Every Knee Will Bow and Every Tongue Confess
[Philippians chapter two]
Brothers and sisters, today we will continue our study of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians by examining chapter two. In keeping with my commitment to this ministry and to Christ, and since there is so much in here to contemplate, I’m committed to reaching as many people as I can. So rather than rush through this and risk losing anybody, let’s take our time with this slightly longer, power-packed letter from the apostle Paul, beginning at verse one.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to their own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2, verses 1-13, NIV)
Have comfort in and through God’s unlimited love, and have fellowship in the Holy Spirit so we can develop tenderness and compassion! Remember the words of the apostle John, who wrote that, “it doesn’t matter how much we love God, so long as we remember that God loved us first” by sending his son Jesus to be a living sacrifice for all of us. Tenderness and compassion towards others is a hallmark of those who work continuously at being better Christians, as well as being full-time “ambassadors for Christ”. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Don’t tell Jesus how often you go to church, or how much you put into the collection basket. He is far more interested in, first, how well we treat others, and second, how did we serve other people.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” If we spend our lives devoted to our own comfort, and that of our immediate families, then that is worth very little in God’s sight. That’s why everyone will have to stand before God and be judged according to how well they served others, first as ambassadors for Christ, and second with a life well lived by putting others ahead of ourselves in importance. “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brethren”, Jesus famously said in all four gospels, “that you do for me”.
“Your attitude”, Paul wrote, “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”, who humbled himself to the extreme of lowliness by allowing himself to be executed as a common criminal, only to rise again on the morning of the third day. In so doing, He achieved eternal life for himself, as well as for all who call upon his name. That means us, people, so that when our lives are finally over we can be with him in Paradise. Without the supreme sacrifice of Christ Jesus, nobody would be saved, that’s for sure! “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus conquered everything, even death itself. Moreover, when Jesus lay in the borrowed tomb in which he was buried for three days, he went on a search and rescue mission for every lost soul who has ever lived or whoever will live. Meaning, He liberated hell itself and all those who were in it who were not destined to be there forever like Satan and his demonic minions who wreak havoc upon the earth and its inhabitants. Jesus swept them all up and took them home with him, like a parent coming to the rescue of a kidnapped child!
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, Paul wrote, but what did he really mean here? Having fear of the Lord, in its original context, meant to have extreme reverence towards God, who chose to make us in his image and likeness even though He didn’t have to or feel compelled to. It doesn’t mean that we should be afraid of God as we would, say, a bully or an armed criminal, or an abusive parent or spouse. God operates out of love, not fear, as the apostle John wrote when he said, “Perfect love drives out fear.” If anyone comes to you and claims to be a servant of Christ while making you feel apprehensive or intimidated, get away from that person or that church (yes, unfortunately there are churches like that) immediately. Sometimes knowing God’s will is mainly common sense, and in cases like this there is no need to inquire of the Lord. The obvious answer can sometimes be right in front of us. The flip side of this coin is the mention of the word “trembling”, meaning that we don’t have to fear God, but we should fear the consequences of sin if we are doing so deliberately. (Yes, unfortunately there are Christians like that, and they are jeopardizing their salvation in and through Christ if they continue and do not repent!) Now that we have examined this treasure trove of Spiritual material, we can move on to the second half of our study of chapter two.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars of the universe as you hold out the word of life – in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy with you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the Gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy upon him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help that you could not give me.” (Phil. 2, verses 14-30, NIV)
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…”. One thing is for sure – nobody likes those who constantly complain, and that goes double for those who bicker and quarrel constantly over every tiny little thing. Such people are negative people who take offense at everything and everybody they dislike, and often for trivial reasons, as you know. Such people can and do profess their faith in Christ all day long, but they are in danger of not being saved because their faith is polluted with negative human emotion, not to mention the fact that such people are inherently ungrateful and often mean-spirited individuals. No matter how much they receive and how much they benefit, they are never satisfied – they always want more. Under no circumstances will any person who is greedy, ungrateful, hateful, argumentative or combative make it into heaven when their physical lives are over. This was what Jesus meant when he said, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’, will see the kingdom of God”. As it was then, so it remains to this day.
“Shine like stars of the universe as you hold out the word of life”, is exactly what those who complain and argue should be doing instead. So if there is anyone like this who wishes to repent – and it’s a commendable thing when one recognizes the error of their ways and repents – this would be an excellent place from which to begin. Jesus taught something similar to this during his famous and beloved sermon on the mount when He taught, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5, verses 14-16.)” There is your answer in a nutshell – be a shining light for all to see. Not everyone can do this in exactly the same way, so there is no perfect one-size-fits-all method that applies uniformly to all persons. Instead, we should be doing just as the apostle Paul wrote earlier when he referred to “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling”.
“For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ”. As we saw in another recent study, those individuals who become ministers as a career choice – meaning they are in it for the money – are entering the ministry for all the wrong reasons. As a well-known evangelist said fairly recently, “The only way I could start this ministry was to mortgage my house to the hilt. But things got off to a really slow start, so I asked God why the ministry wasn’t doing any better at that time. I protested to the Lord that I had already given my house for start-up money, and that I had nothing left to give. But God answered my prayer by saying that He didn’t want or need my house, but what he really wanted was me. I had totally surrendered the house and the money, but I forgot to include myself.” So it is with the rest of us, and this is what Paul was referring to when he wrote what he did.
The apostle Paul finishes up this chapter with some comments about the business of the early church. On the surface, at least, most of this seems to be rather mundane stuff. But there is one final thing I wish to point out in closing this week’s study. A nearly forgotten minister in the early church was a gentleman by the name of Epaphroditus. Paul notes that this person became ill to the point of nearly dying while performing his service to the church at Philippi. This makes me wonder how many modern preachers, teachers, evangelists and overseers (see 1st Corinthians chapter 14) would go to this extreme for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. So let us ask ourselves, “Would I be willing to serve Jesus Christ even to the point of nearly dying, like Epaphroditus did? Would I be faithful even unto death?”
Whether you believe it or not, we are very close to our Lord and Savior’s second and final coming. As we get ever closer, there can be no doubt that the infamous Antichrist will soon make his appearance on the world stage. As you know or have heard, he will force everybody “both great and small” to receive his mark on the hand or forearm or forehead. How this will occur is still open to debate, and it currently includes what I see as excessive speculation. Two things I know for sure, and that is that no one will be able to buy or sell unless they have the mark of the beast, and those who refuse to allow themselves to wear his mark will be killed, and this may well include myself if I am still living then. Paul prophesied about this when he wrote in another letter, “a day is coming when no man will be able to work”. Are you prepared to become a living sacrifice for Christ by refusing to take the mark of the beast? I am, and you should be too. Jesus sacrificed himself for us on the cross, so we should all be prepared to do the same. This is tough to contemplate, I know. But the reward will be eternal life in Him. Amen.