The Contentment of Being Conformed to the Image of Christ The Mystery of Contentment Series: Part 10
Read Philippians 2:5-11
Our sermon series has been called The Mystery of Contentment, and one of the things that we have attempted to see is how Christian contentment is over against the worldly wisdom and the way the world says we are to seek peace and contentment. One of the most popular ways these days that the world says we are to find peace and we are to find contentment is to “Be yourself.” The world's message is to find self-esteem and to think well about yourself. This is the theme that we find in our educational system. Our educational system pushes this theme of self-esteem. We see it in the bumper stickers around town: “I have a terrific kid at such-and-such school.” In our sports programs we give trophies not simply to those who excel, but to all who participate. Our home is filled with trophies for participation.
But the Bible says commitment does not come from “being ourselves.” The Bible says true contentment in the Christian life comes from being conformed to the image of Christ. Now, it is absolutely true that human beings have all been created with a dignity. We have been created in the image of God, and so every human being is special to God. Every human being should have a sense of dignity in being created in the image of God. But the problem, the Bible tells us, is that that image has been marred by human sin. Our sin has marred that image. And God has put forward a way in which we can overcome that, and that is: We are to be created new in Christ. We are to be created in the image of Christ, whom the Bible says is the image of God.
So in a sense, we can say that the biblical message is about becoming ourselves, not about being ourselves. God's plan is not only to save us from our sins, but God's plan is to remake us in the image of Christ, to make us the people that God originally intended for human beings to be when he created the world. So we are not to be ourselves, but in Christ we can become ourselves, in the sense that we can become truly human and truly the people that God intended for us to be before sin. Simply “being ourselves” in our sin leads to death and to despair. And we do not want that. There is no joy and there is no contentment in that.
The Bible actually talks about being conformed to the image of Christ in two ways. One happens at the end of this life. When Christ comes again and we see him, we are finally conformed to his image. We refer to that as glorification. Paul uses that term in Romans 8. He says we have been glorified, actually using the past tense because of the certainty of it. When we see Christ, we will be conformed to his image fully.
But we can also talk about the process that takes place now—we call it sanctification—in which we are more and more, as we united with Christ and as we are growing in him, made new in the image of Christ. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, from “glory to glory”—from one degree of glory to another. We are being made new in the image of Christ.
This is the result of our union with Christ. And in fact, the Bible is fairly clear that our union with Christ leads to being conformed more and more to the image of Christ. Turn over to Paul's letter to the Colossians. Last week, as we talked about Paul's language of union with Christ, we said that the predominant way that Paul expresses our union with Christ is the expression “in Christ.” But Paul also a handful of times uses the expression “Christ in you.” One of those times is here in Colossians 1:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.Colossians 1:27, ESV, emphasis added
If Christ is in us, we have hope of the glory (or the glorification) that is to come. But you have that hope and that hope only grows as you see Christ's image being formed in you. And part of Paul's point in Colossians is to call these Colossian believers to grow to maturity. As he goes on to say:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.Colossians 1:28, ESV
Then turn over to Colossians 3. Here Paul uses the language of putting to death what is sin in us—the mortification of our sin. But we are not only to put to death. We are to put off what is old and put on what is new. Look at what he says in Colossians 3:
[We] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.Colossians 3:10-11, ESV, emphasis added
There is that language again: Christ is in all (believers here in context). Christ is in us, and so we are being renewed in his image. In fact, if you continue to read on in verses 12ff. you see the characteristics that Paul lays out here are Christ-like characteristics. He in fact refers to Christ explicitly in verses 13, 14, and 15. God's people are, or should be, being made new in the image of Christ.
The Theme of Humility
Let’s go back to Philippians. In Philippians we have seen that Paul calls the Philippians to be joyful. Joy is a prominent theme. We saw last week that this idea of our union with Christ is also a prominent theme in Philippians. But there is a third key theme. Some commentators would say it is actually the most important theme of all the themes that Paul wants to get across to the Philippians. They say it is this one: The theme of “in humility.” Following the example of Christ, considering others above ourselves. In fact, that is what Paul says in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Other esteem is what Paul wants us to develop—considering others more significant than yourselves. Isn't that interesting language? Not others on the same plane as you are; not others almost where you are. But others as more significant than yourselves.
And here, right in the middle and at the heart of this letter, we have this wonderful description of what Jesus Christ has done (Philippians 2:5-11). We have this wonderful description. Some think that this is a hymn from the early church that Paul has used here in Philippians. It is a wonderfully constructed passage. Others say Paul wrote it. It does not really matter. It is an exaltation of Christ in what he has done. And actually, we can divide this into two different parts. We see, first of all, in verses 6-8 the humiliation of Christ, and then in verses 9-11 the exaltation of Christ.
But in the humiliation of Christ, we see Christ's incarnation, his humble service, and his willingness to go to death on the cross in obedience to God the Father. And notice how Paul begins all this in verse 5: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” You think the same way, and you have the same attitude and the same mind that Christ has. Philippians is all about joy, but joy and humble service go together. We cannot have one without the other. We cannot have joy and contentment in the Christian life without humble service in the Christian life. And here is what Paul calls us to at this point in the letter.
Humility in Philippians 1–2
Before we get into this passage, let me just say to you that I believe the flow of Philippians points to this theme of considering others above ourselves and more significant than ourselves as key to the overall flow of Philippians.
Look with me at how Philippians begins: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). Notice a couple things about how Paul begins Philippians. First of all, he begins by calling himself a servant. In nine out of Paul's thirteen letters he calls himself an apostle, but here he simply calls himself a servant. And notice what he goes on to do. He not only addresses the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, but he also addresses their leaders (the “overseers,” or elders, and “deacons”—the two offices of the church). What is he doing here? He is considering others more important than himself. “I am a servant,” but he addresses their leaders, their elders and their deacons. Right from the very beginning we see an example of this key theme in Philippians.
Then we move on toward the end of Philippians 1 (the passage that we looked at last week). Paul wrestles with his own his own desire to depart and be with Christ. But he ends up saying to them in verse 24 “to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” He puts his own desires underneath the necessity of his service to the Philippians. He counts them as more important than himself.
Passing over the wonderful passage about Christ here in Philippians 2, as we go to the end of Philippians 2, Paul gives two examples of those who lead lives of selfless service. First of all, Timothy. We see him in verse 19. Paul says about him:
I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.Philippians 2:20-21, ESV
“I have no one like him, genuinely concerned for your interests.” And verse 21 is somewhat stinging, because Paul says “they all.” Who is he referring to? He is actually in context most likely referring to his co-workers, ministers of Christ. And he says, “They serve their own interests, but Timothy serves the interests of Jesus Christ.” That is a stinging rebuke. But Timothy serves Christ. He seeks first Christ. “He puts your welfare above his own,” Paul says.
He goes on to say the same thing about Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus is one who has risked his life to serve the Philippians and to serve, ultimately, Christ. These are two examples of selfless service.
Christ as the Supreme Example of Selfless Service
And as we come back to this passage in Philippians 2:5-11, Christ is the supreme example of selfless service. Let's look briefly at what Paul says about him beginning in verse 6: “Who, though he was in the form of God…” What does that mean to be in the form of God? It does not mean that he simply looks like God or appeared to be God. The Greek word that is used here in this context means he truly was God. It refers to the true reality that is lying behind it. He truly was God.
And then Paul goes on to say he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (verse 6). When the ESV translates “a thing to be grasped,” it does not mean equality with God is something that he is trying to gain or something that he is grasping after. The language here refers to holding on to something. He did not consider his equality with God a thing to be clung to or held onto and used for his own advantage.
Then it goes on. What else did he do? He “made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7, ESVUK). He abased himself. The Lord of all glory “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus Christ took to himself a human nature. He who is, was, always has been and always will be. God became man! He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus himself says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
What is Paul saying? Have this mind among yourselves. This is to be your attitude and this is to be the way you live: The way Christ came to earth. His attitude and his intention. It includes self-abasement. It includes service. And ultimately, it includes sacrifice.
It includes self-abasement. Christ did not assert himself. He did not assert his divine authority. He did not come so that people would say, “Look, there is the Son of God.” In fact, the people did not even recognize him as the Son of God. So, brothers and sisters, we are not to be those who assert self. We are not to seek status and not to cling to it.
There is a popular expression that we sometimes hear among Christian groups: “God is first, others are second, and I am third.” Ever heard that? And it is, in some ways, a wonderful sentiment. We put God first, we put others above ourselves, and then we are third. But I am not sure that the language here even lets us put ourselves third. That is too high. Third place sounds pretty good. We are to abase self. In context, it is very likely that Paul is writing this to a church that has some problems, some division and some discord. In fact, later in Philippians 4 Paul is going to address two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to agree in the Lord. Their squabbling seems to have affected the church, and so Paul is calling these Philippians to humility and to unity. We are to see ourselves as insignificant and as others as being above ourselves.
But we are to see ourselves as instruments in the hand of God. In fact, we will never truly be instruments in the hand of God until we abase self, putting others first. I love the wonderful little essay by Francis Schaeffer called No Little People, No Little Places. In this essay, Francis Schaeffer talks about Moses' staff that he carried. This staff was simply a piece of wood. It was a shepherd's staff, Schaeffer points out, and yet, it became a powerful instrument of God. This staff became a snake and swallowed up the snakes of the Egyptians. This staff was used by God so that when Moses struck the Nile, the Nile became blood. This staff was used so that when Moses held up the staff, many of the plagues came. When Moses held up his staff, the Red Sea parted and God's people were delivered. How did this insignificant piece of wood become an instrument of God? Exodus 4:20 basically tells us; it says that this staff became “the staff of God.” Moses' shepherd staff became the rod, or the staff, of God. Schaeffer goes on to say:
That which is me must become the me of God. Then, I can become useful in God’s hands. The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people.No Little People, No Little Places, 1974
No little people, no big people, only consecrated and unconsecrated. Set apart to be used by God. So like Christ, we need to abase self, not asserting ourselves and not clinging to our rights and privileges, but humbling ourselves and saying, “God, use me as your instrument in the world.” That is self-abasement.
Secondly, we see in Jesus' life service he came to serve. And of course, the best example was his service of going to the cross, but we see this other wonderful passage in John 13 where Jesus gets up from the table and he washes his disciples’ feet. This was a task that was reserved for the lowliest slaves. Jesus gets up and he does this task, and he says to his disciples these words:
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.John 13:14-15, ESV
Wash one another's feet. Be involved in the lowliest service for God's people. My sister and brother-in-law have a cross-stitch that they hang up in their home that says this: “Happy is the heart that beats for others.” If you want joy and contentment in the Christian life, follow Christ's example, living for others and serving others.
Third and finally, we see Christ sacrifice: “becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). So we are to lay down our lives for one another.
Bryan Chapell tells the story of two brothers who played on the sand banks by the river’s edge in his town. He writes the following:
Because our town depends on the river for commerce, dredges regularly clear its channels of sand and deposit it in great mounds beside the river. Few things are more fun for children than playing on these mountainous sandpiles—and few things are more dangerous.
While the sand is still wet from the river’s bottom, the dredges dump it on the shore. The piles of sand dry with rigid crusts that often conceal cavernous internal voids, formed by the escaping water. If a child climbs on a mound of sand that has such a hidden void, the external surface easily collapses. Sand from higher on the mound then rushes into the void, trapping the child in a sinkhole of loose sand. This is exactly what happened to the two brothers as they raced up one of the larger mounds.
When the boys did not return home at dinnertime, family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother. Only his head and shoulders protruded from the mound. He was unconscious from the pressure of sand on his body. The searchers began digging frantically. When they had cleared the sand to his waist, he roused to consciousness.
“Where is your brother?” the rescuers shouted. “I’m standing on his shoulders,” replied the child.Each for the Other: Marriage as It’s Meant to Be, 2006, p. 15
It is the sacrifice of his own life. The older brother had put his younger brother on his shoulders to rescue him from the sand.
So we are to live lives of sacrifice. That sacrifice, though, is not simply to be the sacrifice of our willingness to die for another. I often tell men that in premarital counselling. When Ephesians 5 calls husbands to follow the example of Christ and love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for them, I tell them, “You know what? The easy thing would be dying for your wife. The harder thing is living for your wife.” We can say that we are willing to die for one another, but the more difficult thing is living for one another. But that is what Scripture calls us to: a life of service, following the example of Christ. Charles Spurgeon once wrote:
Oh! There is nothing that can so advantage you, nothing can so prosper you, so assist you, so make you walk toward heaven rapidly, so keep your head upward toward the sky, and your eyes radiant with glory, like the imitation of Jesus Christ. It is when by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are enabled to walk with Jesus in his very footsteps, and tread in his ways, you are most happy and you are most known to be the sons of God. For your sake, my brethren, I say, be like Christ.Day by Day, 1992, p. 222
So brothers and sisters, Paul here is calling us to be like Christ. The key and the difficult factor in the soul is self, isn't it? We are to be a people who die to self. And how difficult that is! But perhaps we can put it in this way: What did Christ do? Christ died to self so that he might save us from self, so that we might be able to die to self and live for him. There is great joy and there is great contentment and there is sanctification in the Christian life when we give our lives to living the way Christ lived.