Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Title: Mind of Christ
Theme: The Primacy of Jesus Christ is the key to unity in Christian community.
With sadness a friend told me, "Two families have left the church, 3 others are thinking of leaving. They left because of conflicts and disagreement in the church." I am certain that many of us have heard or experienced this. The conflicts are not necessarily over Doctrinal issues, but personal opinions, personality differences, and ministry styles. Sometimes, people will leave the church, other times, unresolved disagreements and disharmony will cause resentment, dislikes and bitterness among the members, leaving permanent scars. Yes, we may all be still in the same church, but we don't want to associate with them, a line is drawn, a barrier erected. Whenever there is disharmony and disunity, the church of Jesus Christ suffers
One of the problems facing the Philippian church is disunity and disharmony among them. This morning we'll continue our study to see what we can learn from Paul's instruction to maintain unity and harmony in a Christian community. Many of us are familiar with this morning's scripture reading. It has inspired many songs and among them is: There is a name above all names. This passage is also the subject of many theological discussions. They center on whether or not vs 5-11 is an ancient Christian hymn which Paul has borrowed and modified to make his point on Christian unity. In the midst of numerous discussions on this, the message, the theme in this passage is clear and we'll see a simple truth that the primacy of Jesus Christ is the basis for Christian unity. I would like to make 3 observations in this passage.
I. Maintaining Christian unity requires us to have the same attitude as Christ has. .
What happens when we find ourselves under pressure; or when we are in the
midst of disagreement or conflict? The real me begins to surface: I may become
impatient toward the person or the issue. I may get angry and start reacting.
Sometimes it is expressed in sharp verbal criticisms or non-verbal internalization,
leading to stomach problems and high blood pressure. The picture of the real
me that shows up during such moments is not a very pleasant one. It can be ugly
and afterwards, I have to apologize. For this reason, we usually keep the real
me under control. It will surface only during disagreements and conflicts. Stressful
moments reveal our true character.
So, what do we do in such moments? In vs.1-4, instead of giving the Philippian church and us 10 steps to conflict resolution, Paul addressed the issue of who we are. He went directly to the core of the problem. He instructed us to be humble and caring of others' interests. Then in vs.5, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus" or in NIV, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." How to maintain unity in the midst of disagreements and conflicts? Be like Christ.
I don't know about you, but when I find myself in disagreement with others, or in a conflict, being like Christ is the last thing in my mind. But the scripture is very clear, isn’t it? When in conflicts and disharmony? Think of Christ, be like him.
To be like Christ is a central theme in the scriptures. God created the first man according to his own image. We are made to be like him. However, with the coming of sin into our lives, this image was distorted. The purpose of all the instructions in the scriptures is to help us restore this image of God. The laws given to the Israelites were to help them to be holy, because God is holy. Jesus taught that we are to learn from him, in gentleness and humility. The apostles' writings continue to encourage us to grow into Christ's fullness, individually and as a church. They taught us to be like Christ when we give sacrificially. Husbands are to be like Christ in the way we treat our wives. Parents are to be like Christ in the way we nurture our children.
Apparently, this does not happen overnight or automatically. We don't wait till those difficult times, then try to think of what Christ is like. On a daily basis, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to develop and nurture this mind of Christ. We are to co-operate with the Holy Spirit to mold us so that we are like Christ. There will always be disagreements and conflicts, whether it is in this or other Christian communities, or at home. However, in those difficult times, we are to let that Christ-likeness flow from us.
II. Maintaining Christian unity requires us to divert our self -interest as Christ does.
Paul not only urges the believers to be Christ-like, but also tells us what is it that we are to imitate. Throughout the church history, individuals had approached this differently. St. Francis of Assisi took it to mean living a simple life-style like Jesus. He and his followers also had the vow of poverty. Later he expanded it to include physical suffering. In the early 1900's, a church in this country started a movement in their city. Before they made any decisions, they would ask the question, "What would Jesus do"? This led to the writing of a book called, "In His Steps" To them, being like Christ was confined to ethical issues. Several years ago, this phrase reappeared in the market in the form of "WWJD" music, bracelets, rings and you name it. In some parts of the world, there is also the tradition that on Good Friday, some Christians would either carry a heavy cross and walk long distance or even nail themselves onto a cross. This is what some consider as being like Christ. Let's take a closer look at the meaning of vs.6-8, and then see what they mean to us. As we study this passage, please note that Jesus Christ is the subject.
Vs.6,"who, though he was in the form of God, " Form means nature, essence. This means that Christ was God. It is not that he is like God, but in every way, he is God.
Vs. 6, 7, "…..did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." He did not insist on his divine status. Made himself empty does not mean he let go of his deity. Rather, he let go, relinquished his self interest. He gave up his right to visibly manifest his glory and honor as God.
He became man. It does not mean that he is like a man, but truly man, except he had no sin. This is what the apostle John said, "he became man". Jesus is the God incarnate. God became man; not only man, but a servant, a slave. Imagine, God became man to serve his creation. He did not insist on his deity and all the rights that came with it. On the contrary, he became a slave. And more,
Vs.8, "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross." The God who became man was humble. He did not insist on his rights, but he was obedient to God, the father. It was a total and complete obedience, to the point of dying and dying on a cross. To the Jews, dying on a cross is a curse, Deut 21:23, "…his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God." To the Romans, dying on the cross was the ultimate and most shameful punishment for the worst criminals. Cicero said, "Do not even let this word (cross) get near to your mouth". What does this passage (5-8) tell us?
Jesus Christ, he is God, yet he is obedient to God the father, putting aside his self interest, willingly became man. Instead of holding onto his self-interest, he put others' interests first. He came as a servant and died on the cross. He served his people so they could be saved from God's wrath and sin's domain. This is total humility.
Several weeks ago, the Prince of a certain European country and his fiancé passed through the Miami airport. Because he did not have a diplomatic entourage, the airport security guards made him go through the regular security checks. He complained and later the city had to apologize for mishandling him. I can't help but think, here is a prince who insisted on his rights and privileges. There was another prince, the prince of the heavenly kingdom, the prince of peace, who did not insist on his right, but became a servant man.
This is our challenge. What are some of the causes of conflicts and disagreements? I, insist on my own interest and opinions. I, want others to agree that my opinion is the right one and is the best. I am the one with vision, not you. I have the right perspective and I know how to lead the small group, fellowship group or the church.
If I am serious about maintaining the unity of the Christian community, I will have to learn to give up my self interest and put others' interest first. I have to give up my right to be served but to listen and serve others. No matter how long I have been in the ministry, I need to learn to listen to those younger than me; to see them better than me. This is Christ's mind. To nurture and develop this mind/attitude in me is the key to unity.
III. Maintaining Christian unity requires us to worship Christ as Lord..
In vs 5-8, Jesus Christ is the subject. He willingly became man; he was totally obedient to God and willing to serve his people, even dying on the cross so their sins are forgiven. In vs.9-11 God has become the subject. What follows Christ's humility? "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." These are majestic words. If I try to explain them, it will only lessen its meaning. We'll just have to let these words speak for themselves. "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Jesus has come down from the top to the bottom, and now God is raising him up to the most high. His name is above every name. He is the Lord of all and therefore every creature will worship him.(V) We worship him not because of what he has done for us. We worship because there is no name above his name. He is the one worthy of our worship. Today we are worshipping him, but because of our sinfulness, it is a very limited worship. There will come a day when our worship will be complete and full. On that day, all creatures will worship him as the Lord.
When I worship him as my Lord, I will do my best to give him my total obedience. I know that my worship and obedience is limited because of my sinfulness, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I will do my best to love my enemies and pray for them. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I will do my best to love and pray for my enemies, forgive those who’ve offended me.
Do we see what is happening here? When we all come together, we not only imitate him, but also worship Christ as the Lord. We will then be able to put down, give up our different opinions, preferences and self-interests. We'll begin to learn to serve others by knowing what their needs are and to minister to them.
These past few days, you must have heard the much reported combat death of a particular soldier in Afghanistan. His name is Pat Tillman, a former NFL star. Yes, many other soldiers had died recently and they are to be equally honored and remembered. But there is a story behind Tillman. He was a well known player in the Arizona Cardinals. He felt he owed this society the wonderful life he had enjoyed. So he gave up the multi-million dollar contract and took the $18,000 salary of an Army Ranger. He was killed in line of duty. He gave up his fame and wealth; he literally emptied himself and died for a country he loved. He was called a hero by Arizona Senator McCain. A hero is someone you look up to. Many people have paid tribute to him these few days, but he could not see it.
Here we have someone much greater than Pat Tillman; Jesus Christ. He was God, yet he set aside his divine rights, his self-interest and became man. In order to save us from God's wrath and the bondage and dominion of sin, he humbled himself and died on the shameful cross. He gave his life so that we can be reconciled with God. And then God raised him from the dead, give him a name above all names. He is the true Hero. We not only imitate him, but worship him as well.
You see, when we are in dispute, disagreement and disharmony, God wants us to imitate Christ, to have a mind that is like Christ. And he also wants us to worship him as our Lord. What is the consequence of this? That we too will be willing to put down our self-interest. If Christ is willing to give up his self interest, is there anything we cannot give up? Instead of insisting on our rights, we learn to listen and serve others. Instead of seeking to have my needs met, we seek to meet others needs.
And then what will happen? Not only will we be able to maintain harmony and unity, but glorify God as well.