When Opposites Attack

Philippians 2:5-11

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature 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 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.

Dear Friends in Christ,

This has been a rather unusual year for me as far as weddings are concerned.  While in 2011 I performed 9 weddings and in 2012 I did 6 and last year I did 7, this year so far I have done only 1 with 2 more to go next month, which will make a total of only 3.  I’m not exactly sure why the number is so low this year, but it got me to thinking about something.  How many of you couples believed that when you got married, your spouse was going to pretty well think the way you thought and do everything the way you felt it should be done?  Don’t raise your hand because it might get you into trouble.  But it usually doesn’t take long before a brand new husband and wife discover that even though they may have a lot of things in common with one another, they are still very different from each other.

Recently I came across a rather humorous, tongue-in-cheek letter written by one husband named Homer who had made this discovery about his wife, Betty Jo.  And it goes like this:

   It’s like that book…What’s it called?  “Men Are From Texas and Women From Michigan”?  Girls and guys live in 2 completely different states.  For example, the way we determine when our clothes are dirty.  Betty Jo uses her eyes, I use my nose.  Our attitude toward shopping…for me it’s a job, for Betty Jo it’s an event.  And have you noticed our differences in bathroom practices.  Can you imagine guys doing what ladies do?  Can you imagine one fellow standing up at the restaurant table and turning to his friends and saying, “Hey, I’m going to the rest room.  Any of you guys want to go?”  Men don’t do stuff like that.  You’ll never hear one guy tell another guy that his jeans are cute.  But then on the other hand, you’ll never see a woman clean her ear with a car key.  Men and women are different, he continues, and things have gotten worse with the arrival of our kids.  She wants to change junior’s diaper everyday.  I say once a week is plenty.  After all, doesn’t the box say up to 22 lbs.?  I tell her childbearing is not that big of a deal.  She asks if I’ve ever tried to get out of the car through the exhaust pipe.  See what I mean?  It’s tough being stuck with someone so different.

I have a feeling that Homer’s wife, Betty Jo, would say the same thing.  And maybe you would too.  Indeed, we don’t have to be on this earth very long to discover that we are surrounded by people who are very different than we are.  So what do you do when you and your spouse share the same home, but not the same priorities, or when you and your boss are on the same floor, but not the same page, or when you and your parents share the same name, but not much else?  What do you do when opposites attack?

This is an especially good question for those of us who are married because have you ever noticed that what attracted you in dating has a way of attacking you in marriage?  Maybe you were attracted to him in the beginning because he was the strong, silent type.  But now that you’re married to him, you just wish he’d say something to you every now and then instead of sitting there like a bump on a log, staring at the television screen all evening.  Or maybe her devotion to detail astounded you when you were dating, but now that you’re married to her you wish she’d just chill out and relax a little bit and not be such a perfectionist.  You understand what I’m talking about?  What attracts us when we’re dating sometimes attacks us when we’re married.

So again I ask, what do you do when opposites attack?  Well, the Apostle Paul has an answer for that question in our text for today.  I need to warn you, though, it’s not an easy answer.  It’s not an answer for the faint of heart or casually concerned.  But if you are dead serious about reviving a dead or near-dead relationship, then it would do you well to listen to this Holy Spirit-inspired apostle today.

Now even though we don’t know the exact reason why Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, there are some hints in it that he may have done so because of conflict that was going on in that church.  Remember the passage we looked at last Sunday?  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” Paul had said.  “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Those words seem to indicate that some of the members of that congregation had a bad case of what we called selfitis last week.

In chapter 2, verse 14 he says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  Then at the end of this epistle Paul even mentions 2 of the members in the Philippian church by name.  He says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”   So there seems to have been a spirit of conflict, a spirit of incompatibility and division present in the Philippian congregation.

So Paul makes an appeal to the Philippians, an appeal that is considered by many Bible scholars to be one of the most, if not the most eloquent passage in the New Testament.  He says,“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!”

So Paul’s solution to incompatibility is not a change of scenery, but a change of heart.  Not a new spouse, but a new attitude.  Not a new church, but a new way of looking at those with whom you may have some differences.

But you know as well as I do that this kind of change, this kind of reconciliation does not come easily.  And Paul knew that too, which is why he points us to the greatest and best example we could possibly follow, namely, Jesus.  Why him?  Because Jesus brought about the greatest reconciliation that this world has ever seen or known.  If you think you have irreconcilable differences with your spouse or your parents or your boss, just think of the differences that existed between God and man.

For starters, God, is untouched by time.  That’s why the Bible says that with him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.  Now we have trouble comprehending that because we are so incredibly bound by time.  Sometimes I feel that pressure when I’m preaching – “I’ve got to get this sermon done in 20 minutes or people are going to start getting antsy.”  Or I feel it when the service goes a little longer than normal as happened 2 weeks ago when we had 3 baptisms and Communion and a lengthy prayer list.  Sometimes I notice people looking at their watches or even leaving.  We are so dictated by time, while God is not.

But not only is God unhindered by time, he is also unhindered by flesh.  The Bible says that he is a spirit which, as we learned in our Confirmation class last Sunday evening, means that he has no flesh and blood and bones like we have.  So his body never grows weary; his muscles never ache or fatigue, his eyes never become sleepy.  Again, that’s the complete opposite of us who inhabit these physical bodies that begin to deteriorate and run down from the moment we’re born.

God is also unbounded by space.  He is just as present here in Salem right now as he is in San Diego.  He is just as present in Peoria, IL as he is in Peking, China.  We, on the other hand, are bound by space and can only be in one place at one time, though I suspect some of you children think your mom can somehow be several places at the same time because she always seems to catch you when you’re doing something wrong.

So God is untouched by time, unhindered by flesh, and unbounded by space.  But most importantly, he is ungoverned by sin.  Or to put it another way, he is holy and we are unholy.  God has never made one mistake.  He’s never violated a single one his commandments, rules, or laws.  We, on the other hand, can’t get through a day without sinning, sometimes not even an hour.  Our lives are full of mistakes.  And the biggest mistake we ever make is when we turn away from God and choose to go our way instead of his.  Isaiah says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  Consequently, we have heaven inhabited by a holy God and earth inhabited by unholy people.  And I would suggest to you, my friends, that no marriage, no parent/child relationship, no boss/employee relationship has ever had to face more differences than those that existed between God and man.

So what did God do?  He made a decision.  He took the initiative, and all I can say is it’s a good thing he did because there is no way we ever would have.  He sent Jesus to our world, and Jesus did something that is so contrary to what we are taught and told in our world today.  You know what it was?  He surrendered his rights.  As Paul puts it in our text, he “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.”  What that is saying is that Jesus voluntarily gave up all of his heavenly rights and privileges, not that he ceased to be God, but he just ceased to enjoy all that heaven had to offer, something that we can’t even begin to comprehend.  Elsewhere in 2 Cor. 8:9 Paul puts it this way, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  What an incredible exchange and sacrifice Jesus made for us!

And as we take into account the beatings, the scourging, the mocking, the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross, the spear, the abandonment by his own Heavenly Father that Jesus knew in advance he would have to endure when he surrendered his heavenly rights and privileges, our hearts just want to cry out:  “Why, Jesus?  Why would you do that for sinful, stubborn, rebellious, unworthy people like us?”

And in one word the answer comes back.  One of the most beautiful words in the English language:  RECONCILIATION.  He could not bear the thought of losing you forever.  Or as one author has put it, he would rather go through hell for you than go to heaven without you.  Do you know what that means, my friends?  That means that Jesus was a whole lot more interested in saving you than you were in being saved.  And so he did it all for us, all that was necessary for unholy people like you and me to be reconciled to a holy God so that we could live in his holy and perfect presence forever.

Wow!  Every time I ponder that, every time I preach that, I can’t help but stand in awe of such incredible love and such amazing grace.  But let us never forget that God has not only saved us for heaven which will come in the future, he has also saved us for the present, to serve him while still on this earth.  And one of the greatest ways we can do that is by imitating and emulating the example that Jesus set for us, especially in those relationships where there is conflict, incompatibility, and what we might perceive to be irreconcilable differences.  But maybe those differences wouldn’t be so irreconcilable if we followed not only the example of Jesus, but also that of 2 goats that pop up in the life of Martin Luther.

Back in the days of the Reformation, Luther had a fellow reformer by the name of Ulrich Zwingli with whom he disagreed over a number of theological issues.  And one time they were really at odds with each other.  In fact, so severe was this conflict that they resolved to go to different places to pray about it for a few days.  Zwingli retreated to a hamlet in the Swiss Alps.  While sitting outside one day, he looked up on the mountain and saw 2 goats on a trail – one going up the mountain, the other coming down.  But the trail was so narrow that there wasn’t enough room for both goats to pass each other side-by-side.  Zwingli assumed that when they saw each other they would butt heads and the stronger goat would win the right of passage while the other fell to its death.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead, the one going up the mountain did a wonderful thing.  He lowered himself to the ground and allowed the one coming down to gently step over him.  Zwingli saw that as a message from God that the one who will bend low will be raised high.

That’s what happened to Jesus, isn’t it?  Though he bent low when he came down to this earth, though he humbled himself and became a servant, God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name 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.

So what about you, my friends?  Are you in a standoff with someone right now, like those 2 goats?  If so, could it be that it’s time for you to bend low so that the relationship might be raised high?  May God grant to all of us here today the humility, the courage, and the strength to do just that so that, as Paul says in our text, our attitude will indeed be the same as that of Christ Jesus, and the reconciliation that we once thought could never happen might finally take place.

Amen