Read God’s Word:
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,Brothers and sisters, can you imagine how our world might be different if everyone lived out just this one passage? If the world lived out the message of Philippians 2, there would be no more war. Wars happen because people look after their own interests. One nation invades another, or one ruler initiates a genocide, and so other nations or rulers bring in armies to make things right again. What if no one looked after his or her own interests? What if rulers provided what was best for their people? What if everyone and every nation took just what they needed?
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1–11 CEB)
If the world lived out Philippians 2, every family would be just about perfect. Husbands and wives would spend their days trying to make the other one happy! Trust would be overflowing! Children would honor their parents and parents would honor, love, and protect their children.
If the world lived out Philippians 2, our election process would look a lot different, folks! No more suspicion, no more lying, no more cover ups, no more divisive speech. Just two candidates laying out different plans for leadership. Here they are; you choose.
Wow, what if the world really lived out Philippians 2? But that is not the world we live in. That is the world God desires for us! But that is not the world we live in. We have war, we have broken families, we have dishonest and self-centered leaders. But every now and then, I wonder what the world would be like if we could just follow these 11 verses in the Bible! Here is the thing, brothers and sisters. We may not be able to get the entire world to embody the message of these verses, but, we could start right here. I have a feeling that even if the 500 of us in this room were to take seriously the words of Philippians 2:1–11, I think that would change our families in dramatic ways. I think it would change this church in dramatic ways. And I think it would even change Tyler in dramatic and noticeable ways.
And I have an idea for one place we can start to put this passage into practice today.
This morning our shepherds officially launched our congregational study of women in the church. The basic questions are these: In what ways is a woman allowed to participate in our public worship assemblies? Women have always used their many gifts in other arenas in the life of this church; we should never discount that! But the question now is: Can women use their gifts in here?
And a more basic question: Has God given women gifts to use in here? Over the next few months, we are going to try and answer those questions. We are going to study a lot of Scripture together. We are going to have many conversations together. We are going to pray A LOT together. And whatever happens, we are going to have confidence that God’s Spirit is: Guiding us, watching over us, protecting us, and leading us.
There will be plenty of time this fall and winter to get into the nuts and bolts of all of the big passages related to this issue. We will look at Genesis 1–2. We will camp out in I Corinthians 11 and 14. We will look closely at Galatians 3:28. And we will spend some time reflecting on I Timothy 2. There will be time for that, but I don’t want to talk to you about those passages.
I want to talk for a few minutes about what it means to embody Philippians 2 even in the midst of a discussion like this one. I want to be really up front with you if that is OK. On that long continuum between stoic and transparent, I probably lean more toward the stoic end; that’s my personality. But I want to be a bit more transparent. These last few months have been especially difficult. Our elders made an announcement in February that we would study this issue together. And some most of us handled that news in appropriate and expected ways. We were filled with some anxiety; that is natural. We began praying about this study. We began praying for wisdom and guidance and patience. We even began praying for the unity of God’s people here at Glenwood. But I’ll be honest with you: I’ve been saddened by some behavior that I’ve witnessed over these last few months. I’ve seen some mistrust. I’ve seen brothers and sisters assume the worst of each other. I’ve heard hurtful words spoken directly to individuals. But even more tragically, behind the backs of individuals. Brothers and sisters, I want to say this as pastorally as I can: It’s OK to be anxious; it really is. It’s OK to be apprehensive about questioning long-held beliefs and practices. That is perfectly natural; it would be odd if we didn’t! What is not OK is to forget that we are family. What is not OK is to mistrust each other. What is not OK is to ignore the words of Philippians 2. When we fight and assume the worst and divide, we are just like the world. But God sent His Son to show us a different way. Church, we can be better than that. I think, in a real sense, we are fighting against our history here.
You’ve heard me say this before: Our history in Churches of Christ has shown, when we disagree, we divide. The directory of Churches of Christ has a legend as its first page to designate the dozens of different kinds of congregations. Throughout our history, when we have come to points of disagreement, we have often started new congregations. Brothers and sisters, there are some wonderful things about our history, but if I could change anything about our family, it would be that. Just because we disagree does not mean we have to divide.
We must remember that the thing that unites us, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is so much more powerful and important than anything we might ever disagree about. Our worship practices do not save us or condemn us! Jesus Christ saves us. Period. End of story! I know this is a big issue! I am not one of those who will say: “We’ve been here before many, many times. It’s just like the time when we were upset about clapping in church, or praise teams.” No, this is different. Praise teams and clapping in worship are not even mentioned in the Bible. I think it is easier for folks to see that with those issues we are dealing with matters of preference at best. I think the issue of women in the church is even more difficult than the question of instruments in worship! Because this issue is addressed in the Bible. And this study asks us not just to change our preferences, it asks us to rethink our interpretation of Scripture. And that is a more difficult task.
But there is historical precedent for this. In the first century, the church was asked to consider the possibility of allowing Gentiles into God’s family. That was a scriptural issue. And scripture was clear. Jews were to keep far away from Gentiles. In fact, God punished Israel again and again for breaking that command. They also had to decide what to do about circumcision. That was a scriptural issue. And scripture was clear, men must be circumcised. And God had always been serious about it. Also, in those earliest years of the church, they had to decide what to do about Jesus! Their Bible was pretty clear, God is one! Well, what does that mean about Jesus? Is Jesus God? Can we worship Jesus like we worship the Father? The church wrestled with that question for centuries!
In more recent centuries, the church has had to wrestle with the question of slavery. Again, this was a scriptural issue. The Bible was clear to some people: Slaves, obey your masters. History, in fact, is filled with moments when the church had to come together to have difficult conversations. And, you know, after we are gone, there will be other discussions the church will have that are not even on our horizon. That has always been the case: It was true with Israel, it was true with the early church, and with every generation of the church since the Day of Pentecost.
On each of those occasions, the church had to learn how to: discuss together, pray together, engage in difficult conversation together, and even disagree with each other, IN LOVE. And brothers and sisters, as we engage this study together, that is my daily, overriding prayer. That we would be able to engage this study in love. That we would be able to treat each other the way Jesus would treat us if He were here among us.
Let me say this, and I mean this with all of my heart, the way we go about this process as a church, that will say more about us than any decision that is eventually made about what women can or cannot do in this room. Will we listen to each other, or not? Will we trust each other, or not? And will we love each other, or not? From where I stand, those are the most important questions for us in the coming months.
What I’ve asked you to do this morning, it is impossible to do according to the rules of this world. But you and I, we do not live by those rules. We are citizens of another Kingdom. We are empowered not by our own selfish motives or desires. We are empowered by the Spirit of the Living God.