Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sermon: Philippians 2:5-11

This is basically what I preached this morning. I veered more off my text than ever before, rearranging whole paragraphs as I talked. I don't know if it went well but we all got through it.

Our text this morning will be Philippians 2:5-11. One thing that always strikes me when I read any of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' last hours is how spare they are. Unlike so much of my own writing, or the way we communicate in general, there is not one word extra. It is written as matter-of-factly, as undramatically as possible. The lines are so spare so bare, so restrained, like if you started to add more a dam would break and you would never be able to contain it all on one piece of paper.

Because this is the case, it is possible that we might quickly pass over this account of Jesus' death. We're so used to big signals, like sad or majestic or sinister music and fancy camera angles that we might miss that something so bare, so spare could be important.

That is why I would like you, if you, can, to turn to Philippians 2. Paul is going to help us understand what Jesus was doing, who he was and how, when you give yourself to him and and trust in him, you will become like him, you will walk in the way he walked and do the kind of things he did and ultimately, have a 'mind' like him--that is think, talk and act like him.

Paul writes, 'have this mind among yourselves'.
If you are holding an NIV it will say
'your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ'.
Attitude is a fine enough word, but basically,
probably out of worry that you won't get it,
they've plastered over the incredibly lovely structure of this text.
The ESV says 'have this mind among yourselves'--
the "this" referring back up to the instructions Paul has just laid out--
thinking of others as better than yourself
you can look up and see that we,
all of us who belong to Jesus,
ought to have a mind in common,
ought to be of one accord,
ought to have the same love for each other
and to think each other better than ourselves--
'Have this mind' is the bridge between the two sections
and more fully links our common mind together--
but then here is the kicker...
these are not only things and attitudes that we must make an effort to do...
these are things we can do and can have
because we have already been given the mind of Christ.
The full verse reads:
Have this mind among yourselves,
This mind is already yours,
now by grace live up to it...
then he goes on to describe who Christ is and what he did
AND since you and I have this mind,
who we really are and what it looks like when we live accordingly
So really the first verse provides a measure--
we, who are believers,
can lay ourselves down beside this and ask--
do I look like Jesus?

Verse 6. 'Who', that's Jesus, 'though he was in the form of God'.
Form is a difficult English word.
It sounds like he was the form of God but he wasn't really God.
The Greek word would better render
'who was in his essential nature God'
'did not count equality with God something to be grasped'
or held on to tightly.
Jesus, in his essential being and nature God,
did not grasp or cling to this nature.

verse 7, but made himself nothing.
The but doesn't mean that he did something that was outside of his nature.
Rather, making himself nothing
perfectly shows the nature of God as completely and totally self giving.
That who God is is a being who pours himself out
and makes himself nothing out of love.

Taking on the form of a servant.
Again, form here means the being and essence of a servant,
really a bond servant which is not many steps away from a slave.
The Greek word is doulous--
he bound himself to the created world, to us,
as a doulous, a slave, a bond servant.
Being born in the likeness of men.
In other words, we are born, created in the likeness and image of God,
Jesus is like us,
he is in the image and likeness of us,
we can recognize him as one of us,
he is one of us.

Paul has, again,
so elegantly and beautifully,
with the repetition of the word 'form'
revealed the two full natures of Jesus--
he is Both God and Man
and yet his manhood was taken up in such a way that it reveals perfectly the agape,
the self-giving love,
that God has for sinners.

He humbled himself by becoming obedient to God the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We have a beautiful cross hanging here behind me.
Just about every room in the church has a cross hanging in it.
The Philippian church,
hearing this letter read for the first time
would have had no such symbols around them.
The very idea of taking a cross and making it the symbol under which to all rally,
well, no one would have had such an idea.
It wasn't just the most perfectly constructed instrument of torture ever conceived of,
it wasn't just the most brutal horrific painful way to die,
it was humiliating.
I don't know about you
but I spend most of my time trying not to be humiliated.
That's one reason I hate conflict so much,
I might come out looking bad or feeling bad or feeling diminished in some way.
And because the line between humiliation and humility is not very very thick,
I, and perhaps many of you might sort of not consider humility,
or thinking of others as better than me
because it is so desperately uncomfortable.

But Jesus, who in his being essence and nature was God,
and because God in his being is someone who does not grasp,
does not hold on to himself but rather pours out himself completely,
Jesus humbled himself to the humiliation and horror of death on a cross.

Why? Paul doesn't answer the question right here but the NT is full of answers.
One you all should know by heart,
John 3:16,
for God so loved, he loved so much that he sent his only begotten son Jesus, that who so ever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God is love.
I've really, in Philippians,
been trying to wrap my limited mind around the immensity of the fact that God,
at the cross,
didn't do something different from who he was.
That Jesus, bleeding, dying, suffering in silence
was showing us perfectly the perfect nature and character of God.
But there's a principle in the Bible that stuff is in their for a reason.
Paul is showing us the true nature of Jesus and of God for a reason.
It should not be hard to guess.
We are not characterized by love.
We are characterized by rebellion and destruction,
and sometimes,
even though we have been given the mind of Christ,
we do not live that way.
In fact, we take who we are,
our lust for equality with God,
our pursuit of rights,
our dislike of pain and suffering of any kind,
and spiritualize or rationalize it.
All week long as I studied this text I kept running up against a verse in Psalm 50,
that always feels like a smack in the mouth to me, when I read it.
You don't have to turn to Psalm 50, the Psalmist writes in verse 21.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.

It is the very most ancient kind of sin,
that we make ourselves the standard by which we judge God and each other.
We might look at the cross and say, yeah, I mean of course,
Jesus loves me and so of course he died for me.
And he should give me this this and this because that's who he is.
He is love.
But we understand it to be our kind of love,
our kind of holiness,
as if we are holy.
And because, perhaps,
we aren't pursuing God as he is in himself in the scriptures,
or seeking the mind of Christ,
or laying the dark corners of our minds and hearts bare before him,
we don't hear him much when he does speak to us,
and then into that perceived silence we pour ourselves.

This hymn in praise of Christ puts a lie to that,
line by line.
the Son,
did not think equality with God,
something to be grasped.
We do.
We are constantly trying to make ourselves equal to God.
He took on the position of a slave,
he completely dropped any rights, any claim to glory.
I don't know about you, but most of the time,
I'm trying to gain what's 'rightfully' mine, I'm measuring out--
I'll do this act of service,
but then someone else either better notice and match it.
A slave?
That's so unequal.
That's so unfair.
He humbled himself to death, a death of humiliation.
I got mad because someone referred to me
in vaguely condescending terms as a 'lady' this week.
Don't get me wrong,
you're welcome to hold open the door
and defer to me graciously
but don't pat me on the head...
I'm equal with you, bla bla bla.
That's not humility.
That's not the mind that Jesus has.

I don't want us, in this holiest week of the year,
to do that.
I don't want us to walk through these days,
walking in the steps of Jesus,
thinking that Jesus died to vindicate our way of thinking,
our set of priorities,
our way of loving.

This is the mind that we are to have,
the mind of Christ himself.
He did not think that being God was something to be grabbed hold of.
He grabbed hold of you instead.
He did not set about to glorify himself,
he set out to rescue you.

Therefore God has highly exalted him,
exalted him more than anyone has ever been exalted before,
and given him the name that is the very name of God,
the name so holy that it is not even said.
When you see it written, you say The LORD, for it is so holy.
And it is this name by which you must be saved.
There is no other name.
There is no other way.
God has not been silent.
He has put an end to sin and death and human rebellion.
Let the same mind be among you.
Do not hang on to yourself.
Do you think you will be diminished if you let go of yourself?
Not if you give yourself to Jesus.
As Jesus poured out himself for us, we pour out ourselves for each other, for him.
No measuring.
No holding on to your rights,
your equality,
what's fair.
No counting out,
love for love,
job for job,
penny for penny.
Do you think, if God highly exalted Jesus he will not also bring you into his own glory? That somehow your suffering will so diminish you as to destroy you?
No, when you pour yourself out, Jesus fills you up.
When you humble yourself, he will raise you up.
When you suffer, he is glorified.
Take on the mind of Christ.

1 comment:

r said...

Thank you. Oddly enough the Biblestudy group here had been doing a word study on this very passage (largely looking everything up on Strongs, which is great fun! I need a copy now. And to remember any of my Greek. Hah.).

The pussywillows in the palms was a stroke of genius! I love the arrangements & the photos. Miss you all terribly. Are you ever on skype? Our phone service was bought out & thus we no longer have international calls (bah).