work to promote unity better in a marriage or home or church than for each member to adopt this approach to relating to others.  If every member will seek after the interests of Christ Jesus, they will prove him or herself to be a source of great blessing to others.  Philippians 2:3 is a verse to memorize and meditate on and allow it to become deeply rooted in your heart.  That the Spirit might work to transform you through this Word.

“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

I’m reminded of the story of Uncle Bob’s Shoes.  It was on one of my first trips to Uganda.  Pastor Bob and I had been leading a conference for pastors in Kabaale Village.  We were walking back to the guest house for lunch.  Bob stopped along the way to talk to one of the pastors.  When he was approaching our dining area, I noticed that he was walking gingerly along the path.  I looked then at his feet and noticed that he was wearing some crude and well-worn sandals.  “What happened to your shoes,” I asked?  He explained to me how the pastor had stopped him and asked him to pray that God would provide him with some shoes because his sandals were hurting his feet.  So, Bob had taken off his shoes and gave them to this pastor in exchange for the man’s sandals.  And as we were talking, Bob removed those pain-inflicting sandals.  And we were both amazed at what we saw.  The pastor had tried to repair the sandals, holding them together by punching a bunch of tacks through the soles.  And though he had tried to stub the points on the upward side, they still poked through and caused some discomfort when you tried to walk in them.  Why would Pastor Bob give away his sandals?  Because he was living according to his mindset.  He was living out what it says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  He had another pair of shoes.  He was glad to serve Jesus by serving this pastor and looking out for his interests.

History tells us of how a man named Copernicus studied the sky and came to a startling conclusion regarding the order of things.  He said, “If man is to know the truth, he must change his thinking!  Despite what we have said for years, our earth is not the center of the cosmos—but just one celestial body among many.  The sun does not move around us; we move around the sun.”  Years later someone did a study on children and concluded, “Each child must have his or her own “Copernicus revelation.”  Indeed, we are all in need of such a thing.


I just finished reading a great book, “Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown.”  It’s the true story of his life.  Adam great up in small town Arkansas.  He played football for his high school team, and was a fierce competitor.  He had a lot of friends.  He graduated from high school and headed off to college.  But found he didn’t have much appetite for academics.  He came back home and worked for his Dad who had an electrical company.  But then he met a girl.  And this girl had a drug problem.  And she drug Adam along into it.  He was doing all kinds of drugs including Meth.  He would be gone overnight and sometimes for days.  His drug habit got real expensive, so he stole from his Dad’s company.  On one occasion he ran off with the company’s van.  And this went on for some time.  And his Mom and Dad loved him, as did his twin-sister and older-brother, but there was seemingly nothing they could do to stop Adam from his downward spiral.  They feared for his life.  Adam was totally given over to his sinful pursuits.  And he didn’t care at all about anyone else.  It mattered not the he was breaking the hearts of his parents.  His twin sister loved him, but he was oblivious to her concerns.  He was completely self-absorbed and utterly lost.

Then Mom and Dad decided to go to church.  And they talked to the pastor.  And they were saved.  And they began praying for their son.  They called the sheriff—there was a warrant for Adam’s arrest—and had Adam arrested.  The pastor when and visited him.  And the court made a deal with Adam—go to a Christian treatment program, for a year, and you won’t have to stay in jail.  And so he did.  And somewhere along the way, Adam trusted in Jesus.  But that wasn’t the end of his drug issues.  Meth is especially hard to stay away from.  And he sometimes went back to it.  He met a young lady.  A Christian young lady.  And she began to pray for him.  And she got to know him.  And she would intervene whenever he was tempted to go back to drugs.  They got married.  And Adam decided to join the Navy.  He had seen the movie Navy Seals as a boy and had ever since carried that thought of being a seal.  A friend’s Dad, a Navy man, worked to get some waivers approved.  And Adam joined the Navy to become a Navy Seal.  And he passed all of the rigorous training.  And by this time, Adam has grown in his walk with Christ.  He is a loving husband.  A child comes along.  And then another.  He is a loving father.  Despite some serious injuries, Adam excels as a seal and is counted among an elite group in the top one percent of all of the seals.  He serves in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He is known for his willingness to put himself in harm’s way for the sake of his fellow soldiers.  When he’s in Afghanistan he sees that there are many children without shoes.  So he calls his pastor in the US, and they ship hundreds of shoes to Adam.  When his fellows walked with him, they carried weapons, he carried shoes—and he would give them away to children who didn’t have any.  He would also carry MREs with him, and would give them away to hungry children.  It was about time for his Navy career to be over.  He had one last mission he was called to perform.  His task force was called to enter into a particularly dangerous and mountainous region.  They were going after a man who had led a team of Taliban rebels who had been responsible for the death of many Americans.  The team arrived at his holdout.  And much shooting ensued.  And there came a point where someone had to go to a particular spot where a man was firing from a window at the team.  Adam volunteered.  He put himself in harm’s way to protect his teammates.  And he was mortally wounded.  And Adam died.  He had been asked, before that day, how he could approach such situations with such fearlessness.  You know what his response was?  It was his faith in the Risen Christ that made the difference for him.  Adam walked with Jesus.  And as he did, he lived that kind of life.  I read that book and cried.  And I also rejoiced.  I rejoiced in the truth of what Jesus Christ did in that man’s life.  He rescued him from his sinful and selfish and bankrupt existence, and made something very beautiful of his life.  It should come as no surprise to you that Adam’s example worked to encourage other Seals to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Beloved, God has called you to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.  There is no virtue or valor in selfishness.  What does courage and strength and a purposeful life look like?  It looks like Jesus.  And God calls on all of us to follow in His steps.  To adopt, by the Spirit, His way of thinking and to replicate, again by the Spirit, His way of living.  And make no mistake about it—this radical way of thinking and living—is impossible for any of us in our own flesh.  It will do us no good to try harder to be better when it comes to these matters.  We can only do any of this as we are led and empowered by the Spirit to do them.  But let’s pray that it would be so.  Unto the glory of our Savior.