Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, October 15, 2018
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Having the Same Attitude as Christ

Philippians 2:5-11

 I think this is one of the most sublime texts in the New Testament.  It is beautiful in its language and rich in its meaning.  

 Many Bible scholars think that this was actually an early Christian hymn, a poem that was possibly sung to teach people essential beliefs.  The Church has always used art and music to communicate our beliefs.  If there is a legitimate criticism of modern Christian worship music, it’s that often times it lacks the depth of the old hymns.  Not always.  There are some modern songs that are rich in theology.  But it’s pretty hard to compare most modern music with the theological richness of Charles Wesley’s hymns.  

 Philippians 2 is rich theologically, but we should be careful not to reduce it to nothing more than a theological formula.  The very first words are “Your attitude should be same that Christ Jesus had.”  This is exhortation, a calling on Christians to think and to act in a certain way.

 The first four verses of the chapter are all reminders of how Christians should behave:  We should be tender and sympathetic.  We should love one another.  We should work together in unity.  We should focus on the needs of others, not on our own desires.  We should be humble.  We should have mutual concern.  The basis, the foundation, of all those exhortations is that we are doing them in imitation of Christ.  

 Christ was God.  In his essential nature, he was God.  His unchanging nature is divine.  That could never change.  But he did not cling to his divine rights.  

 Jesus provides a wonderful contrast to Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve were created as human beings.  Their sin was that they grasped after equality with God.  They tried to dethrone God and put themselves in his place.  The temptation in the Garden of Eden was, “Go ahead and eat that forbidden fruit, and you will be like God.”  On the other hand, Christ is God.  But he did not cling to his rights.  

 We can excuse a lot of bad behavior when we cling to our rights.  “You shouldn’t have said that!”  “Well, I have a right to free speech.”  Yes, but just because you have a right doesn’t mean you should exercise it!  As Christians, we are called to think more of our responsibilities than our rights.  We have responsibility to God, responsibility to each other, responsibility to the world.  That’s where our focus should be:  “What is God calling us to do?”  Not, “I have my rights.”

 “He emptied himself.”  Or “He made himself nothing.”  Or “He laid aside his power and glory.”  The Greek word here is KENOSIS.  It means to empty or pour out.  It recalls Isaiah 53:12, “He poured out his life unto death.”  

 What does that mean, “Christ emptied himself?”  Well, it’s a mystery, that’s for sure.  And the thing about mysteries is that you can’t explain them, or they wouldn’t be mysteries.  But I think we can say this, when the Son of God became human, he laid aside in some way his divine power and glory, and yet, he did not cease to be, in his essence, God.  How that happened is a mystery.

 “He humbled himself as a slave and he took on the form of human flesh.”  He did not cease to be divine in his nature, but he took on human nature.  Again, how is a mystery.  Don’t try to explain it.  Or if you want an explanation, go read “The Definition of Chalcedon.”  I have a copy of it here, just in case you don’t have a headache and you really want one.

 “In human flesh, he was humble and obedient, even to death on a cross.”  Crucifixion, in addition to being an excruciatingly long and painful process, was also the death penalty for the lowest of people.  By Roman law, citizens could not be crucified.  Only slaves and non-citizens of the lower classes, poor peasants basically, could be crucified.  It was not just a painful death; it was a humiliating death.  Victims were crucified in the nude, hung at eye level, and placed along busy roads.

 God is known first and foremost by his actions.  If we want to know what God is like, we look at what God does.  Our God is a self-emptying, humbly serving, and dying God.  

 If someone were to ask you, “So you believe in God.  What’s he like?”  Rather than sending them to read the great creeds of faith of the Church, the Nicene Creed or the Definition of Chalcedon, you should send them here, to Philippians 2.  This is what God is like.  

 It is only because of Christ’s humility, his sacrifice, his service, that he is exalted to the highest place.  This is a repeated emphasis of the New Testament, indeed the Bible as a whole; that greatness comes through service.  Honor comes through humility.  Exaltation comes through sacrifice.  “Whoever would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God must make him or herself the least.”  

 This text should challenge our assumptions about what God is like.  And in so doing, it should also challenge our assumptions about what is “normal” for human beings.  When we look at the world around us, we see that “normal” for human beings is to be competitive, proud, greedy, self-centered, and divided.  That might be normal for the condition of humanity affected by sin, but it’s not normal for humanity as God intended us to be.  We should be humble, cooperative, self-giving, serving others, united, loving, and filled with empathy and concern for one another.  Those are the true human characteristics.  We know that because they are the characteristics of Jesus, the Son of God, the true image of God.  And we are made in the image of God.

 This text, theologically rich though it might be, is not primarily theological.  It is primarily practical.  All good theology is practical theology.  Learning what God is like should tell us how we are to behave.  This is an ethical text.  It’s more about how those who are in Christ should behave than it is about the mysteries of the Incarnation.  If we reduce it to just a theological text, then we miss the real point.  The real point is, “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.” 

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