Better Than Me
I have just come back from a retreat with a group of local pastors. As we began with prayer one of the younger ministers asked for something which was pivotal for our time together; “The Father’s heart for the city of Belmont.” A little later the facilitator opened with a text from Paul’s earliest letter, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1:1cf. 2 Thess 1:1). Being “in God the Father” seemed to indicate something very intimate but the implications were at first unclear. As the morning progressed I became increasingly aware that God was speaking into a personal problem I was struggling to overcome. I had just received an email from a friend describing her excitement about doing a course prepared by someone I know quite well. My mind quickly went to what I anticipated would be some of the shortcomings of the course’s emphasis. Even if my discernment was accurate I knew my attitude was ungodly and I had begun to seek God in prayer for a breakthrough. The next scripture used at the retreat (Phil 2) has proved to be a potential circuit breaker, not only for me but for the wider church in our city.
I started to discern depths in the famous hymn to Christ which I had never received before. In the connection between how we relate to each other and how the Son related to his Father lies liberation from our insecurities. Paul begins;
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5). At first sight it seems impossible to value others more highly than ourselves. Paul’s counsel here cannot contradict the radical oneness that all races, genders and social groups enjoy in Jesus (Gal 3:28); neither can he be advocating that we pretend that others are better than us. The possibility of obeying this exhortation is found in Christ alone. The grace by which we can value others above ourselves comes through the Spirit (Phil 2:1) imparting to us a share in the pivotal decision of the Son in relation to his Father.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not count equality with God something to be used for his own advantage, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:5 -11). Even though the eternal Son of God was equal with the Father he counted the Father as better than himself. He became flesh via an act of absolute humility which uniquely qualified him to be a servant. Under the conditions of the Incarnation the earthly Christ was then able to confess, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The final result of Jesus’ self abasement was not death but exaltation as a human being to equality with the Father. This pattern of humility for service is the one God wants to share through all the members of his family.
The impact of Jesus’ humility on the first church was so great that “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32). I was taken aback recently when the pastor of one assembly spoke of how their financial assistance to a smaller nearby church made it possible for this group to employ a youth pastor. If every Christian elevated every other believer above themselves, and every local church esteemed neighbouring congregations more highly than their own priorities, Australia would see a revival like never before. If the mind of “stronger church” leaders was set on bringing greatness to other fellowships by serving them with resources they lack God himself would multiply supplies by the same power with which he fed the 5,000 and exalted Christ to heaven. To “consider others better than ourselves” means desiring to see Christ exalted in them in a way which is greater than our own personal experience. In such a situation the promise, ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”” (1 Pet 5:5) would become visibly true and Christ would be manifestly exalted in our city.
The above reflections reveal what it means for the church to be “in God the Father” (1 Thess 1:1). To be “in God” involves a Christ shaped cruciform existence that serves God’s passion to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10). The heart of the Father for everyone is to pour out his love upon them in the same way as he lifted Jesus out of his deathly humiliation and exalted him to heaven. There are two great obstacles within us holding back such a visitation to our city.
It is my pride which has kept me from the heartfelt prayer of blessing others with these words, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The thought that an individual, or fellow congregation, could grow greater than me because of my assistance is crushing to the ego. This is exactly the sort of Christ-willed crucifixion that brings pleasure to the heart of God. At the most profound level the ability for such deep self-sacrifice is humanly impossible; it can only come with a deeper revelation of the Father. Approaching the cross Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. He went on to explain that the secret of kingdom fruitfulness is not in the sacrifice itself, but in the powerful pleasure of the Father, “if anyone serves me the Father will honour him.” (John 12:24, 26 ESV). If like Jesus we look up to heaven in obedience honouring the Father with the resources he has placed in our hands he will certainly multiply them across the whole family of God and the entire church will be exalted (Mark 6:41-44).
Paul was a spiritual father whose words to the churches under his care take us deep inside the Father heart of God (1 Cor 4:15). He teaches that the way of humility which seeks the prosperity of others before our own is the key to the functional unity of the family of God. This is what it means to have a share in “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:5). Where we exercise this mind, especially at the corporate level, God will pour out his blessings. Alternatively, where we are dominated by our own interests God will oppose us (James 4:6). Let each reader decide before the Lord their own spiritual situation, and that of the fellowship to which they belong, and seek his grace accordingly.