This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, September 28, 2008.
The Mind of Christ
Philippians 2:1-13 NIV
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
We live in an interesting culture. I ran across a website this week called “Fake Name Generator.”
The idea is that when you need to fill out an online form on the internet, but really don’t want to give your real name, you can get a fake identity by using “Fake Name Generator.” So, of course, I tried it. Guess what? You are now looking at James Y. Baptiste. No kidding! A Baptist named Baptiste. I thought that was pretty cute.
And as they say on the Ginsu knife commercial — But wait, that’s not all!
I also received…
- a fake address
- a fake phone number
- a fake website all my own
- a fake email address
- a fake social security number
- a fake mother, whose maiden name was “Berry”
- a fake credit card number
- a fake birthday (although they made me 5 years older than I really am)
- and, a fake UPS tracking number. I have no idea why..
Of course, it’s all in good fun, I suppose, but the internet is known as the place you can be whoever you want to be. Don’t like your name, choose a nickname. Don’t like the way you look, choose someone else’s photo. Don’t like what you weigh, or how tall you are, or your age — pretend to be someone else.
Of course, pretending to be someone else isn’t just confined to the internet. The recent case of Clark Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, illustrates how easy it is for someone pretending to be someone else can fool lots of people, including the woman he married.
Pretending to be someone else is usually reserved for actors and politicians, but that brings us to Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he encourages them to act like someone else.
You might remember that last week Paul had told the Philippian Christians that they not only got to believe on Christ, but they had the privilege of suffering for Christ also. And, Paul reminds them that he is in prison for the Gospel and tells them to stand firm and live a life worthy of the Gospel. Here in chapter 2, Paul is cheering them on in their attempt to stand firm and live worthy lives.
In Philippians 3:1-2, Paul goes through a laundry list of reminders to give them hope.
- If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,
- if any comfort from his love,
- if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
- 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
For Paul, the thing that will make him joyful is for the Philippians to be like-minded. He goes on to explain that like-mindedness means having the same love, the same spirit, and the same purpose. Paul has already told them in 1:7 that “It is right for me to feel this way about you.” The Greek word the NIV translates “feel this way” is from the root verb phroneo, which means “mindset” — the way one thinks about something, or our predisposition to something.
It is the same word Paul uses here to encourage them to be like-minded. It is the same word he will use when he says “Let this mind (attitude) be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…”
It is also the same word he will use in Phil 4:2 when he encourages two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, who are quarreling, to be of the same mind — to agree with each other.
This idea of “like-mindedness” is important to Paul. Paul sees it as the key to unity in the church in Philippi. The church has been riven with the same problems of any church — facing difficulty, different people have different perspectives, different viewpoints, and they are dividing the church community.
Paul pleads with them — “If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, any comfort from his love, any fellowship with the Spirit, any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded.”
Paul is pulling out all the stops here to get them to come together. He lays a subtle guilt-trip on them, like only a mother can — “If all I’ve done for you means anything, please be nice to your brother.” Your mother ever do that to you? Any sentence that starts with “After all I’ve done for you…” is a guaranteed guilt-tripper. But, Paul is a little more subtle than that. And, to give them some help, he shows them how they can be of one mind.
The Example of Jesus
Paul, Phil 1:30, has previously appealed to his suffering — “Since you’re going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” Paul wants the Philippians to know that he understands what they’re going through. He understand persecution and what it means to stand firm. He understands how difficult it is to live a life worthy of the Gospel. He is an example to them.
But, then Paul also wants them to make his joy full and complete as their community becomes like-minded. And, so Paul gives them the ultimate example to follow — the example of Christ.
I like the King James here — “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:”-Phil 2:5
In other words, be like-minded with Christ. Have the same attitude, the same mindset, the same predisposition to others. Have the mind of Christ.
Now, how do you have the mind of Christ? How do you have the same attitude Jesus had? Our own attempts at having the mind of Christ are as doomed to fail as the Clark Rockefeller’s false identity. We can’t be Christ…or can we?
In their extraordinary book, Saving Paradise
, Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker tell us that early in the life of the Church, there was the idea of theosis
— the possibility of Christians partaking of the divine nature of Christ. This idea began with the Creation story, as God creates humankind in God’s own image. But, the idea that followers of Christ were partakers of his divinity is echoed in 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter contends,
3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4
The idea of theosis was not primarily individual, it belonged to the community. As the church was the body of Christ, partaking of the divine nature was the experience of the community of faith, not just privileged individuals. And, theosis expressed itself in very real ways. Tertullian said that Christians created “an alternate social order” that was different from the social order of the Roman empire. Theosis expressed itself as Christians acted –
“…to support the destitute, and to pay for their burial expenses; to supply the needs of boys and girls lacking money and power, and of old people confined to the home…we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another.”
– Saving Paradise, page 178.
Paul also gives the Philippians concrete instruction on what the mind of Christ is. Paul says that Christ
- did not “grasp” or hold onto his heavenly position for personal benefit;
- made himself nothing — literally, “emptied himself” in the image of pouring out a bottle until it is empty;
- took a servant’s form, human likeness;
- humbled himself;
- became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
So, if you want to know what mindset Jesus had it was giving up, letting go, pouring out himself for others.
Paul goes on to say that because of that mindset, God highly exalted Jesus, giving him a name above every name, and that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven, in earth, and under the earth. In other words, because Jesus had the attitude he did, the mindset, God placed him in the highest place, and all of heaven, all the world of the living, and all the world of the dead recognize that Jesus the Messiah is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus mindset, lived out in his life of humility, service, and sacrifice, gained the acknowledgement of the entire creation that Jesus the Christ is Lord. Not Ceasar, not empire, not wealth, not power, not privilege, not prestige, but Jesus is Lord.
There was once a princess who grew up in a kingdom that had been ravished by decades of famines, war and plague. One night, as the princess slept she had a dream. In this dream she was walking through the market that lay by the sea, when a young beggar looked up, but before their eyes could meet the dream ended and the princess awoke. As the dream faded a haunting voice arose in her mind that informed her that if she were ever to meet this young man, he would shower her with riches beyond her wildest dreams.
This dream etched itself so deeply on the princess that she carried the vision deep in her heart, until one day, years later, as she walked through the market, her gaze caught hold of the same man who had visited her in her dreams all those years ago. Without pausing she ran up to him and proceeded to relay the whole vision. Never once did he look up, but when the princess had finished her story he reached into an old sack and pulled out a package. Without saying a word, he offered it to the princess and asked her to leave.
Once the princess reached her dilapidated castle she ripped open the package and, sure enough, there was a great wealth of pure gold and precious diamonds. That night she placed the package in a safe place, and went to bed. But her mind was in turmoil and the long night was spent in sleepless contemplation. Early the next morning she arose, retrieved the treasures and went down to the water’s edge. Once there she summoned all her strength and threw the riches deep into the sea. After watching the package sink out of sight, she turned and without looking back went searching for the young beggar.
Finally, she found him sitting in the shade of an old doorway. The princess approached, held out her hand and placed it under his chin. Then she drew his face towards hers and whispered, “Young man, speak of the wealth you possess which allows you to give away such worldly treasure without a moment’s thought.” – pg.50-51, How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins
That is the mind of Christ. That is the mind possible for the followers of Christ. ”Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Amen.