Exodus 17:1-7, Philippians 2:1-13
September 25, 2005
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
I love Philippians! In fact, saying that is one of the reasons I love the way the Bible speaks to me. It speaks so wonderfully in so many places, I often find myself saying, “This verse is my favorite verse,” or “This book is my favorite book.” It’s almost like I can’t make up my mind! Does that ever happen to you? I hope it does! I think that’s the Holy Spirit!
Remember, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does was told by Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room. “[The Spirit] will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said.” Teaching and remembering. That’s how I feel when I read this. The Spirit is teaching me, and helping me to remember passages – and to remember them just like they were brand new to me! The Spirit makes things so fresh and new and powerful in so may different circumstances in my life, that the wonder is always there.
So I’d like to say this is my favorite chapter. Because it seems like it as I read these words! But favorite or not, I do love these words Paul wrote to this his most beloved Church in Philippi. And these are such important words for any Church – “encouragement,” “incentive of love,” “participation in the Spirit,” “affection and sympathy.” Amazing! And he wrote all of those words while in prison! Imagine that!
I want you to look today at the progression of Paul’s thought. This all flows from one point to another, as it often does in his writing. First, he tells them they should have these things in their lives: “encouragement, love, affection, and sympathy.” OK, Paul, those are wonderful words! But how do we do that? We can’t just “turn those things on,” can we? I suppose we know some people who can. There are some for whom those things come naturally. But for others of us, they are not so easy. And because of that, some would say they don’t have to bother. I think Paul would say otherwise! “Encouragement, love, affection and sympathy” those are important words for everybody in the Church!
So how do we do those things? He explains that in verse 3. We can almost put a little sentence in here before this verse. “Here’s how you do these things.” Look what he says. “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” What does that mean, Paul? Are we to be self-degrading? Are we to go around saying, “I’m no good? Everyone else is better than me!” Are we to have such sorrow for our shortcomings that we’re in a constant spiritual or even mental depression? Is that what you’re talking about?
He explains it better in verse 4. And by the way, this is the typical Jewish Rabbinical style of stating the point, and then repeating it in a different way. “So in other words,” he’s saying, “Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but to the interests of others.” So, this is not a matter of self-degradation. It’s a matter of stepping outside the little world of our own concerns and looking to the interests of others.
That’s not easy in our world! In our world, self-centeredness has become the norm. Sometimes it’s even expected of us! Do you remember the book “Looking Out for Number One?” That was written by Robert J. Ringer, author of the other popular book called “Winning Through Intimidation.” That became the prevailing philosophy of the “Me Generation” in the ’70’s. It spawned a whole series of “self importance” books. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about self-improvement. I’m talking about self-centeredness!
Paul would tell us, “Look not only to our own interest, but to the interests of others.” That would represent a real change for some people. It would be almost an impossibility for some! Some people are so much into their own little world, that they couldn’t begin to break out and see the world from someone else’s perspective.
I want you to notice that Paul is using a word here which has almost been lost on our world. It is the word “humility.” Paul is telling us that’s important for Christians. He even uses Christ as an example. Look at verses 6-8. “Though he was in the form of God… he emptied himself… and became obedient even unto death.” Paul is telling us that Christians are to have that humility in our lives.
For some people in our world the word “humility” is a foreign word. It might as well be written in Greek! They don’t see it as positive at all. In fact, as I’ve observed it, some people tend to think of it in the same way they think of the word “humiliation,” which is to them an undesirable word! And they have no concept of humility, no clue what it means to look to the interest of others.
I said something in passing last week that I’d like to revisit. I said Christianity is a “life-changing experience.” I said that Jesus Christ has the power to change lives. I quoted II Corinthians 5:17. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The past is finished and done. Behold the new has come.” But many are uncomfortable with that part of the Christian experience. Sure, they’ll follow Christ, but they don’t want to change! But we’re called to change. We are called to new life! And that doesn’t mean just a new status toward eternity. We are called to new life in this world! We are called to live differently.
How do we do that? How do we step outside the typical, natural human condition and begin to think of others first? Again, Paul is taking us along a progression here. Look at verse 5. “Have this mind among you which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Think about that. We are different in the way we live. We are different in the things we do. We are different in the way we act. And now Paul is telling us that we are different in the way we think. We are to “have the mind of Christ!”
Wow! That’s not easy. But the problem is, many people never even try! Many people go through life saying to themselves, “I can’t help the way I think.” But as Christians we are supposed to control our thinking! Did you ever consider that? Our faith calls us to change the way we think! Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5)
I love that idea. We take every thought captive to obey Christ. That’s so important! But it’s a practice many Christians ignore. What it means is this. When some errant thought or hurtful attitude rises in us, we are not simply to “go with our feelings” or just ‘give in’ and think, “I can’t help it. It’s just who I am.” Instead, we are to stop those thoughts, even if it means talking to ourselves and saying, “Self! Stop that thought.” We are to take a breath and consider the kind of thing God would have us think. We Christians are supposed to be doing that kind of thing! That’s at least part of what it means to “have the mind that was in Christ Jesus.”
A number of years ago, people began wearing wristbands with the letters WWJD. Do you remember what that stands for what? It stands for “What Would Jesus Do.” That idea actually came from a man in Topeka Kansas whose name was Charles Sheldon. He was pastor of the Central Congregational Church, which was right down the street from the Church I served. Many years ago, he wrote a book called “In His Steps, ” in which he chronicled a living experiment in which he asked people not to take any actions in their lives until first asking the question “What would Jesus do?”
I was glad when that idea started showing up on wristbands. Well, after thinking about this for a long time, I gave people a greater challenge. I suggested that WWJD should be changed. It should be WWJT. Instead of “What would Jesus do?” we should be asking, “What would Jesus think?!” That’s what we should be thinking about if we are to have the mind of Christ!
I know that’s quite a challenge. We often think our “actions should speak louder than our words.” And that’s important! Or sometimes we think our words alone are “good enough” – as long as they are good enough words. But thinking like Jesus? We might think that isn’t possible. And for many it’s certainly not desirable! But Paul would say no! That’s what we are supposed to do as Christians. We are to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus!
Is that a great enough challenge for one day? I know it’s a great challenge for me. And it’s one I try to keep in mind as much as I can. Sure, I forget. And I’m sure you do, too. We’re a work in progress. And the key word there is progress! We are growing all the time. It’s ongoing! We’re “working out our salvation…” in other words, we’re figuring out how this all fits into our lives, “…with fear and trembling.” We know how important this is! And I hope we know, as he says at the end, that “God is at work in us.”
Is God at work in you? He wants to be! And sometimes we are the obstacles to that. As we close in prayer, ask God for the openness to allow him to do so. Take a moment and seek the presence of the Holy Spirit. Ask God that everything we do would reflect the person and the mind of Jesus Christ, to the end that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Eternal God, help us to be open to your Holy Spirit. Teach us to have the mind of Christ. Help us to love as he loved, to encourage, to upbuild and uphold each other as the precious gifts we are. May your word and your work be heard and done in us, to your glory. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.