Week of Jan. 13: Eliminate selfish ambition, adopt humility to have the mind of Christ
Lesson 1: Week of January 13
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11
Background Scripture: Philippians 2:1-13
The Philippian church gave Paul great joy in the many ways they showed the love of Christ to him, but there is an underlying tone of some conflict within the family of the church. What else is new? We learn the nature of that conflict in chapter 4, where two women are named who do not agree about something. When Sam has preached on this passage, he has jokingly wondered if the conflict was about the color of the carpet in the sanctuary or what furniture to buy for the parlor! Whatever the disagreement was, the whole church was being affected (or infected!)
The Pauline way was to point to Jesus. He did this by quoting a hymn that the church knew. Like preachers do in a sermon, he uses something very familiar to hammer home a major understanding of how what we believe should guide how we live. In his introduction, he pleads on a very personal level. In his imprisonment, Paul needs encouragement. The church had already sent him a tangible gift for which this letter is his “thank you” note. But far more is at stake! Read the words: united, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, compassion! Here is the encouragement Paul seeks. You can feel the heart of Paul and his yearning for the church to practice what they preach. Then he sets the stage for what follows. Make his joy complete by having one mind, one spirit and one purpose. How? Eliminate selfish ambition, with humility count others better than yourself, and focus on the needs of others. In other words, have the mind of Christ! Or as the CEB translations reads, have “the attitude of Christ.”
Today’s lesson, verses 5-11, is the hymn the Philippians knew well. Although there were no creeds at this point in the life of the Christian church, this hymn is their understanding of the faith. Pick a good reader in your class and have them read these verses with meaning and emotion. Here is perhaps the most powerful statement ever made about who Jesus is—and what he did!
As Mike Fink writes about the words of this hymn, “Together they take the reader from some moment before the Incarnation to the very end of time when all will acknowledge Christ.” In this dramatic sweep of time, the entire cosmos is involved. Before time, Christ is! What comes next is mind-boggling. He willingly, freely, lovingly gave up that heavenly status. The Greek word is most often translated “emptied.” Visualize pouring out a bucket full of water. That act of self-giving is what Jesus did in the Incarnation. Not only did he give up his godly status and become a human being bound by space and time, he became a slave! We sometimes soften the action in using the word “servant,” but Paul used the word “slave!” How was he a slave? He was obedient unto death—even death as a common criminal on a cross. This chosen path is beyond shocking—it puts God as a man, totally subject to the whims of men.
The Church’s insistence that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human is crucial to saving faith. The Son of God became a son of man that all the sons (and daughters!) of men might become the sons (and daughters!) of God. At one and the same time, divine and human are united in one person—Jesus. Here is the basis for the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Christian doctrines were formed out of the experiences of the church, not by intellectual activity.
We sing a contemporary worship chorus, “I Will Lift Your Name on High.”
He came from heaven to earth to show the way;
From the earth to the cross, our debt to pay;
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the skies;
Lord, I lift your name on high.
In this song, the powerful message of the first century church is again expressed. From heaven to earth is the path the obedient One chose to fulfill the divine plan. In the middle of the first century hymn, there is a mighty THEREFORE! All creation and history thunder with the echo of that word. Our salvation depends upon it. Without God’s eternal approval of Jesus’ self-giving, he is just another poor, wretched soul put to death by the powers that rule the earth. But not so! His is the name above all names. His is the life that brings life to all people. His way of selfless emptying is the way, the truth and the life that opens the path to the Father—and there is no other way.
When we become disciples of Jesus we rightly call Him “savior.” But there is a second and more powerful word that defines who we are and how we choose to live. Jesus Christ is Lord. In our world we do not recognize anyone holding lordship over us. Rightly so, we believe all people are created equal. But the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated is not a democracy! If he is not the Lord of your life, your salvation will be shortchanged!
Paul concludes the passage with the injunction to the Philippian church “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” not as salvation by works, but the everyday struggle to live out the faith in your life, in your home, in your work, and in your world. The world is where our salvation is lived out “to the glory of the Father.” Too many contemporary Christians live as if confessing Jesus as savior is sufficient. We all must move to calling Him Lord, as did the Father—and one day as will the whole world!