Exodus 17:107; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Washing dishes. What is the first thing you do when you are cleaning the kitchen or dining room after a meal? Each of us probably has a slightly different order to our process, but one of the first things I do when I want clean dishes is to throw away the parts of the meal I don’t want to keep, like the napkins, leftover food, etc. Then the next thing I do is to pour out or knock off the food that is left inside the bowls, cups, plates, silverware . . . do you do that, too? Why? I do it because when I want to wash my dishes (and by dishes, I mean: plates, cups, saucers, silverware, bowls, pans, everything else that might have been used during the past 2 days) I EMPTY OUT everything before I begin filling the sink with clean water to wash them. If you don’t, then your dishwater is nasty.
And I HAVE been washing dishes when someone “helped” me and threw in a plate or a cup with fluid or food still on it. Into the clean dishwater. What does that do? You know.
Our scripture passage this morning is not about washing dishes. What it IS all about, though, is emptying out. Our great and gracious God, who could and can do anything (omnipotent), chose instead to become nothing in order to redeem us. To give us a new life. To give us a new hope. To give us an EXAMPLE. Our reading is found in Philippians 2:1-13
What is going on here?
There are three commands in this passage. They occur verses 2, 5, and 12. They read (according to the NIV): “Make my joy complete (!),” “Have the same mindset (!),” and “Continue to work out (!).”
The apostle Paul is encouraging the believers to be united and to live a humble life like Christ. These believers are in the middle of persecution, and yet he is calling them to live “beyond” their human abilities.
Paul had journeyed to Philippi some years earlier after seeing a man in a vision who urged him to go to Macedonia (we read this in Acts 16:9). When Paul arrived there with Silas, Timothy and Luke, at every turn the missionaries were confronted with Rome; Paul and his missionary friends had several amazing adventures in Philippi, after beginning a congregation there with some women who they met at a prayer meeting by the river. As a result of this missionary work, God’s kingdom was advanced.
And now, Paul is in prison and writing to this love child of his—this Philippian congregation. The purpose of his letter is to thank his friends for their financial support and to ask some of them to put aside their quarrels and to remember their identity. Who they are. To whom they belong.
JESUS CHRIST EMPTIED OUT
Jesus Christ was the complete man in whom God completely dwelled. If any man has ever been tempted to be self-sufficient, it was Jesus. If any man has ever been tempted to be proud, it was Jesus. If any man has ever been tempted to use his powers for his own self-interest, it was Jesus. How did he safeguard himself against these temptations?
He poured himself out. He emptied himself. Even though he could have held on to his high position of equality with God, which meant superiority over all of humankind, he did not do it. Instead, he gave it all up. He could have ruled over all, but instead, he became a servant of all.
Jesus poured out for us.
APOSTLE PAUL EMPTIED OUT
Paul modeled his life and his love on that of Jesus. That is what he is reminding this precious congregation of in this letter to the Philippians. Real people with real problems.
“Remember what Jesus did for you? He gave up everything that he was in order to become what was necessary for YOU.”
Emptied out. In order to become.
Just as I had to empty all the dirty, filthy dishes in order to make them usable vessels again, Paul is urging his flock to empty themselves of all that dirties them—all that keeps them from being like-minded. All the selfishness and vain conceit that is filling them up and preventing the love of Christ from accomplishing God’s mission there in Philippi.
And what happens when we are empty? We become usable vessels. Like Paul. Like Luke. Like Silas. Like Timothy. Like Lydia. She was the woman that they met by the river where Paul and his guys went to pray. Now Paul is the evangelist. The preacher. The speaker. The bold one who gets thrown into prison for speaking Christ’s mind.
LYDIA EMPTIED OUT
But who is Lydia? Some random Greek woman (sarcasm intended) who just happened to be in the place where Paul and the men went to pray on that Sabbath. The Bible tells us in Acts 16:13 that she worshipped as a Jew, and Paul spoke to her about his Lord. She listened and said, “Yes!”
Lydia was a businesswoman. She was a “dealer in purple cloth,” which means she mostly likely was a wealthy woman, supplying cloth to the rich. Macedonian women were known for their independence, and inscriptions of the period show her hometown of Thyatira had a guild of dyers. Often, businesspeople are so engrossed in their own affairs that they have no time for religion or faith. But Lydia made time to pray. Although sincerely religious, Lydia was not a Christian. She did, however, have a hunger for a deeper spiritual experience.
Thus, Lydia had the honor of being Paul’s first European convert.
So Lydia emptied herself of the plans she had for her home and opened it to some itinerant missionaries. The Christian community of Philippi continued to use her house for their worship services for several years.
WE ARE EMPTIED OUT
We are to take Christ’s attitude in serving others. We must give up personal recognition and merit. When we give up our self-interest, we can serve with joy, love, and kindness. This congregation at Philippi has helped to support Paul’s missionary work by sending him gifts, so this letter is a thank you, as well as an admonition to remember to keep their love always in front of them.
Jesus was God, Paul reminds his readers. Yet Jesus took on the role of a humble servant, becoming human and dying on a cross—an execution method reserved for the lowers of lowlifes. And this is our life model: to be empty. So that there is room for God.
Just as God emptied Godself for us
And Paul emptied himself for God
And Lydia emptied herself in order to become a missionary hostess
We must empty ourselves to and allow God to use us.
Originally preached Sunday, October 1, 2017