WHEN IN ROME…OR, WHEN IN PHILIPPI...OR, WHEN IN YOUR OWN COMMUNITY…
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
20 FEBRUARY 1994
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Probably all of us, or at least most of us who are gathered here today, would consider ourselves to be Christians.
So today, I would like each of us to consider, for ourselves, who we really are before God and how much of a Christian we really are.
Now, don't bring the other person into this evaluation, for each of us has enough problems of our own to consider.
We have heard the expression, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
This is to say, that if we behave like the people of the place where we are visiting, we will not be seen as a foreigner.
But consider what Jesus said to some religious leaders when they tried to trap Him concerning His teachings from the standpoint of being a Jew in the Roman Empire.
He said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17)
But Jesus was in His own land, as we are in our own land; so how does this relate?
If we rephrase the previous two admonitions into one, we should get an answer. "When we live in a country, or when we visit a foreign country, we are to live according to their rules and give unto that government the things that they require; but at the same time we are to follow God's rules, and give unto Him the things He requires."
But when there is a conflict, we must, as Christians, follow the things of God.
And when we really look closely, we will find that very few things are in conflict, that is, as they relate to our own way of life.
For if a law permits an ungodly act, that doesn't mean we have to participate in it.
In fact, we can and should stand against it, but not by breaking other laws, for that would be a bad witness.
The apostle John wrote of this dichotomy of being in the world but not of the world. Listen to what he said of Jesus' coming, in John 1:9-13:
9. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
10. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
11. He came to his own home, and his own people [the Israelites] received him not.
12. But to all who received him, who believed in his name [Messiah, or Christ], he gave power to become children of God;
13. who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Jesus came into this world in the likeness and form of a man, to be as we are, so that we would relate to Him and not think of Him as a foreigner.
But at the same time He came as God, as Messiah, as our Savior, so that we would recognize Him for who He is.
As John said, "…the world knew him not." Jesus came to earth looking and acting as people should, not as they do act, not conforming to the ways we are not to follow.
And for all who believed, He gave them the power to be transformed out of this world, spiritually.
Now, once this has happened to us, we have the same problem that Jesus had. Note what he told his disciples in John 15:18-19.
18. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
19. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
How are you doing so far in evaluating yourself as a Christian living in this world?
We all need to be reminded of such things from time to time, don't we?
So, with this in mind, let's turn to our Scripture lesson for this morning, Philippians 2:5-11, and to keep it in context, let's first consider Philippians 1:27.
27. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
Paul is telling the congregation, and I believe us today, that as Christians we must all be consistent and unified in our faith, whether or not Paul or any other leader is present, for we are to be living examples of the gospel message for others.
Then Paul adds another touch to our unity in Christ in Philippians 2:1-4.
1. So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
2. complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.
This is love – real love.
4. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
How do we acquire this same mind with one another when, in fact, we are all individuals?
How do we live together with unconditional love and compassion, when the world around us is so hard of heart?
How can we love people who don't love us?
How can we love the whole of God's creation when so many people are destroying it as well as those humans and animals who live in it?
Paul answers this in verse 5.
5. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
Or as other translations express it: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (KJV), or "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (NASV), or "Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus (JB).
In other words, if we are Christians, we will have the mind of Christ.
I guess all of us are coming up a little short in this category, aren't we?
Then how do we fulfill this requirement?
We do it by constantly reminding ourselves who Jesus Christ is, and what He did for each of us
Paul inserted this reminder next in his letter, the content of which may have been an early church hymn or creed.
6. who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7. but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
This is real and unconditional love and compassion.
There is no other reason that God would even consider doing such a thing; for why would He want to enter the paradise we corrupted and made into the mess it has become?
Why wouldn't He just wipe us out of existence, and start anew?
He doesn't because he still sees the potential goodness in all of us, the way He made us to be in the first place, and He doesn't want to lose any of us.
So, because Jesus loves us to this extent, He didn't count equality with His Father to be of greater importance than the souls of those He loves.
Thus, He willingly and freely came to earth as a man.
This means that if we are of the same mind-set with Jesus, we can no longer just pray for someone in absence only.
When it is possible, we must go to them, reflecting the life of Christ as a living gospel message.
We must not only call them to us, but we must go to them where they are.
We must be willing to serve the needy, and not expect to be served ourselves, no matter what our position may be.
This takes some humbling, doesn't it? But Jesus went even further.
8. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
God doesn't expect us to physically die upon a cross. Jesus did that for us, once for all time.
But spiritually we are to do the same. It is so easy for us to see the sins of others; but can we see beyond those sins to the person God made them to be, and love them unconditionally for who they should and could be?
If we can, we've come a lot closer to understanding the love Jesus showed us when He died for us while we were still sinners.
This is what it takes to be of the same mind with Christ Jesus.
In the process, we are not to conform to their way of life; for that wouldn't be love, since it would give them the false impression that unrepentant sinners also get into heaven.
We are to help them out of their sins, while remaining sinless ourselves.
Love is desiring every one to enter heaven with us, just as Jesus returned to His heavenly abode.
9. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Very few in the world truly bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord, for when or if they do, they also convict themselves of their way of life.
For once we truly come to believe in the gospel message, we no longer can live “as the Romans do.”
We must change, for we are no longer of this world, even if we still live in it.
Perhaps that's why Paul says what he does next, in verses 12-13.
12. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
13. for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
If we believe, we must also accept the fact that God is at work in us; and if He is in us, then we also should be of like mind with Him.
And the more of us who accept that position of responsibility, the better place the world becomes.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if everything the people of the land did was also what the Lord would have us do?
Your Comments are welcome
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