This is from a message I shared recently at my church. There’s some edits here to help it connect with readers from other churches and communities.
This is a reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
When you think of the word, “relentless”, what’s usually the first thing that comes to mind? The bills that just keep coming? The telemarketers that always seem find a way to get past all attempts to block their calls? The brutality of a rough New England winter? On a more positive use of the word, perhaps you think of the drive and focus of Coach Belichick and the Patriots? Have you ever used the word relentless to describe the love of Jesus?
When we use the word relentless here, it can be understood in terms of a pace of sustained intensity, of not yielding or swerving in determination and resolution, as well as a maintained intensity. Those are all ways we can describe the love of Jesus: God’s love for us truly is relentless.
This message has two main goals. First, is to awaken our hearts to the reality that our identities are rooted in the relentless, sacrificial love that Jesus has given to each and every one of us. Second, is to ignite a passion within those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, to embrace our calling to embody that relentless, sacrificial love in our attitudes and actions.
First, some background on today’s Scripture passage. Paul is a man who’s life was dramatically altered by an encounter with the risen Jesus. By a vivid vision of the risen Christ, he transformed from Saul, a man filled with rigid religion and hatred of outsiders, into Paul who brought the message of Christ far and wide because of how he experienced the mercy and grace of our Lord.
Through discipleship by some of the apostles, he was transformed into a man who was filled with compassion for the lost and broken world that so desperately needed the hope that only Jesus could provide.
He writes this letter to the church in Philippi, a community of believers he founded and had a close relationship with following his time there. While some of the other letters Paul writes are clearly written from prison, it’s also possible this letter may have been as well. Knowing this, we can more fully appreciate the message God brings through Paul, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit has clearly done miraculous things in and through him, and that he’s willing to go to any length to share that message.
This particular passage in Philippians is unique because Paul is so impassioned by the incarnation of Christ and his sacrificial love, that he breaks into song. If you look at the text, you see that instead of a typical block of text, there’s extra indentation and spacing. That’s how we know what we’re reading is no longer just normal text of historical account or teaching. It’s poetic. We have entire books of poetry and hymns in the Bible, such as Psalms, Lamentations, or Ecclesiastes. When we see poetic writing in books of the Bible that aren’t poetry books, it highlights places where God’s message for us can’t be contained by simple writing, but demands the beauty of poetry and song. We see this in the prologue of Genesis, the opening of the Gospel of John, and here in Philippians 2. This hymn we read in verses 5-11 likely was already familiar to the readers, and over time, became a hymn as well known and beloved as Amazing Grace is for many of us today.
So let’s take a look at this relentless love of Christ that brings Paul to the point of song, starting in verse 5. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”, well, what does that look like?
It starts in verses 6 and 7: Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Jesus, leaves his heavenly throne, to the humblest of earthly beginnings. He was even forced to flee his home and seek refuge in a foreign land as a toddler due to a violent government-endorsed genocide of young boys due to fears of being overthrown by this new messiah who was said to have been born. Talk about humble and challenging beginnings!
Jesus IS God. Yet as he walked this earth, he did NOT come to be treated in the way the world typically treated royalty, especially in a culture that deified its rulers. Jesus comes to serve, not to be served.
Jesus, without a home of his own, entered into the messy sinful lives of the broken people he meets – even getting down and washing the disciples’ feet at the last supper. That job is typically reserved for the lowest ranking slaves. THAT is the work our savior did. Showing solidarity with the world’s most marginalized from the moment of his earthly birth, and throughout his time on earth, up until, and including his death.
The next verses of this hymn read, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Jesus gave up his life for us. In the greatest act of compassion and solidarity to human sin and suffering, Jesus willingly sacrificed his life to demonstrate how far that love goes. Crucifixion was a form of death reserved for the worst of criminals. For enemies of the state, for people who were considered the scum of the earth.
THAT is the kind of death our savior died. Unswerving in His mission to pour out God’s love to a hurting world.
Jesus did this in spite of our sinful, broken, lost condition. As we recited in the call to worship the day of this sermon, Romans Chapter 5 reminds us that Christ’s love is so un-yeilding, he did this while we were still sinners. The love of our Lord for us never relents- no matter how far we wander from God and God’s ways.
There was no sacrifice too great for God in the quest to break down the barriers that keep us from the Lord’s compassionate embrace.
May we always hold tight to the reality that we’re deeply loved by God. Regardless of how we stray or fall short, God loves us so fiercely that Jesus came and gave of his whole self so we might know that love.
Paul reminds the church in Philippi, and all of us who would come to call on Jesus as our Lord, to not give up on our call to live out this relentless, sacrificial love in our own lives. Paul reminds them of the things they experience as beloved children of God in verses 1-2: encouragement, comfort, tenderness, compassion, being united to the Holy Spirit. Then, in verses three and four Paul reminds us how we are to use these gifts: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Paul says to take on the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus. As we have discussed, that is a life of lowering ourselves to the same status as our world’s most vulnerable and becoming servants, willing to put our very lives on the line.
In Luke Chapter 9, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? I’m sure that most of the disciples thought Jesus was teaching in hyperbole, that he was exaggerating the extent of self-denial to make a point. But then Jesus took up his cross. Over the years, the apostles faced similar deaths as they went out to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. They realized they needed to take Jesus literally.
Carey Nieuwhof is a prominent Pastor who is a leading voice in church growth and leader development strategies. In a recent article he shared, he writes, “Christians should be the most generous and selfless people on the planet. Sadly, we’re often known as the stingiest and the most selfish. The Gospel calls us to die to ourselves so that others may live and to put something bigger than ourselves above ourselves. If you give your life away- you find it.” ( https://careynieuwhof.com/8-things-christians-should-give-up-to-reach-unchurched-people/ )
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU PUT YOUR VERY LIFE ON THE LINE TO LIVE OUT THE LOVE OF JESUS? What does that look like in our day to day life?
One brave example is a doctor from Massachusetts who served on a medical team for Samaritan’s Purse in West Africa treating Ebola patients. Despite contracting the disease himself, he and his family have no regrets making the decision to live out God’s sacrificial love in such a dangerous way.
I think of a former president, while not often viewed as very successful while in office, upon leaving office, he dedicated his time as an opportunity to continue to do good for his community, continuing to teach Sunday school at his Baptist church, creating a non-profit that helps families in need on the journey of becoming homeowners, and still goes to work at home construction sites- even at the age of 91!
I’ve witnessed this sacrificial love in my first mission trip to central America- where our team ranged in age from teenagers to others in their 70s. I’ve seen it in the service of a youth volunteer at my first church job, Grammie Gail, who was in fact a grandmother to some of our teens, who came on many adventures like conferences, camps, and mission trips out of her passion for those teens to know the love the Jesus.
I see it this summer as Linda, our director of the Young Life’s Capernaum ministry to teens with special needs, brings one of our special needs students to serve together as volunteers for a week of Young Life camp for teen moms and their kids.
I see glimpses of that sacrificial love in my local church community. Those who give beyond their means in generosity. Those who have spent tireless hours on projects for this church building so it continues to be a place where people encounter the grace of Jesus. Those who take their time to share mercy and hope with women in prison and transitional living situations.
I’m extremely grateful for the caring community that is my local church, and the caring hearts of many fellow Christians I know and read about. But we all have to remember that it’s important to re-examine our hearts, and our walk with the Lord. Are we serving with a compassionate sacrificial love to everyone we meet, or just enough to feel like we can check it off our to-do list? Are we willing to get our hands dirty, or just merely write a check and keep people and their brokenness at a distance? Are we serving only out of a sense of obligation, or from the wellspring of God’s love for us?
Are you unsure of where to start? In my local church, we have opportunities to provide weekly meals for our community, we need people help ensure visitors and members in need of re-connection and welcome have an encouraging place to enjoy food and conversation through our coffee time ministry. We need people to provide rides to those without transportation, and to visit shut-ins. We need people who will continue the legacy of this church by teaching our children and building connections with our families. Our area Young Life chapter needs wise people to serve on its advisory board. Its Capernaum ministry needs buddies to help guide our students with disabilities. It starts with your daily life, the people you encounter each day, with the opportunities in your local church, area ministries, and beyond, even to global outreach initiatives. Relentless love has no boundaries.
Maybe some of you are asking what I’m doing in my personal life to match my walk with my talk. What gives me the right to go on and on about sacrificial living? I certainly have a lot of work to do in this area myself. One example is that beyond my time serving on staff at my church, I’ve been volunteering with Young Life for a number of years now, and God has laid a new volunteer mission upon my heart: to develop ministry to teen moms through Young Life. Perhaps that’s a journey you’d want to consider joining me on!
I need to take a moment to pause and clarify. I’m not talking about making our lives busy and rushed to a point where we’re running on fumes. That’s not the message here. The point is, as I remind people in every sermon I preach, that if we have truly accepted the gift of Christ’s grace, if we really have found the encouragement, comfort, compassion, tenderness and unity with the Spirit Paul writes about, then it should overflow into every aspect of our lives. If we’re not taking time to reflect on our identity as people who have received the extravagant love of Jesus in our own lives, all our efforts to share that extravagant love with others will most likely fall flat.
It’s not so much about pulling up our bootstraps and working harder, as it is about allowing room for the Holy Spirit to convict us, fill our hearts with grace and compassion, then allowing The Spirit to work through us.
The closing lines of the hymn Paul shares with us are this: Therefore God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This relentless love leads people to proclaim the Lordship of Christ. Are we living our lives in a way that demonstrates the grace and glory of our Lord?
As we’re reminded of the extravagant, sacrificial, relentless love of Jesus, may we not forget that this is where our identity is found. Not in our belongings, social status, age, experience or accomplishments. We are all broken sinful people who nevertheless are relentlessly loved by the God who created us. May we heed Paul’s teaching to stop seeking our own ways, but to look to the needs of others with the same relentless love Jesus demonstrates to us, so that all may come to know the one true source of love and life.
Scripture Quotations: New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide