14th September 2014 Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus Anne
We are now on week 3 of our 9 week sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Let me just begin by briefly recapping where we left off last week. Paul is in prison – he is in “chains for Christ” (Phil 1:13). At the end of chapter one, he urges the Philippians, that even though they face opposition and the same struggles as Paul, they are to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27). He also urges them to “stand firm in the one Spirit striving together as one for the faith of the gospel”. His call to them is a call for unity.
There doesn’t seem to be the same huge kind of problem with disunity as there was in the church in Corinth, but nonetheless, there are some issues. People are preaching Christ out of envy and rivalry and out of selfish ambition and later on in the letter, Paul names two women who seem to have had a falling out. So Paul urges the Philippians to make his joy complete by being “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind”.
Now, being of “one mind” sounds like a ‘tall order’. Even with our best intentions, this sounds really daunting and, dare I say it, impossible. Frankly, even as Christians, we’re not going to agree with each other over everything. If I asked the question now, what’s your favourite hymn on the service sheet today, we’d have different answers. If I start talking about things like the renewal project, I expect our opinions would be even more diverse. If I add in political and ethical issues, then maybe the conversation would get quite heated! But Paul does not mean we all have to have the same opinions or agree on everything; we are not clones of one another. Instead, he is telling the Philippians, and us, that we can “be of one mind” even when we have differences of opinion. He tells the congregation in Philippi that they can live together in unity.
So what will this way of living together ‘look’ like? He says to the Philippians “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Phil 2:3). Instead of putting their own interests first, he tells them that in humility they are to “value others above yourselves” (vs 3) and to “look to the interests of the others” in their community (vs 4). Let’s take a closer look at that word ‘humility’. What does it conjure up in your mind? I always think of Uriah Heep in the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield. He is an overly ‘O so ‘umble’ character who is anything but humble. He grovels so much and is so self-deprecating that he takes pride in his humility; this though is false humility. In society today, it seems that humility is a quality or ethic that’s often seen as a weakness in someone. In a competitive world where targets, goals, aims, objectives and self-interest dominate, putting others above self is seen as a weakness. So far then, the impression of that word humility is quite negative. C.S Lewis in his book Mere Christianity defines it more positively though, he says: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."
In his letter, Paul clarifies the meaning for the Philippians. He does this by telling the Philippians to have the “same mindset as Christ Jesus” (vs 5). Then he continues to say exactly what this ‘mindset’ is by quoting from what is probably an ancient hymn about Christ (it is sometimes called the ‘Christ Hymn’). You’ll notice on the service sheet and in your Bibles that these verses are indented, which indicates they are a poem. Some scholars consider these verses to have come from a hymn sung by the very early church during Communion. If we think that Philippians was written at the latest around 63 CE then this ‘hymn’ could have been written as early as ten or twenty years after Jesus’ death. The hymn is a statement about who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Paul uses it in his letter to the Philippians to explain what it means to “in humility value others above yourselves” (vs 3). (It is incredible that today we might be listening to the same words in our Communion service as those early Christians listened to in theirs.)
Although there is much debate about the exact meaning of some of the words used in the hymn, the general shape of it tells us how Jesus humbled himself. The first verse of the hymn starts by proclaiming that Jesus Christ is God and yet he took the form of a servant or more accurately from the Greek, he took the form of a bondservant or slave. Christ who is God does not exploit his rights, grasping at power to use his equality with God to his own advantage; he does not seize the opportunity to further his own interests. Instead, he does the exact opposite; he makes himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a slave.
Jesus is God and man, but he’s not the sort of man you might expect God to be. He’s not the most powerful of men, not a rich king or powerful military man, no – he becomes a bondservant or slave. This was the lowest possible position in the Roman world; God on high becomes the lowest of the low. And as a slave, he is obedient even to death, death on a cross. Notice the text says he ‘humbled himself’ – this was a voluntary act of self-giving. He willingly and graciously offered himself for the most humiliating death possible. This is where the ultimate, perfect ‘putting others before self’ is played out. This is the perfect attitude and act of humility.
What does this mean for the Philippians and what does it mean for us? In our relationships with one another, and the world beyond the church door, we are to have the mindset of Christ. His mindset is not only a disposition or intention, an abstract concept of humility, but also action. He gives up his rights, his position and his power to serve others. He gives up his life so we might have ours.
The questions we have to ask ourselves are: what would giving up our rights look like in our relationships with each other? What does deferring to others, relinquishing power look like in our lives? Maybe there is something in a work context, maybe in a personal context, maybe in a church context that springs to mind for you. Instead of striving for upward mobility, what would it be like to strive for downward mobility? Instead of grabbing for what we feel we deserve, what would it be like to let go and give instead of take?
Does all this seem too hard? Too big? Asking too much?
It is from Christ’s position of the lowest of the low that God then highly exalts him and gives him the name above all names. The name above all names is the name for God - Lord. Jesus is Lord. He is exalted to the highest high so that every knee should bow and every tongue acknowledge that he is Lord. We live under his Lordship and the source of these qualities of humility and service in us is Christ. By acknowledging him as Lord, these qualities become a pattern of life we participate in together as we grow in him. This participation with him and with each other is Koinonia (pronounced kin-on-ear). This is God at work in us.
1. What can we learn from the Philippians 2:1-11 about how we can strive for unity in
our church community; in our work environment; in our friendship groups? What would you personally have to do differently? What would enable you to change?
2. Are humility and servanthood evident among us?
3. Does our life together as a church community reflect “the same mindset as Christ
Jesus”? (vs 5)
4. What does the reading tell us about the person of Christ?
5. What does it mean to be humble or to be a servant in our community? What are the challenges that work against us?