Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Our theme for this Advent is “Down to Earth” – “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” as the Christmas Carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” says it.
Last week, Pastor Chuck talked about “Down to Earth Love”. It is a challenge to love God and each other through thick and thin – across divides – looking to the interests of others. Real, down-to-earth love lived out in everyday life. That’s what Jesus came to bring, that’s what Jesus calls us to embody.
Samuel Logan Brengle was a commissioner in the Salvation Army in the early 20th century, retiring in 1931. He said, “If I appear to be great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without him and helping me to keep little in my own eyes. He does use me. But I am so concerned that HE uses me and that it is not of me the work is done. The ax cannot boast of the trees it has cut down, it could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, he used it. The moment he throws it aside it becomes only old iron. Oh, that I may never lose sight of this. The spiritual leader of today is in all probability one who yesterday expressed his humility by working gladly and faithfully in second place.” This is a picture of humility. Not a doormat. Not one without power. But one dependent of God for life.
Here in Philippians 2:5-8 Paul issues a call to humility (verse 5). “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” It is closely linked with the latter half of verse 3 (from last week), “… with humility think of others as better than yourself.” “Be of the same mind and having the same love” is the way the New Revised Standard Version words verse 2. All this is possible only because of the nature of God, and that nature passed on to us. Verses 6 and 7 speak eloquently of Jesus: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. 7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.” Jesus “emptied himself.” Jesus was not in the world for himself – he was in the world for you and me. He took the form of a slave. Some translations use the word “servant,” but the Greek word is much stronger – “slave.” All this indicates how Jesus put himself in second place. The shape of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, humble. From humble beginnings as a baby born in a stable, all the way to the cross of a criminal.
So, again in verse 5, “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” The Greek word for “attitude” is “thinking,” often translated “mind.” But it is much more than that. It is a practical humility – a living out the “mind of Christ.” Consider Jesus’ own purpose expressed in Nazareth, the Synagogue of his hometown. Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-3.
“The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 to provide for Zion’s mourners,
to give them a crown in place of ashes,
oil of joy in place of mourning,
a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.”
What Jesus did in his lifetime and ministry reflected his humility. He didn’t go to Kings and authorities but, rather, to those who needed the most. He lifted up Gentiles and even Samaritans as persons of worth, and even heroes of stories. He lifted up women as examples of faith. His ministry was putting people above tradition. Consider that most of the times he healed people, the healing took place on the Sabbath. He was challenged more than once by the Pharisees on this point. “Working on the Sabbath was prohibited.” But, people and their needs were more important.
On the opposite of humility is pride. “The Great Sin” of pride is exemplified in 2 Chronicles 26. It is the story of King Uzziah and his reign over the people of God in Judah. “Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was 16 years old, and made him king after his father Amaziah. 2 He rebuilt Eloth, restoring it to Judah after King Amaziah had lain down with his ancestors. 3 Uzziah was 16 years old when he became king, and he ruled for fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah; she was from Jerusalem. 4 He did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, just as his father Amaziah had done.”
God rewarded Uzziah with success. Then in verse 16 the table turn. “But as soon as he became powerful, he grew so arrogant that he acted corruptly. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” It is on the heels of King Uzziah that Isaiah spoke of the “Suffering Servant” of the coming Messiah (Isaiah 53:7-9).
“He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate—who will think about it?
He was eliminated from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion.
9 His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.”
Jesus, the Messiah, was to come humbly claiming no right to the treatment he deserved as the Son of God.
An interesting New Testament story of pride comes in Matthew 20:20-22. This pride was in his own disciples. “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus along with her sons. Bowing before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 “What do you want?” he asked. She responded, “Say that these two sons of mine will sit, one on your right hand and one on your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink from the cup that I’m about to drink from?” They said to him, “We can.”” A bit of arrogance, wouldn’t you say? Definitely a lack of humility.
“Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” “Our minds control our attitudes, actions and behaviors. Our thoughts become actions, and our actions become lifestyles. The author of Proverbs reminds us, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Repentance, the kind of repentance that John the Baptist invites us to is based on the Greek word, “metanoia”, meaning change in mindset or mind. To adopt the attitude of Christ Jesus we must change our mindset. We must put God before all and invite him to be in all. This isn’t self-deprecation – a looking down on ourselves, but a looking up to God.
How does Jesus’ humility live in us? We don’t have the power that Jesus had … or do we? Mike Slaughter, Senior Pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, writes, “Christians sometimes assume that Jesus had superhuman powers to do the miraculous things that he pulled off. But Paul reminds us that Jesus emptied himself of the powers of divinity, “Taking the very nature of a servant” by becoming completely human (Philippians 2:7). The theological term for his emptying himself of divine powers but not of his divinity is kenosis. In this sense Jesus had no advantage over you and me; he did it because of his total dependence on God. “ In response to persecution from the Jewish leaders over his Sabbath healings, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19). Think of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, and in preparation for his own death – a cruel death on the cross. He showed that he was completely dependent on God’s will – on God’s direction. In his anguish he asked for the “cup” to be removed from him, yet “not my will but thine be done.” Jesus’ “downward mobility” lives in us as we let Jesus live in us. It is a radical dependence on Jesus Christ for all that is necessary in this life. Truly we do have the power that Jesus had through the Holy Spirit placed in our lives when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.
Slaughter speaks of the Upside-Down Kingdom of Jesus Christ:
This Christmas may the mind and attitude of Christ Jesus be born anew in us, so the world may experience the humble Jesus in us! May we be living examples of down-to-earth humility.
Pastor Paul Grossman