As a church, we were five weeks in the passage of Scripture between Philippians 1:27 and 2:18. This is an important section of Paul’s letter because it is one whole piece that starts and finishes a major theme in his letter. It is about living out our heavenly citizenship in one mind and putting aside self to serve each other as we stand fast in a world of opposition to the gospel.
Paul warned the Philippian Church to be careful about disputes and the potential for division among them. If they were to stand fast in an antagonistic Roman culture, they needed to be united. They needed to be less about self and much about the interest of others. They need to be united in their thinking and action. Anything less would weaken their ability to stand strong as they faced a real threat of persecution. In pride they fall but in humble unity they stand. Their greatest example for strength in humility is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5-11). Jesus exemplifies how humility ultimately wins. In humility Jesus saves us by becoming one of us and dying on the cross for us. Because Jesus displays and enacts the very nature of God in humility, the Father exalts Jesus to the highest place and he is proclaimed as Lord. In the example of Jesus’ humility the church has everything we need to dispel our disputes and stand firm together in the world. Someone might object that there are no real practical directions to deal with disputes in the example of Christ. In the letter of James, however, we find many practical directions for dealing with quarrels and divisions. His directions seem to exactly correlate with the very nature of Jesus’ example.
James deals with fights and quarrels in chapter 4 of his letter. In James 4:1-3 we find that quarrels and fights come from the desires and passions within us. The first point James makes is that we are led by our wicked hearts rather than principles that lead to reconciliation and unity. Our selfish desires cause fights. When we look at the example of Jesus in Philippians 2, Paul tells us to have this mind among us that is also in Christ Jesus. What we see in Jesus is supposed to instruct our mind with principles to bring about humility and unity to keep us from quarreling and fighting. Our hearts will cause division because we are selfish but in Christ we see a selflessness that brings reconciliation. This is a selflessness that is to instruct our mind to emulate the humility required for unity. As a result of Jesus’ humility in reconciling us to God, Paul tells us that Jesus was exalted to the highest place. James says “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (4:6). James also says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” (4:10). James 4 shows us that resisting our selfish desires to draw near to the humility of Christ is the answer to divisions among us.
The book of James is known to be an intensely practical book for Christians, but we should understand that there is nothing new in the practical exhortations of James that we cannot also see in the example of Jesus and his work on the cross. More than this, Jesus not only gives us practical applications from his example, but through faith in Christ we are saved and being transformed into his image. The practicalities of the book of James are only possible because of the example of Jesus and it is only possible for us to live out those practicalities because of what Jesus has done for us and in us.
The example of Jesus is simply spectacular and this week we get to see it one more time as we look at Timothy and Epaphroditus who act a lot like their Savior.