SCRIPTURE READING – Philippians 2:1-13
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. 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, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.
When do we do when our authority is challenged, or a decision we’ve made has been questioned? How do we react when someone differs with our point of view? What is our default response? Are we easily offended? Do we vigorously claim authority and try to impress with our qualifications? Do we quickly quote other authorities to bolster our position? Do we drop the names of other respected authorities to put us in their class?
Matthew 21:23-27 tells of an interaction Jesus had with the chief priests and Elders. This occurred right after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” They were challenging Jesus’ authority, and were seeking to discredit him. We’ll come back in a moment to how Jesus handled this challenge.
Today is World Communion Sunday. In many ways it is reminding us that there is a larger picture than what we see here in Thermopolis. “We are a part of a world-wide fabric, strands for Christ, woven into the intricate patterns of humanity.”
Next week Pastor Paul will be starting a sermon series entitled, “Life Together.” I see today as a fitting prelude to that series. God’s expectation is that we are about the work of building Christian community around the world, based on shared Christian experiences, while valuing the experiences of all. It is about living life together.
I want to begin by connecting our passage today with what has come just before it. Philippians 2:1-13 is a continuation of what came in 1:27.
“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel.”
“Striving side by side with one mind...” is how the NRSV says it. Paul wants us to understand what that life looks like. In the short and sweet version, Paul advises us to “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” (2:5) But how did Paul arrive at that conclusion? He does so through four “if” statements. Think about it for a moment. In contemporary culture the use of “If” implies either there is an uncertainty, or it implies a conditional response. If this is true, then I will … you can fill in the blank. In the Greek, however, “if” was utilized in many different ways. For example: ‘If I were king (though I am not) …” or ‘If I am your friend (which I am)…’. Paul is utilizing these forms. Paul’s four-fold “if” goes like this in verse 1 (and I’ll paraphrase): “ Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ (and there is), (if there is) any comfort in love (and there is), (if there is) any sharing in the Spirit (and there is), (or if there is) any sympathy (and there is), then complete my joy … .” We do have these things in authentic Christian community, therefore we can have the mind of Christ – we can let Christ direct our thoughts and actions.
We are given an “If – Then” scenario. Verses 1-4 all point to Verse 5, “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” The New Revised Standard Version says, “have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.” Paul hints at this conclusion in Verse 2 – “by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.” If we have these assurances, then we can indeed live in Christ’s ways.
What comes next is widely considered and early church hymn about Christ, verses 6-11. The hymn points to Christ’s attitude. The attitude was humble. Jesus approached life with humility. (verse 2:8 points back to verse 2:3).
Now, let’s look back at Matthew 21, the story that I opened with. How did Jesus respond to the chief priests and elders? Humbly! Here’s what I mean. The question was, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus responds not with thunder and lightning – ‘I am the Son of the living God.’ Instead, he asks a question himself. He says that if they can give him the right answer, he will tell them about his authority. “Where did John the Baptist get his authority?” They were unable to answer (for strictly political reasons). Jesus’ reply to the chief priests and elders was given with humility. Again, in Verse 8, He humbled himself … and was obedient, even unto death.”
God’s attitude in general, portrayed throughout the scriptures has been described by Psalm 145:8-9. “The Lord is merciful and compassionate, very patient, and full of faithful love. The Lord is good to everyone and everything; God’s compassion extends to all his handiwork!” While not humility per se, it shows the amazing love of God in caring light.
So, what is humility? Webster’s Dictionary describes it as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” In the Cambridge Dictionary it is described as a “feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others.” An alternate definition given is a “quality of not being proud because you are aware of your bad qualities.” I find it interesting that humility and humiliate have the same root. To humiliate someone is to call them down in a public forum. Jesus, on cross, was being called down in a very public way, yet he was not humiliated, because he knew himself and whose he was. He had the power to remove himself from the cross with a triumphant victory. Instead, he humbly went about sealing our salvation through his death.
So, how do we adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus, humility? Let me share an example from this week. I was substituting at Thermopolis Middle School. I have been in the school so many times over the last 9 years, and yet I can still get turned around as I seek to navigate the hallways. I can’t tell you how many times I have turned the wrong direction trying to get to the Commons, for instance. This week I had a revelation! I mentally put myself outside. What way would I be facing if I were outside? When I When I imagined that the main hallway from the office to the classrooms was parallel to the parking lot, and the fifth grade hall was walking toward that parking lot, I suddenly had confidence in which way to turn. When we orient ourselves to something outside the confusing culture we find ourselves in, we have the key to Christ’s humility.
Listen again to Paul’s very practical description of Christian community in verses 2-4. “… complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” This is a call for progress in human community. It is a call to Christ centered and humble living. It is a world-view that embodies the “attitude that was in Christ Jesus.”
Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? It is imperative and encouraging to realize that it is not our job to do it alone. First, look at Philippians 2:13 – “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” It is that outside source, living in us, that gives us the power to do God’s will. Realizing that, we can’t help but be humble. This is not the first time in Philippians that we have heard something like this. Go back to Chapter 1 verse 6 – “the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Christ Jesus.” It is God’s work in us that creates authentic Christian community. As we orient ourselves – adopt humility as a world-view – that Christ centered actions and responses will be possible. As we are humble, we will find ourselves always striving to grow as individuals and community.
With this world-view, in this coming week, what is one way I can choose to humbly obey God? Make a commitment to it. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman