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Spiritual Growth: Shining Like Stars

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Today before the sermon began, Nicki got up front and talked with us about a project we're doing for Lent.  We've got a few hundred stones in the lobby by the cafe, and they have words or phrases written on them.

Everyone gets to take a stone.  Put it in your pocket during the week, and use it as a reminder to think about the Lord.

We can exchange stones each Sunday.  Write your name on the stone you're returning, and we can also pray for each other.  We will have a place to write and post your experiences with the stones - our stone stories.

Then Pastor Ed Allen continued his sermon series on Spiritual Growth in the book of Philippians, looking at Philippians 2:12-18 this week.

He focused mainly on the verse, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing."

Paul had something big in mind:  Don't let your petty hurt feelings or small-minded disagreements weaken God's work through you.

We Northern Virginians need this - we have a reputation for being highly demanding.

Our demandingness drives us into unnecessary disagreements that weaken God's work in us.

The context for this principle began at the end of chapter 1:  "Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one person for the faith of the gospel."

And in chapter 2:  "Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

This passage had a "Therefore:"  "Therefore . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."

Does that contradict Paul's teaching that we're justified by faith through God's grace?

No, we're freely justified as a gift of God, not based on good works.  (See Romans 3:23-24; 4:4-5; 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9)

Paul uses "justification" to talk about what God has done for us.  He uses the word "salvation" to talk about our experience with God now.

We can't work at our justification, but we can enrich our experience with God now.  We can deepen our connection with God, once we have it.

This is not casual Christianity!  This series is about spiritual growth, not spiritual idling.

He immediately reminds them even that is from God's work in them (even the desire).

He could have talked about a lot of things - sexual immorality, greed, pride, etc.  Instead he talks about complaining and arguing.

Complaining and arguing put us in a very bad place.  Simmering conflict does tremendous damage.  Conflicts can weaken God's work in us and through us.

Conflict impacts three areas:

1.  It threatens our character.  ("so that you may become blameless and pure")

2.  It threatens our ministry and influence.  ("as you hold out the word of life")

3.  It threatens the ministry of others and God's overall reputation.  ("that I did not run or labor for nothing")

Paul has in mind the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness, who were called a "warped and crooked generation."

Don't let God's work be threatened by our petty disagreements!

Our faith doesn't center on the good we do or how much we know -- it's centered on how much we love.

Christianity happens in the context of our relationships.  It's tied in with selfish ambition and vain conceit in the previous section.

Do you realize how many opportunities there are to argue and complain?

People of God, let's not do it!

Spiritual Growth: What It Is, How It Happens, and Why It Matters: Philippians 2:1-11

February 11, 2018


This morning we marched boldly into the rich second chapter of Philippians, where Paul challenges us to move away from a casual understanding of spirituality and urges us to strive for a God-honoring, Christ –promoting, sharply focused, gospel-declaring culture of growth. Philippians 2: 1-11 urges us to participate more in the Body of Christ, described in the Greek language as Koinonia. Whatever you are doing, Paul intimates, do more. Paul urged the Philippians to make his joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one spirit, all infused with genuine humility (verses 1-4). (Ed suggested using the English Standard Version for this passage as a method of gaining new understanding.)

If you miss everything else, don’t miss this: Being connected to one another is a really big deal, and one of the most important keys to successful relationships- connection- is humility.

CS Lewis said, “To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.”

Ed painted the backdrop for Paul’s explanation of the profound humility of Jesus by touching on 3 titanic concepts:

  1. The mystery of the Trinity.
  2. The nature of Jesus- fully God, yet fully man (think of the story of Jesus calming the storm, and the disciples being terrified, asking: What sort of man is this?”)
  3. The ultimate glorification of Jesus. We understand that there will one day come a time when everyone and everything will worship Jesus Christ.

The passage goes on from here to explain how Jesus, this Jesus who was part of the Trinity, fully God and fully Man, did not consider for a moment that equality with God was possible, and humbled Himself even to death on the cross. Humility could be perhaps explained as the complete absence of the rights of the self. (How would you define humility based on this passage?)

After giving us an overview of these verses, Ed took a step aside from scripture and described an illustration from the world of business. Author Jim Collins wrote a book called “Good to Great.” His research team searched for specific patterns in companies that had sky-rocketed in the market and asked, “What conditions were present that could have caused this incredible success?” Collins’ research went on to identify 7 features which these companies had in common:

  1. They put the right people in the right places.
  2. They confronted facts, even when those facts were brutally honest.
  3. They employed the hedgehog concept. In other words, find your one big thing and become very, very good at it. (In his famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”)
  4. They practiced a culture of discipline.
  5. These companies used technology accelerators.
  6. They incorporated the Flywheel Concept: There is no quick fix; rather, these great companies relentlessly pushed a big wheel up a hill until they pushed it over the top.
  7. And then there’s Level 5 Leadership: This is the point we need to focus on for our discussion today. A level 5 leader “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will.” Example: Kimberly Clark, led by Darwin Smith. His humility was such that hardly anyone knew who he was, yet everyone has heard of the great health-care products giant that is Kimberly Clark.

Collins’ conclusion about level 5 leadership is strikingly similar to Paul’s explanation of Christ’s humility in Philippians Chapter 2. Collins said that level 5 leadership is counter-intuitive—even counter-cultural! And yet this combination of humility and will makes for a universal combination which results in great leadership.

Based on this idea of level 5 leadership, Ed challenges us to think about 6 principles to employ in order to move toward greater personal humility and purpose.

  1. Speak less. Ed’s twist: Answer fewer questions.
  2. Mind your own business. Don’t try to manage others; rather, manage yourself.
  3. Listen to your critics.
  4. Bless those who insult you, slight you, forget you and dislike you.
  5. Own your strengths, and let them speak for themselves.
  6. Accept your limits.

For a group exercise, we discussed which one of these points did we feel we needed to work on and why? (My answer? I definitely need to work on accepting my limits. But probably all of them need to be addressed. It was a motivating discussion.)

Let’s end on another C.S. Lewis quote:

“If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And it is a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”