“The Cost of Courage”
2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
You and me, we worship the living God, the Christ who boldly revealed to us the cost of courage…the cost of going against the popular, political views, the cost of standing in opposition to those in power and authority, the cost of raising up the lowly and bringing down the haughty. The journey of being and becoming who we are called to be as followers of Christ has a cost. We know the cost…we just have to go back to the cross to remember. Christ showed us the extreme cost of courage. Paul, the disciples and many early followers have shown us the cost of courage, the cost of courage that resulted in personal suffering, beatings, and imprisonment. Paul in particular knew the life committed to Christ takes courage. One might ask, especially during these days, what does it take to be courageous? What does it take to be daring, bold, fearless, especially during challenging times such that we are facing right now? The church in Philippi faced challenging times too…there was disunity among the people. Disunity that diluted the courageous effort of the church to grow and expand.
Disunity was a serious threat to the church in Philippi. What I learned from reading about this city is that Philippi was a great commercial center of the ancient world, many people moving in and out of the city. William Barclay expands our understanding by sharing that Philippi included many colonies of Roman influence. The Roman language was spoken, Roman-style clothes were worn; Roman customs were observed…they were stubbornly and unalterably Roman and would never dream of becoming assimilated to the other groups of people. So, think about this…the new Christian church in forming within a community filled with Romans who were not about to change their ways. Paul sees the urgency in having a united front, a cohesive message about what faith in Christ is all about. It is the unity and oneness in thought that will present a convincing appeal to become a Christian.
Paul does not reprimand the new believers but rather he compels them to seek unity by laying out the causes of disunity. He lists three deterrents to unity: selfish ambition, personal prestige, and concentration on self. Three deterrents leading to ineffective witness of one’s faith. Let me say this again it is too important to miss; three deterrents to unity are selfish ambition, personal prestige, and concentration on self.
Disunity is a serious threat to any organization or movement, and it is a serious threat to our own churches today along with our democracy and our country. Every couple of months, I am invited to say the invocation at the Elk Grove Village Meeting and before prayer, we say the pledge of allegiance. Do you remember the words? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of American and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” On this day when we face so much disunity, it’s good to remember this pledge and in particular the phrase, “one Nation under God.”
Now I couldn’t live with myself as a person of faith and as your pastor if I didn’t talk about what this means that we are a nation under God and we pledge liberty and justice for all when we read about the atrocity, we witnessed a couple of weeks ago at Uvalde Texas with the slaying of 19 children and two teachers. We are a nation of Mass Shootings. According to the New York Times the United States has experiences 101 mass shootings from 1998-2019 (21 years) compared with the next country France that had 8 mass shootings in this same period of time. Do you think Paul’s message to the disunited church in Philippi could help us this morning with our nation that is founded under God but certainly dis-united? Can his message speak to us today?
Paul does not leave the people on their own to find a way to unity, he tells them exactly the steps to take, he lays out a roadmap. This is what he says, put aside selfish ambition, don’t think about your status or your reputation, and concentrate on others…in other words put yourself out of the center. What could this mean for our city, for our country for the world? What if our leaders really took these words of Paul to heart? What if we, you and me took this message to heart and really lived into our calling to be a light in the world, a light overcoming the darkness? A light that radiates from our faith in Jesus Christ.
I’d like to say it would be a piece of cake, just speak up, raise up the lowly but oh no my friends it’s takes courage to walk this road. And we know there is a cost to having courage. Once you put aside your selfish ambition, once you start thinking about others more than you think about yourself, once you let go of your perceived status and your reputation, once you step out into the arena of courage you will face the demons of this world. Yes friends will turn away, voices from the outside will cut you down, and people will try very hard to discredit you. But have faith my friends, for Paul also reminds us of the journey Christ made on our behalf; a journey of emptying himself and becoming a slave, being in human form and obeying God to the cross. Christ freed us from a world stuck in self-absorption, he freed us from the need to have a high status, to be of importance, Christ helps us to turn our eyes away from ourselves to see the needs of others. We need leaders at all levels who have courage…who are willing to pay the price in living into that courage. You and me, we must lead the way. Have courage! Amen