“Incarnational” – Philippians 2:1-11

Author and missionary J. Todd Billings offers this autobiographical description of his Bible college missions class:

“As a student in a Christian college classroom, I am told that, just as God became flesh in a particular culture two thousand years ago, it is my job in relating to another culture to become “incarnate” to that culture. I receive training in cultural anthropology to help make this “incarnation” possible. Eight months later in Uganda, while learning the local language and culture, I wonder: is it really possible for me to become incarnate in another culture? I have no doubt that I am called to be a learner of this new culture and a servant through the witness of my life. But is the eternal Word’s act of becoming incarnate really an appropriate model for ministry? Will the Ugandans necessarily “see Jesus” as a result of my efforts at cultural identification? Or am I assuming in this model that my own presence rather than that of Christ is redemptive?”

On December 25th much of Christendom celebrates the event that is at the center of the Christian gospel – the incarnation of Jesus Christ when God became flesh and dwelled among us. This unique and unrepeatable event is written of most clearly in John 1:1-14 and speaks only of Jesus. Nowhere in Scripture is the incarnation suggested as a missionary model or strategy for people to mimic as they carry out the Great Commission. This is why Billings became so confused with the teaching when he sought to apply it in the mission field. In no sense of the word does the commission to preach the Gospel call us to mimic the incarnation; yet advocates of “incarnational missiology” typically go to Philippians 2:1-11 to defend their methods.

As our minds are tuned into the birth of Christ next Sunday, we will look at the true meaning of the beloved, though less popular Christmas text found in Philippians 2:1-11; this is an ancient hymn celebrating the incarnation of the Son of God. In this text Christ’s deity is central. In the incarnation God remains God, even as He takes on flesh. This, of course is something that no man can ever imitate. Rather than calling us to imitate God, the hymn of Philippians 2 calls us to participate in the life of the suffering Servant in our union with Christ. Though we share in Christ’s nature, it’s always Christ alone who is uniquely the redeemer King and God.

Knowing Christ- A Lifelong Pursuit for Every Christian (Philippians 3:8-16)

As you read through this short epistle to the Philippians,  the theme of joy becomes apparent. The word joy is mentioned 5x and rejoice/rejoicing 7x. In verse one of this chapter, Paul seems to be closing out the letter as he writes, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord..”; but then, seemingly changing course, he gives a word of warning against the Judaizers. (As you recall, they are the ones that the Jerusalem council addressed in Acts 15 and Paul also in his epistle to the Galatians.   They insisted that the Gentile believers keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws, starting especially with the law of circumcision.)

But on closer examination, we can see the link between his warning about these false teachers and the theme of his epistle- namely joy. Nothing would rob a Christian more of his joy in Christ and the assurance of his salvation, than the thought that he needs to add his own works to Christ’s work on the cross in order to be accepted with God.

Paul uses his own testimony to refute these false teachers; and in so doing, he gives us one of the most beautiful passages on what it means to believe in Christ and what we are to aim for as we live out our Christian faith.

In the first place, to believe in Christ is to renounce all confidence in our goodness to gain favor with God, and to look to Christ alone as our only hope of being accepted with Him. Before meeting Christ, Paul thought he kept the law of God perfectly and he was as moral and righteous as they come; but once God exposed the sin of his heart, he acknowledged that he was a murderer (Acts 26:9-10), a blasphemer (1 Tim 1:13), and a covetous man (Rom 7:7-8).

Paul not only renounced his credentials for self-righteousness, but counted them as refuse when compared to Christ’s righteousness (:7-8).

Now that he is in Christ, Paul goes on to tell us what the goal of his Christian life has been (:8-11), and the manner in which he pursues that goal (:12-14). God willing, this will be the focus of our study together.

The goal is to experience more of the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives through our union with him in His death and resurrection, in order that we may be conformed more and more to His image.

And the manner in which we are to pursue this goal is not by looking back and reminiscing on past accomplishments and growth in grace, but by pressing forward and straining, as a runner does when seeking to reach the finish line.