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TRANSFORMED: Transformed Relationships    Philippians 2:5-11                       Dr. Scott Wenig     (2nd Service)    {Manuscript–View video for complete content}

As Pastor Larry said we’re going to continue our series on “Transformed,” and we’re going to look at an issue that’s hugely important in my life and your life….and that’s relationships.  I’m going to ask you to join me in prayer and then we’re going to unpack a variety of Scripture to see what the Lord would show us today on this crucial part of our lives.  So let’s bow together in prayer:  Father, we thank you so much for your compassion and mercy, the grace you’ve poured out on us in Jesus.  Lord, wherever we’re at today, whatever situation we’ve entered this auditorium today—emotionally, or spiritually, or physically, financially, relationally—Lord, I pray that you would come and meet with us in an individual way today.  Lord, we need your grace, we need your guidance, and so as we look in your Word today, from a variety of angles, Lord, I pray that by your Spirit, by your power, you would instruct us, you would guide us, you’d teach us and encourage us.  Lord, we want to be whole people, we know that’s your call, so we ask for your help in that process.  We ask for this time now, that you would be glorified and we’d be blessed.  We pray this in the great name of our Savior, Jesus.  Amen.

This is Taylor Swift.  She’s one of the most prominent musical artists of the current generation. She started writing songs when she was 11, recording when she was 16, and was a pop icon by the age of 20. She has millions of fans world-wide and exerts tremendous cultural influence in American society; if you don’t believe me, just ask the parents of any 13-year-old girl.  The main reason why Taylor Swift is so popular is because she speaks directly to the huge role relationships play in our lives.

A few years back, right after the release of a new album, she did an interview with Melissa Block of National Public Radio.  Here’s part of what she said:  “In the past, I’ve written mostly about heartbreak or pain that was caused by someone else and felt by me. On this album, I’m writing about more complex relationships, where the blame is kind of split 50-50. I think there’s actually a realism to my new approach to relationships, which is a little more fatalistic than anything I used to think about them. I used to think that, you know, you find “the one” and it’s happily ever after and never a struggle after that.  But you have a few experiences with love and relationships and you learn that that’s not the case at all. Relationships are complicated and even if you find the right situation, it’s always going to be a daily struggle to make it work. So those are different themes that I don’t think people have really seen in my lyrics before.”

Just as she did in that interview, Taylor Swift’s music gives voice to two key aspects of our lives:  Relationships are incredibly important and they’re also very complicated.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re single or married, male or female, what the color of our skin is, whether we come to church regularly or not, or if we’re 15, 45, or 75 years old, we all know that relationships are incredibly important to us and they’re also very complicated. And, as it always does, Scripture explains why that’s true.

Right out of the gate in Genesis 1 and 2, one of the very first things the author of those texts tells us is that relationships are important because we’re made in God’s image, and He’s both personal and relational at the core of His being.  The God of the universe, who has revealed Himself to us in Scripture, is Triune in nature. He’s one being who exists eternally in three persons: the Father, Son and Spirit, and the three persons of the Godhead always work in perfect intimacy and relational harmony with each other.  And because we’re all made in His likeness, we’re all personal and relational creatures.  But the problem is that our relationships with each other are complicated, imperfect and often painful.  And we’re told the reason why in Genesis 3.  In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were these beautiful creatures made in God’s image who lived in the paradise of Eden and who had perfect fellowship with God and love and intimacy with each other. But they gave into the serpent’s temptation to become like God, fell from their state of grace and were kicked out of paradise.  One of the main consequences of their sinful disobedience was that from then on all human relationships became broken, tangled and painful.

To make that point, the author of Genesis shows the relational damage that sin causes by describing the behavior of the descendants of Adam and Eve.  Cain and Abel are their children and Cain murders Abel. Lamech introduces polygamy to the world.  Lot’s daughters get him drunk and then commit incest. Abraham plays huge favorites between his sons Isaac and Ishmael.  Isaac and his wife Rebecca each play favorites with their sons Jacob and Esau.  Jacob has to flee because of that, eventually winds up with two wives and two concubines, all of whom are constantly competing for his attention and affection and he has a bunch of kids between them. Jacob favors one of those sons, Joseph, over the rest and they conspire to kill him but sell him into slavery instead.  Friends, these are not the Waltons or even the Goldbergs; they’re messed up and need Dr. Phil, Dr. Spock, or at least Dr. Seuss.  The writer of Genesis wants us to know that all of humanity—including you and me—have the poisoned blood of Adam and Eve flowing thru our veins and that negatively impacts our relationships.

One of my favorite authors and preachers is Fleming Rutledge.  A few years ago she came out with this fantastic book called “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.”   It took her sixteen years to write this book, but essentially the question she’s asking is, “Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?”  Crucifixion was the very worst, the most painful, the most degrading, horrible way to die.  Why did God have his son die by crucifixion?  She looks at all these different theories of the atonement and essentially she boils it down to this:  Jesus had to die by crucifixion for you and me because we are all a lot worse off than we think we are.

Friends, that’s the bad news, but Scripture comes to us time and time again—all the way from Genesis through Revelation—and shows us that the Lord has a huge heart for each and every one of us.  And He loves us so much it’s really, truly beyond reason.  And He wants to see our lives transformed, especially our relationships, so they can be healthy, happy and functional.  To make that happen, to start that process on the right foundation, He gives us His grace in Jesus.  Look at Titus 2:3-8.  The Apostle Paul is writing to his friend Titus, who was a pastor/bishop on the island of Crete to some churches they planted there.  Here’s what he said in a section of this letter:   3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Paul observes that in our natural, sinful state we’re relationally tangled even to the point of hatred. But then, as he always does, he gives us the hope of transformation that comes in the Gospel.  And the Gospel tells us that despite our tangles, despite our brokenness, despite our sin, God has a HUGE heart of love for us.  He has demonstrated His loving heart by pouring out His mercy and grace on us in Jesus our Savior.  Then He has given us the miracle of a new nature through spiritual rebirth by His Holy Spirit.  Friends, God’s grace is the foundation for all of life, and it’s what makes it possible for us to get untangled from sin and begin to move towards relational transformation.

Not too long ago, I had a meeting with a young guy that was in a class I was helping to teach this summer.  It was an online class so we had never met in person and he wanted to get together to get to know me and I wanted to get to know him.  We met for lunch.  I asked him to tell me his story.   I grew up in a pretty broken, tangled environment.  When I was three years old, my mom died and my step-brothers went to live with their real father, so my father raised me.  He was a broken, wounded person and didn’t know how to parent me very well.  He was pretty neglectful and pretty abusive.  By the time I was twelve years old, I had totally sworn off God.  I wanted nothing to do with God, so I got real involved in the world.  I got involved in all the things the world does, and my life was spiraling downhill.  I barely managed to graduate from high school and went to college and flunked out my first semester.  I was working these retail jobs.  I started to do drugs and I got addicted to oxycodone.  Then, in the middle of my drug addiction, I meet this girl who I really liked.  We weren’t believers and we slept together and she got pregnant.  I decided I wanted to marry her and tried to convince her that I cleaned myself up.  She believed me.  A week before the wedding she found out I wasn’t cleaned up, I was still really addicted.  She called the wedding off and it sent me into a tailspin.  I moved from oxycodone to heroin.  I started getting high on heroin every day, after the third or fourth day, I overdosed.  They rushed me into the ER, they cleaned me up and after 24 hours they released me.  I went back home, got the remaining heroin, overdosed again.  I got in my car and was driving down the road and I collapsed behind the wheel of my car, off to the side of the road.  I was unconscious and was going to die, and a good Samaritan pulled me out of the car, called 9-1-1, and they took me to a Christian rehab center.  They cleaned me up and a guy came in and said, “You’ve got one choice.  If you don’t give your life to Jesus of Nazareth, you are going to die.  I want you to give your life to him today.”  I did and over the next few days and weeks I started making a little bit of progress.  I started to get cleaned up and was trying to trust the Lord.  His girlfriend gave birth to their baby and my goal was to simply have a relationship with my daughter where I could contact her every other week.  Over the next few months, God just began to do more and more things in my life and in her life.  She came and got me from the  rehab center and we went to the courthouse and got married.  She dropped me back off at the rehab center and went home and told her parents.  I asked, “How’d that conversation go?”  He said, “There was a lot of yelling and cussing, but we eventually got back together and by the grace of God, we’re going to take it one day at a time.”  Eventually the Lord called me into ministry and now I’m out here and I’m a pastor.  My dad just came to Christ about a month and a half ago.  He’s flying out next month and I’m going to baptize him.

Friends, God’s grace is always, always, always the foundation for the transformation that takes place in our lives, especially when it comes to relationships.  This is so important that I want to piggy-back off of something Pastor Larry mentioned in his sermon last week.  From the perspective of the New Testament, the whole idea of transformation is rooted in one of its richest words, morphoo, from which we get our word morph, meaning to change or transform into something else.  The word morphoo was originally used to describe the formation and growth of an embryo in its mother’s womb.  The Apostle Paul borrows this word and then nuances it to describe how God’s grace operates in our lives.  He says if we know Jesus, by His grace He is being formed (morphoo) in us.  (Galatians 5:19)  If we know Jesus, by His grace we are being conformed (summorphizo) into His likeness.  (Romans 8:29)  If we know Jesus, by His grace we are being transformed (metamorphizo) by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1-2)

As a pastor and professor I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve talked with folks who got really discouraged because they stumbled in their walk with the Lord or had a relational breakdown of some kind and they began to think things will never change.  If by some chance, that’s where you’re at today—and I’ve been there too so, believe me, I know how that feels—I have a good word for all of us.  The Gospel proclaims that God showed His everlasting love for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and nothing in the universe can separate us from His love.

He has a HUGE heart of love towards us, but we need to remember that transformation, especially in the realm of relationships, is a long term process that requires our effort and His power.  That’s His calling on our lives as Christians.  Let me show you what I mean from this wonderful text out of Philippians 2:12-13.  Paul planted and loved this church in Philippi and now he’s writing them this letter.  This is in the context of relationships —- 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—{Listen, listen, listen, this is really important.}  continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.   One of the finest NT scholars of the past generation, Gordon Fee, wrote an award-winning commentary on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He says that verse 12 could be very accurately translated as ‘In your relationships with one another, work out the salvation Christ has brought you.’  Paul’s telling us that a big part of our calling as Christians is to have a heart that is willing to work hard on relational transformation recognizing that God is at work in us to make that happen.  The word in verse 13 that’s used for God working is the Greek word energeo, from which we get our word energy. Friends, God will always give us the energy, grace and power to move towards relational health.

One of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years, a book I would highly recommend to all of you, is by J.D. Vance called “Hillbilly Elegy.”  It’s a wonderful, moving book.  Any book that can get me to laugh and cry within two pages is a transformative book for me.  He tells his story of growing up in the Ohio River valley in Appalachia.  He grew up in a very broken environment.  Tons of unemployment.  Enormous amounts of drug use.  Family dysfunction that’s almost hard for me to conceive.  He grew up in a family where his mom had fifteen different boyfriends/husbands over the course of his first thirteen years.  Tremendously dysfunctional; very abusive.  He said his life was saved by his grandmother and grandfather.  He eventually came out of that environment and joined the Marines, and they transformed him in some ways.  But along the way, he became a disciple of Jesus.  Eventually he went to Yale Law school.  He writes this book to talk about his background and the environment in that part of the country, but he also goes on to say that Jesus can make a difference in your life.  He talks about his own relationship with his wife.  Coming out of this background, he said, “I was not good husband material.”  But he said that between the grace of my wife and the training of my aunt—who’s a believer—and the training of my sister—who’s a believer, he said, “I’ve learned to move, by the grace of God, towards relational health.”  They taught me, J.D., every disagreement does not have to become a public spectacle. Every disagreement does not have to end in this huge, raucous argument.

Friends, relational transformation is possible for you, it is possible for me, because God is at work in us, but it’s always founded on His grace and then it is worked out over time through our intense efforts and His incredible energy.  God’s going to do his part, but on our end of the spectrum, the very first thing we want to do in this area is move to, what I’m calling, some honest self-assessment. Listen to what Paul tells the Roman Christians in Romans 12:3  — For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  The larger context of this verse is Paul’s desire that the members of the church at Rome work together, serve together and minister together among themselves and also in the larger culture of Roman civilization.  He wants them to be relationally healthy, relationally functional, because he wants them to represent Jesus.  Paul says that can only happen if they get along with each other and for that to happen they each have to do some honest self-assessment.  Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, but the implication is ‘don’t think more lowly of yourself than you ought.’  Some of you in this church think of yourselves more lowly than you ought.  Instead we should all think of ourselves with sober judgment.  In other words, let’s try to be objective about who we are so that we can learn to relate to those around us in a Christ-like way.   One of the greatest philosophers of ancient Greece was Socrates, and he postulated one of the main, foundational theorems of ancient Greek philosophy—Know Thyself.  If we’re going to move towards relational transformation, friends, on our end of the spectrum—remember, God’s going to do His part—we need to know ourselves.  We need to think of ourselves with sober judgment.

Let’s do a little bit of honest self-assessment.  Let me give us some questions we might want to ask ourselves and meditate on.  What was my family of origin like?  What’s my personality like (Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis, Myers-Briggs, DISC, Enneagram)?  This will show you how you’re wired, how God made you, your natural way of functioning and relating.  What are the areas of my life where I’ve been really, really wounded—what counselors call your wound pool?  I have a wound pool and so do you, and if you step into my wound pool, I will react because I’ve been hurt there before and I feel that pain.  What are my blind spots?  These are areas that when I function, people who like me say, “Oh, that’s just who he is.” Other people who don’t know me and don’t like me say, “Oh boy, that’s not very healthy.” In all honesty, what’s my level of emotional intelligence? This is the place where our spouses, our friends, maybe our colleagues, can be a great aid to us, IF we let them speak into our lives.  This is also the area, on a self-assessment, where getting into counseling with a good, gifted, insightful counselor that we have good chemistry with, can really help us.

A number of years ago, my mom died after a long battle with cancer.  She had been a huge support to me through my whole life, especially the prior four years before she died, when she finally went to be with the Lord, I was pretty devastated.  For the first and only time in my life, I was clinically depressed.  I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and felt like I was walking in cement.  Finally, a friend said to me, “Scott, you just suffered a huge loss and I think you should get some counseling.  Here’s the person you should go see.”  I went in and made an appointment with her.  Here’s the deal—I wanted her to cure me of my clinical depression.  She wanted me to become more emotionally and spiritually transformed.  She started to press in on me.  First, she said, “I want to talk about why you’re so controlling.”  “Well, it’s because I’m God.”   “No! Let’s talk about your family of origin.” I told her about my mom and dad—They were always trying to control me, they were always trying to control my sister, so I guess I learned it from them.  She said, “Well, okay, but let’s look at why they were controlling.”  They grew up during the depression, where they had nothing.  They went through World War II, where my mom said, “I’m just so glad your dad got home alive and we could have life.”  She (counselor) said, “Scott, they had so many losses growing up that they wanted to protect you and Becky from having any losses. They meant well.  They intended to protect you.  Let’s unpack why you’re operating that way, because, Scott, you can’t control life.”

Friends, relational transformation is not easy.  It takes a lot of time.  It might be costly.  But here’s what I want us to understand and remember—God has this huge heart of grace for you and me and He’s revealed that in Jesus.  Because he has this huge heart of grace, He’s willing to give us His supernatural energy.  He’s saying, “I want you to work out your relationships.  I want you to put some time, some energy, some effort into that.  Make that a priority.  I want you to become healthy and happy and functional in your relationships, and I will give you the power to do that.”

Given the reality of God’s grace, given the reality of God’s power that’s available to you and me, what I want to suggest are some ‘building blocks’ that we can use to build on what he’s given us to move us towards greater relational health.   Building block number one—A Heart of Respect, not a Heart of Resentment.  Once again we’re back in the book of Romans.  Paul’s very concerned about how the Roman church is relating, but now he’s even moved it out into the culture at large.  Remember, the Roman church at that time was small and a minority and they were surrounded by this huge oppressive civilization.  Here’s what he tells them (Romans 13:7-8) —  7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.   There’s a lot of content in these two short verses, but I’d like to suggest that the core of this command is having a heart of respect towards others, because it’s really hard to have healthy relationships if we don’t respect and honor other people

One of my intellectual and spiritual mentors over the years has been C.S. Lewis, the great English writer.  He’s known for many, many great books, but perhaps his most prominent one was “Mere Christianity.”   If you’ve never read it, let me encourage you to get it and read it; if you have read it, let me encourage you to reread it.  It’s good for us.  He has a great chapter in here on social morality—how you and I should relate out in culture.  He says that he New Testament doesn’t really give us a detailed description of what a Christian society would look like, but nonetheless it has some hints.  First of all, it tells us there should be no passengers or parasites.  If a person does not work, they ought not to eat.  Everyone’s to work with their own hands, and what’s more, everyone’s work is to produce something good.  There will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and similar advertisements to persuade us to buy them.  There’s to be no swank or side.  No putting on of airs where people think they’re better than others.  Secondly, the New Testament is always insisting on obedience.  Obedience and outward marks of respect from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and from wives to husbands.  Third, it’s to be a cheerful society, full of singing and rejoicing and regarding worry and anxiety is wrong.  Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues, and the New Testament hates, what it calls, busybodies.

Friends, we know that we live in a culture where all those qualities Lewis described—especially the issue of respect for others—are in short supply or in shorter supply than is good for everyone. So, here’s our chance to see our own relationships transformed by showing people respect whether it’s our spouse or kids, whether it’s senior citizens or youth, whether it’s employees, employers, neighbors, friends or colleagues.  If we’re going to, by God’s grace with his power, move towards transformed relationships, we need to have hearts of respect.

Secondly, I want to suggest we have…..A Heart of Service, not Selfishness (John 13:1-17).  This is in the context of the Upper Room Discourse, and this is what John said is going on.   3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

As I just said, this is the beginning of what biblical scholars call the Upper Room Discourse. It’s Passover and the Last Supper that Jesus will eat with His disciples.  We normally perceive the Last Supper from Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of all of them sitting at a table with Jesus in the center. That’s not accurate.  They lived in an Oriental culture and they would have been laying on couches in traditional Oriental, Jewish style.   You’re laying in a circle so your feet are close to somebody’s face.  Remember they all wore sandals and they just came in from the street and normally, there would have been a servant who washed their feet, but on this occasion, it doesn’t look like that’s the case and there’s no servant around.  And we can imagine the disciples arguing with each other about whose job it is to do the foot washing:  Peter tells Andrew to do it and he says, “No, that’s Thaddeus’ job.”  And Thaddeus says, “Let’s make James and John do it. They always think they’re the better than everyone else.”  And they say, “No, Thomas should do it because he never has to do anything.”   While they’re arguing, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer garment, and goes around to each disciple, washing those twenty-four filthy feet as their servant.  It’s important to keep in mind that Judas is there and Jesus knows that within the next few hours Judas is going to betray Him and yet He stills washes Judas’ feet.  As one commentator said:  “Jesus at the foot of a traitor: What lessons for us!” I would agree. What lessons for us.

Some of you here are working for a boss who is really difficult. This week, can you, by the grace of God, find some way to serve him or serve her in a helpful manner?  Some of you here are dealing with some relatives who are relationally challenged.  Jesus may not be calling you to be intimate with them, but can you serve them in a way that makes them feel valued?   Some of you here are dealing with a difficult employee or a difficult classmate or a difficult neighbor. Can you find a way to serve them in a way that honors God and maybe even blesses them?

Our first building block is a heart of respect.  Our second building block is a heart of service.  Our third building block—A Heart of Humility, Not Hubris (Philippians 2:5-11). One of the big ideas of the Bible is that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble; that’s taught in a number of places such as Daniel 4, Luke 18, James 4, and I Peter 5.  But the classic expression of humility is given in Philippians 2:5-8.   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!

Once again, Paul is all about encouraging transformed relationships in the lives of his converts.  And as he says here—if we want our relationships to be healthy, happy and functional—we must be emulate Jesus and become humble people.  That begs the question, what’s humility look like? I’d like to suggest that humble people are not door mats who have no opinions or convictions; they’re just people who have opinions and convictions, but don’t always need to win arguments or prove they’re right.  Humble people are not wall flowers or people who always blend in with the crowd; they’re just people who enjoy life and are interested in others and concerned for them.  Humble people don’t think of themselves as more righteous or godly or spiritual than others; they’re just people who know the huge heart of grace that God has for them and so they try to show that to others.

A number of years ago, a teenage boy living in Southern California, named Felix Garza, fell in love with a girl at school named Donna Ashlock. The only problem was that Donna had a weakened heart and wasn’t expected to live past the age of 19.  A few months after they started dating, Donna’s condition worsened and she was put on bed rest in the hospital.  Shortly after that happened Felix, in a way that teenage boys who are in love sometimes do, made a strange claim.  He said that he was going to die and that his heart would be donated to Donna so she could live.  Now, Felix was 17 years old and by all counts in perfect health. But a few weeks after he made that prediction he was struck with a series of severe headaches and then passed out.  He was rushed to the ER where the doctors discovered he had suffered from a brain aneurism and was pronounced dead.  Felix’s family agreed that his healthy organs should be donated to those in need so they rushed Donna into surgery and the next day when she woke up, her dad was sitting by her bed.  He told her that Felix had died and given his eyes to someone who was blind, his kidneys to someone in need, and then Donna said, “And I have his heart, don’t I?”

Friends, Jesus has this huge, enormous, incomprehensible heart of grace for every single one of us here.  He wants to give his heart of grace to you and to me.  Once we get his heart of grace, He wants us to work out our relational salvation.  In other words, we have to work really, really hard at that, but we need to remember that He always will give us the energy, the power, to do that.  As we work at our relationships, if we have hearts of respect, hearts of service, and hearts of humility, we’ve got to trust that God will be working at us, in us, and through us to help us move ahead, as best as we can, towards relational health, so that our relationships are healthy, and happy, and functional.

I’m going to ask you to stand and take the hand of someone next to you, because we are a church committed to good relationships, and I’m going to give us a benediction.  Oh Lord, we need your grace, we need your help, we need your strength.  Lord, we need your heart.  Thanks so much for your love for us.  Watch over us today, Lord.  Watch over our families and our friends.  Give us a great week serving you.  Make your face shine upon us and lead and guide us.  We pray all of this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.