by Chris Ritter

It was a blessing to co-preach the final installment of the House Arrest series with Pastor Tony Gatter. Tony hails from Geneseo First and is graduating this month from Candler School of Theology, my alma mater. We spoke about the unique times in which we live and how he is saying goodbye to the people of Starrsville UMC in Georgia even as he says hello to his new assignment as the pastor of Kankakee St. Mark’s and Bradley Wesley back in Illinois. Tony has been preaching the House Arrest messages with me and here we break open Philippians Chapter Two to conclude the series.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Philippians 2:1-5

Tony reminded us that Philippians 2 opens with “if/then” statements. Paul points to the encouragement of our union with Christ, our deep-soul comfort from his unshakeable love, our communal sharing in the same Holy Spirit as the Body of Christ, and the tenderness and compassion of the Gospel. Out of these “if’s” Paul issues a powerful “then”… a call for unity. He wants the certainty of the Gospel to translate into a shared life of unity. And unity requires humility.

That humility is called for in what Tony calls “don’t/but” statements. Tony is an amazingly fast runner. I remember when he first moved to Georgia he entered the “Fuzz Run” in Covington sponsored by the police department. He won! Tony’s coaches would tell him, “Don’t breath from your mouth, but breath from your nose.” Paul’s “don’ts” are selfish ambition and vain conceit. These are the things that rob our relationships of their Christ-like potential. Because Christian love is a giving love, we are value others above ourselves and look out for other people’s interests, not just our own.

The COVID-19 Lockdown provides so many applications for these truths, but Paul goes deeper by anchoring them into the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians Two is famous for “The Christ Hymn.” Paul seems to grab the hymnal of the church at this point and break into song. Because Paul does not explain these words, it is safe to assume he is drawing on a song with which they all are very familiar. That may make the “Christ Hymn” the earlier written fragment of Christian thought that we have:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2

The first thing that jumps out me from the hymn is the “high Christology.” Some want to argue that the idea that the divinity of Christ is a later development in the Christian movement. The Christ Hymn blows that idea out of the water. The first things Christians had to say about Jesus is that he is God. The hymn marvels at the love of Jesus that would make him take the place of a servant instead of his rightful place on the throne of the universe. Paul uses the mystery of the incarnation to describe what Christian community is all about.

We have been talking about Paul’s House Arrest, but Paul pointed to the greatest lock-down of all. Jesus accepted a limited existence in human flesh in order to rescue us.

From the grandeur of this theological truth, Paul then shifts to become extremely practical.

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Philippians 2

Complaining has become a bigger pandemic than COVID-19. The Israelites in Exodus cried out for leeks and the fleshpots of Egypt. We cry out for haircuts, sports, and meals at a restaurant. But Paul nails us in this chapter on humility. Complaining is an expression of carnal human pride. What is pride, after all? It is the insistence that we are not getting as good as we deserve.

Grace causes us to be thankful because God gives us so much better than we deserve. Paul says to not even “grumble.” Instead of simmering in dissatisfaction, we are to share with Paul in the secret of contentment: My satisfaction is not found in my circumstances but my relationship with Christ.

And it is relationship that is the final expression of humility in Chapter Two. Paul shares with the Church at Philippi that he is sending them Timothy. It was on his Second Missionary Journey that Paul first enlisted Timothy into service. This young man was raised in the ways of faith by his Jewish Christian mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. His father was a pagan. This made him an ideal choice for navigating with Paul in and between these two worlds. Now under house arrest, Paul had every reason to want to keep Timothy nearby. But instead he sends both Timothy and Epaphroditis back to them.

You can’t really tell the story of the Apostle Paul without named like Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, John Mark, Priscillia, Aquila, Lydia, and Titus. These are the relationships that made him strong. You might notice that the largest trees on the planet, the sequoia’s, grow together. They accomplish much because they don’t try to live alone. The share their strength.

Paul’s word from house arrest is this: Stay Humble and Stay Connected. Get your focus off yourself and onto others. See our times of limitations as an opportunity to revel in our relationship with Christ, who became limited for our sake.