"Lord of our lives, Lord of our universe, Lord of all."
We know quite a bit about how the Church in Phillipi came into being. It was during the time of Paul's second missionary journey, which you can read about in Acts chapter 16. Paul had a vision in which he saw a man standing and begging him to go to Macedonia to help them. This convinced Paul that God was calling him and his friends to go an preach the Gospel to that people, the capital of Macedonia being Phillipi.
We read in 1 Thessalonians that there was a lot of opposition to the Gospel and Paul's enthusiasm for its message. He says this in Chapter 2
"You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, even though we were surrounded by many who opposed us."
When Paul wrote this letter, probably around 50 to 60AD he was in prison, possibly in Rome or Caesarea. The letter was written because Paul had heard that the congregation was worried about his circumstances in prison, and also that Paul's companion Epaprophitus was very ill. It was a letter of reassurance and encouragement to a congregation that Paul felt a lot of responsibility towards.
You can sense the relationship that Paul had with these people by his opening words. These are gentle words of encouragement to real friends, to live lives that are in imitation of Christ's. Rather than a strict instruction to behave in a particular manner which he might have sent to a distant Church.
"Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose."
Paul appreciates that it's easy enough to say the words but to actually put them into action is often another matter (our own experience would tell us that division and mistrust are certainly not unknown within Church life) and that's why he points out the barriers to this ideal situation
"Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ?" asks Paul.
Can we ask ourselves that?
What does he mean by "encouragement"?
Well, have we noticed any difference in the way that we are able to cope with life and all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows the closer we feel to Christ? Have we seen in others a faith that has enabled them to overcome adversity, find strength when it was needed? Have we prayed and known that our prayers have been answered? Have we met together in worship and gone out knowing that we have been in the presence of God? Has someone said something about our life, our words or actions that shows that they have seen the difference that faith has brought?
"Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic?"
Comfort, I think is probably self-explanatory - it's the warmth of God's love which we experience in our hearts. If you've got it you know it.
Any fellowship together in the Spirit?
When we meet together for worship, is it a two-way thing -us and God - or three way, a three dimensional experience which involves those around us as well? That's what our worship together should be, and if it is then we will begin to understand what Paul means by "fellowship together in the Spirit" which I would call 'true worship'
Part of the problem that Paul saw related to the culture in which the people lived. There was a strong Greek influence, and the Greeks put a strong emphasis on individualism, rather like the seventies under Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in the UK. It was a culture that said look after your own interests first, be single minded in your attitude to life; it drove self at the expense of others. In some ways it was a selfish way of life, but this was the culture of the day and sometimes it's difficult to see the faults when you are living them day by day just like everyone else.
But, says Paul "Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing."
If that's the way you look at life, says Paul, if it's self first and everybody else a poor second then think again, because that's not the way it's supposed to be. Paul encourages those who are going to hear this letter read out to them to make a conscious effort to think particularly of others. To adopt a spirit of humility rather than the arrogance of the day; to accept all people as equals (not always an easy thing to do, as I'm sure we would agree). And in our relationships with those around us to consider their opinions as equally valid as ours.
There is a sense in which Paul is saying here that if you have said "Amen" to all his other points about encouragement; knowing comfort and the fellowship of the Spirit (in other words if your spiritual life as an individual and as a fellowship is right) then all these other things should fall into place.
In the end, he says in the next few verses, it's all down to us "imitating Christ".
Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
You've only got to look at the life of Jesus, says Paul, to understand what I'm on about. Here was God himself walking among us in the person of Jesus. Here was all the Power and Majesty of the Godhead - and to the naked eye he appeared as just an ordinary man showing extraordinary love and compassion.
He made an impression not because of his show of power but because of his attitude to others - the tax collector, the woman at the well, the lepers, the outcasts of society, those who persecuted him - to Jesus these were as important as any religious leader or dignitary. And he carried this attitude with him right onto the cross where he still had time for another one of life's unwanted, the thief who confessed his sins.
This is what your attitude should be like, says Paul, this is the supreme example to follow.
What follows in our bibles is probably part of an early Church hymn, and there are several examples of hymns and worship songs throughout the New Testament. I think that's nice, because it helps us connect with what was a vibrant and worshipping Church involving real people just like you and I.
This must have been a real emotional hymn for the people of its time. We're talking about living in a Roman colony and being proud to have been given Roman citizenship. And what does this hymn remind them as they sing it? That they were part of the culture which had condemned Jesus to a death reserved for slaves and common criminals.
They knew all about crucifixion and the horror of such a death, and as they sang such a hymn it would have had a special meaning perhaps somewhat lost on us. But the hymn makes it plain that because of who he was and what he endured in humility, Jesus has been raised to the highest place and everything that is in heaven and on the earth has to acknowledge that fact. And this same acknowledgement is the one that we as believers make at the moment of conversion and reaffirm throughout our Christian life ' that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
And if Jesus Christ is Lord of all then it brings us back to Paul's comments at the start of chapter 2 that because we consider ourselves as belonging to Christ as part of his body here on earth then this should affect the way that we live our lives and the way in which we look at other people.
If Jesus could treat all mankind as deserving of his love and compassion then so should we. If Jesus could find time to talk to all who needed him and minister to their needs then so should we. If Jesus' life was one of humility and service then this should be our aim.
Our lives should reflect the Lordship of Christ in our words and our actions. Jesus is Lord was one of the early creeds of the Church, a simple expression of faith that meant so much to those early believers. Theologians over the centuries have come up with more complicated statements of faith such as the Apostles and Nicene Creeds which can need a theologian to explain their exact meaning. But at the root of our faith stands this early creed, this simple statement of faith
'Jesus is Lord'
Lord of our lives, Lord of our universe, Lord of all.