Philippians 2:1-5 – Rewards of Godly Humility
When you’ve been around church people as long as I have you begin to notice certain seasons in the lives of believers. For instance there will be times that are labeled “dry” times – times when God feels far away. These times are marked by feeling out of touch with God even though the person is doing all the right external things. They may be serving in a church or ministry or volunteering free time to local charities and such, but in their hearts they feel far from God and His love. They feel isolated from Him. They feel alone. They feel like their prayers are bouncing off an invisible ceiling, unable to penetrate to the throne room of God. Sound familiar to anyone else?
What I want to share with you is my experience with these “dry” times and how God has shifted my focus through these times. In the first few verses of Philippians chapter 2, Paul describes how believers in Christ should act – namely that Christians should be humble and outwardly focused in service to others. Anyone who has ever tried to live out humble service on a day to day basis will find two things to be true: serving can be very fulfilling work and serving can drain the very life from you. Enter the “dry” season in the life of a believer. Usually accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, discontentment, and desire to see fruit from the labor being put forth. A natural human reaction. We want to see results when we are putting in the work.
I want us to now examine the first verse in chapter 2, in which Paul implies that we will feel encouragement, comfort, participation (the feeling that our work is not in vain), affection, and sympathy or mercy depending on your translation. Paul essentially says that these are ours as believers while we are doing the work of humble service. We feel encouraged, comforted, fulfilled (from the feelings of participation), loved, and appreciated (affection and sympathy/mercy) all in the midst of serving in humility. So why do we feel dry? Why do we feel alone?
I believe the answer is in a key phrase found in verse 1 – we are no longer “in Christ.” This is not at all to say that we have somehow lost our salvation. That is not what I’m trying to say. What I see more often than not in the life of a believer is that we trade the relationship with Christ for the things we are going to do for Him. Shane & Shane wrote a song years ago that said, “Lord, my serving You has replaced me knowing You.” Therein lies the key to the seasons of dryness in our lives. We get so caught up in the doing of “Christian” things that we neglect the very relationship from which those actions should stem. We turn into branches that try to go out and buy the fruit that we were supposed to bear by being attached to the Vine. We do a million things in our own strength outside of Him, and we wonder why He feels so far away.
As I’ve grown in the Lord and walked through times of ministry, I’ve come to recognize that my work for Christ is not separate from my relationship to Him. My service is not about what I can measure. My ministry is not successful due to how many students are in my ministry or how many salvations there were at summer camp. When we can loose our humble service from external expectations we can experience all the rewards of being in Christ that Paul mentions. And even when our ministries look “dry” on the outside, our hearts are full and our spirits refreshed. This is the beauty of being in Christ.
I want to leave you with a final point. The life of the humble servant has already been lived in perfection. Christ has set the example that we are to follow. Christ’s life was lived in full and perfect abiding with the Father. Hebrews 12:2 says this, “… looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” What an odd statement “for the joy set before him” is. When we look back on the cross, we see shame, pain, humiliation, wrath. What is the joy that was set before Christ? It had to be this: that Christ, in full obedience and humility, made what was meaningless have meaning. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that everything under the sun is meaningless apart from Christ. Work, service, riches, wisdom, all meaningless without Christ. Christ, in reconciling all things to Himself through the Cross (Colossians 1:20), breathes meaning into our service, and we feel that when we are in Him. Christ’s joy in enduring the Cross was knowing the end. Just like the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, the “great a cloud of witnesses” in 12:1, Christ knew that God’s work of redemption and salvation was being manifested through His humble service.
Today, for those of us who serve the risen Christ, let us allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and expose the service we do that is not in Christ. The places that we have stepped outside of His call on us in hope of earning our own reward apart from Him. May we serve in humility in the places He has called us to be, not the places that we see the most success or worldly recognition. May our knowing Him move us to better serving Him. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,