This is the sermon I preached on 3/25 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Philippians 2:5-11.
Paul quotes a hymn or song in Philippians 2. This reminds me of another song, “Love Has Come,” which is the gist of what the Philippians' song is about. We can think of it as before Love came, Love has come, Love has lived, Love has been rewarded and Love has shown us how to live.
Before Love came, Jesus was living with the Father and Spirit in the love of the Trinity. The theological term for this is Jesus’ preexistence.
Paul writes, “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself” (v. 5). The New English Bible renders these words as, “Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your life in Christ.” Everything flows from our relationship and connectedness to Christ.
God is the God who always comes down—and look what Jesus gave up! Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit were in perpetual love and fellowship. Leaving all that behind, was like a big demotion. This is the choice Jesus made.
Love has come. “[Jesus] had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status…” (v. 6). Jesus experienced a drastic change in status—from a king to servant. This was not foisted on him. He was the decision maker. Jesus “set aside the privileges of deity” (v. 7). Paul’s point is that Jesus acted on our behalf without view of gain. Jesus lived in self-denying service for others to the point of death, with no thought of what was in it for him.
This was no temporary charade or play acting. “God’s ‘real’ nature is sheer, unadulterated power and might. This is God: the humble one, the infant in a …stall, the abject, beaten, silent one, the nailed one” (James C. Howell).
Jesus’ self-emptying was the fulfillment of his true vocation. In Jesus of Nazareth, Paul, the Philippians and the first followers of Christ, experienced God. In the very human, crucified Nazarene, they had encountered a reality beyond all conditions of time, place and history.
Love has lived. Jesus’ earthly life is portrayed as empty of the divine power, non-miraculous, like that of other humans—except for his total obedience. Jesus said in John’s gospel, “… the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Out of Jesus’ obedience flowed miracles and out of his obedience, he suffered and died.
Being an obedient servant of God does not forbid taking an interest in one’s own affairs. What is condemned is the selfish preoccupation that ignores and prevents interest in the life of others. There is a way of thinking, an approach to life, to others, to self, to God that characterizes those who are in Christ Jesus. Paul calls upon the Philippians to let the mind of Christ qualify all their relationships with each other (v. 5).
Love has been rewarded. Now, there is a shift from what Jesus has done.“God lifted [Jesus] high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever…” (v. 9). This is God the Father’s responding activity—exalting Jesus. Jesus was exalted because of his obedience to the Father.
The intent of Paul’s writing here is to praise God and to invite the congregation to join in bowing and confessing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
We also find a promise in these final words of Paul’s. The Philippians had been suffering for the sake of the gospel. They experienced that not all had bowed and confessed Jesus as Lord. Here they learn that even though it has not yet fully taken place, it will, just as God promised. The future is in God’s hands.
Not only will all peoples bow in obedience to Christ, but all creation. “Christ is Lord over every power in the created order. There is no place in the universe beyond the reach of the redeeming act of the servant Christ” (Boring and Craddock).
Love has shown us how to live. Paul envisions the life of the community of faith as being formed by the mind of Christ-by humility and loving service to one another—not being competitive and grasping for power and control (Elisabeth Johnson). The character of Jesus’ life provides the content for the obedience to which we, as Jesus’ followers, are called.
Do we know many people who are well-acquainted with scripture? More and more people are clueless. There is a saying, “You may be the only Bible some people read.” As believers, our entire identity—intuitions, sensitivities, imaginations—are to be shaped by the self-giving example and activity of Christ.
Does our life together reflect the life of Christ? Are we looking out for the interests of others rather than our own? Are humility and servanthood a hallmark of our community of faith? It means we don’t live our lives for ourselves alone, but for others as well.
How can we do this? Do we have neighbors who can no longer drive? We can take them to appointments or grocery shopping. What about those who are in the hospital or rehab.? Do we know who they are? If not, ask. Do we visit them? Do we help the hungry, the poor, those who need clothing? If not, why not? If you are among those needing help, let your church family do their part. Don’t let pride stand in the way of you getting what you need and for others to be blessed by helping you. Jesus humbled himself, but humility does not mean self-deprecation or false modesty.
Love shows us how to live. We are to choose love. Choose Christ. We can only become more like Jesus by spending time with him.
Pray alone and with others. Let’s reinvigorate St. Timothy’s prayer ministry! Study God’s word. If that seems hard for you, join in a Bible study. Keep your ears and eyes open for more information on Bible study after Easter. Learn more about the Savior who wants to be the love of our lives. If we are open, the Holy Spirit will guide us and makes us so hungry for God that we won’t be able to stay away from time in prayer, devotions and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the faith. Choose love and share this love with the whole world.
M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary
Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B
James C. Howell, ministrymatters.com
Elisabeth Johnson, workingpreacher.org