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Humanity Following Christ's Example

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Sunday, 8/12. The text was Philippians 2:1-13.


As we look at the example of Christ in Philippians 2, we need to know that Paul loved these people. He was instrumental in starting the church in Philippi. Their relationship brought Paul great joy, but if we read closely, something was up. There was something that created division, but we don’t know exactly what it was. Whatever the matter, the people of Philippi needed instruction.

So, Paul is very emphatic right from the beginning of this passage. I’ll share with you how the Greek is much more dynamic in this first verse. Rather than the one “if,” which would be better understood as “since,” there are four. Translated literally it would read, “Since there is encouragement in Christ, since there is consolation from love”…etc. Paul does not mince his words. It is because of all these things in Christ, that Paul can continue with his instruction.

The four “since” phrases are presented as the basis for Christian unity. Since there is encouragement, consolation from love etc. Seeking to understand the mind of Christ can bring unity among God’s people.

Paul calls on the Philippians to “make [his] joy complete” (v. 2). How are they to do this? Four expressions follow this request: 1. Being of the same mind, which does not mean agreeing on everything, 2. Having the same love, 3. Being in full accord (like joined souls), and 4. Being of one mind. Paul repeats the call for a common attitude or mindset mentioned earlier. 

When Paul writes to “be of the same mind,” he is calling the Philippian Christians to actively pursue truth together. They are to have mutual love for one another that matches Christ’s selfless love. They are to live together in harmony and to glorify God (Mercer). The mind of Christ is the mindset of self-renunciation. 

Paul says that the Philippians are to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (v. 3). Rivalry must go! Selfishly fighting for your viewpoint must go! Looking out only for your own interests must go! These must have been attitudes that showed up in this congregation.

Paul counters the negative commands with a positive one: “in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (v. 3). In other words, fix your eyes on the good points of others, which does not mean having a low, negative self-image, beating yourself up about how others are so much better than you are.

In the ancient world, humility described a slave mentality so it was to be avoided. To be humble was to be base, of no account, unfit. Since Jesus turns everything upside down, something that was to be avoided, became something to be embraced. For Christians, humility is a virtue. Jesus not only taught that but embodied it as well. 

Further along, the verses read like poetry, which was likely part of a hymn of the time which Paul may or may not have written. In the final verses, we find out just what the “in Christ Jesus” mind is. 

We hear “…though he was in the form of God…[he] emptied himself” (vv. 6, 7). Again the Greek can assist our understanding of Paul’s message. More literally it reads, “BECAUSE he was in the form of God, he emptied himself…” This was no temporary charade. God’s true nature is sheer, unadulterated power and might. But here is God: the humble one, the infant in Bethlehem, the abject, beaten, silent one; nailed to a tree. Can you imagine God the Son, confining himself in time and space to the tiny country of Palestine and to the care of the young girl, Mary? Now that is truly downward mobility—caring more for others than himself. 

The mind of Christ is a mindset of humility and obedience. Jesus was committed to the descent from glory, to live as a human being. We are told that Jesus was in the “form of God” (v. 6), meaning that he had the essential and permanent inner character of God. Rather than clinging to that, he gave it up and emptied himself, “taking the form of a slave” (v. 7). Jesus didn’t just become an ordinary man, but a slave. As a slave, he became obedient to his Father even to the most painful type of death, death on the cross. “Jesus shows us the very heart of God, God’s truest, most core nature when he turns his face to Jerusalem and gets mocked and gruesomely killed” (Howell). Jesus did not put on a part-time human suit for a day, but out of his great love for us, submitted to all the indignities and joys of human life.

Paul calls upon the Philippians to “let the same mind” (v. 5) condition all their relationships with each other. Christians are to “Be of the same mind,” have the same love, be in full accord and of one mind. For the church to function in a healthy way, living the way of Christ, the focus must be the interests of others and not our own. Everything is given and done for the sake of the greater community. This destroys the individualistic idea of a separate and personal salvation and connects our salvation to the greater community. Our needs can only be met within this greater community. I cannot be unless we are. Christians are to cultivate the mind of Christ by following Jesus’ example. 

God has stooped to our level, scooped us up in all of our messiness and made us part of God’s own life, where we are healed and saved. This should make a difference in how Christians live. Paul’s concern is how saved, believing people live out their salvation in the here and now in the world. This is done through obedience, humility and public witness.

Part of this public witness is living unselfishly with creation. Why should we want to live in such a way? We hear some people say, “Who cares? We’ll be dead before any of these bad things scientists are predicting will happen.” But what about our children and grandchildren and their descendants? Don’t we care about future generations and the kind of earth we will leave for them? What if because of our greed, some species become extinct and those children only hear stories of such plants and animals?              

What can we do to make a difference? By now we are all familiar with the raging forest fires in CA that have destroyed so much natural beauty, as well as people’s homes and neighborhoods. But to discover that the blaze was set intentionally, that one man committed arson, was unbelievable. Here is a classic example of how NOT to be a good steward of God’s creation. 

We can help financially by giving to Thrivent or Lutheran Disaster Response. You can make a personal donation on Thrivent.com to assist the wildfire victims. 100% of your donation goes directly to help those in need. Additionally, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar. This matching opportunity runs until a $100,000 match is met or until October 31, whichever comes first. Earmark your gift as “U. S. Wildfires.” Lutheran Disaster Response says to pray for the people affected by the wildfires, to give and if we want our dollars to go to help with relief from the wildfires, earmark it “U. S. Wildfires.” We can connect with LDR, to learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response to it through their blog, Facebook or Twitter. 

We don’t intentionally set fires, but are there things we do that disregard our responsibilities in our relationship to the rest of creation? I remember being told by my grandmother to through trash out the window when we went for a ride. That may shock us now, but how often do we see cans and bottles at the side of the road or sometimes in our own yards? Just ask anyone here who has done roadside cleanup when it’s St. Timothy’s turn.

Another way to steward our earth is to join in the next time we have the roadside cleanup responsibilities. If you’re unable to, then there are other ways to be good stewards of our land. We can influence lawmakers. There are petitions that go around online concerning various legislation that affects our earth. Make your opinion known! If we don’t fight to take care of our earthly home, who will? 

Do you remember Love Canal, whose pollutants caused babies to be born with deformities and disease? Remember how everyone was moved out and yet the houses stand? Now they want to move people back into the neighborhood because it’s supposedly safe. Is it? You can call or write to those in power and let them know how you feel about that as another example of practical ways we can help.

Today, the question we must consider is are human beings created to rule or to serve creation? Our Lord Jesus became a genuine human being, just like we are. His self-humbling is the supreme example of how God’s people should live. 

Christ himself is also the true image of God. As such, he exposes the faultiness of the claim that the image of God involves dominion and royal lordship as an integral part of being human. Jesus served, like the first human in the garden. In following him, we should take care of the earth as well. “Go out into the natural world and look with God’s eyes; listen with God’s ears; know your place within God’s good creation” (Richard Rohr).

Amen!

Resources

M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary



Norman C. Habel, The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary



James C. Howell, ministrymatters.com






Robb McCoy and Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com



Jerry L. Mercer, ministrymatters.com






Troy Troftgruben, workingpreacher.org




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