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The Mindset of Christ – Unity in Sacrificial Love

Philippians 2 is one of my favourite passages. It is all about unity with Christ and unity with others. I think this passage has a really weighty call upon our relationship with God, highlighting the Church’s unity with Christ. Recall in the first week, how I talked about Christmas and Christ coming to earth, well Philippians 2 does not just make this point about Jesus, but also calls the Church to do something similar.

The first paragraph of the chapter is a loaded. I am struggling with the sense that I can do this passage much justice. In this chapter, the theme of the letter begins to change from Paul’s personal situation to some theological teaching and examples. The first couple sentences use some phrases that emerge out of “if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ (NIV).” These phrases are along the lines of “comfort in his love,” “sharing in the Spirit,” “tenderness and compassion,” then “like-minded,” “same love,” “one spirit and one mind.”

This first paragraph is Paul pleading with the Philippians to prioritize unity. As we discussed before, this unity will be created when the Philippians “in humility, value others as more important than yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” At this point in the chapter, Paul gives us the theological mic-drop moment of Philippians 2:6-11.

This passage is known as the “Christ Hymn (Poem).” It is unclear whether Paul composed this poem as he wrote the letter or whether this poem was already well known among the early church. Regardless, the poem is studied and discussed as an example of the earliest “Christology.” Christology is the academic term for the set of ideas about who Jesus is/was. It may not seem so obvious to our 2023 English reading, but this passage is loaded with thoughts about Jesus’ divine and human nature. Our God comes to us in our struggle and offers us grace (power/favour) to come out of that struggle. The poem is meaningful in another sense. It does not just tell us who Jesus was as God and a human, but also, tells about His motivations as God in human form. That point is meaningful because we move through this poem, we should keep something in mind: Paul is telling the Philippians (and us), “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” I highlight that because this is a second time in this passage that Paul has referenced a unity with Christ!

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be used for his own advantage, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death –

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What I find striking is that I think this would be like taking the Gospel of John and summarizing it into 19 lines of poetry. From pre-existence as God in the heavenly realm, all the way to his glorification in heaven, this is a summarized Gospel. Jesus is glorified through intentionally humbling himself. The kind of humbling that seemed blasphemous for Yahweh to do. Paul is telling us here that this is a primary character point of God: humility. God is not above serving us. God does not consider Himself too high or too amazing to come to us in our need. Unlike other theologies in the world, our God is willing to come down and enter into relationship with us. In fact, this is the whole narrative of Scripture and what God is communicating to humans for many thousands of years: “I will come to your aid.”

So how do we have this mindset? How do we “not count equality with God as something we use to our own advantage”? How do we humble ourselves? What is happening here that we can relate to and then apply? The whole poem is this exaltation of Christ’s humility as God made flesh and we’re supposed to have that mindset? Remember that we are unified with Christ and in doing so, we are unified with God. It is Jesus’ big prayer in John, that we would be one with Him as He is one with the Father. I take this discussion from Paul to mean that we are not to count our unity with Christ to be a selfish benefit. Our Christian faith is not meant to be only a personal benefit, but rather, it is a calling to love our neighbours and once again, take up our cross in serving one another and serving the world around us that struggles to know Christ.

Paul finishes off the chapter with two examples of humility and counting others’ interests before our own that would hit close to home for the Philippians. We talked about unity in suffering and love last week and I do not want to beat a dead horse, but this trend just keeps tracking. Timothy and Epaphroditus are applauded for the ways they have sacrificially cared for Paul and the Philippians. Remember, Paul described that for him “living is Christ”? Well, now, Paul has just suggested something similar with Timothy and Epaphroditus. Evidence of the Gospel in our life is that we love one another. The Gospel is not just our forgiveness, but a full-blown reunification with the God of the universe. We are to be transformed into His image, willing to put ourselves into uncomfortable situations to love other humans. We are not to count our faith adherence as something for our advantage, but empty ourselves, taking the form of the broken and hurting in the world.

What I take from a passage like this is that Jesus had a “no-holds barred” attitude toward getting relationship back with humans. I have discussed my social work background and it has made me acutely aware of the challenges facing a number of communities in our world. Metaphorically, the fact the passage says Jesus “took the form of slave” is really important. This is the lowest class of society. Think of our world. People struggling with addictions. Children in foster care. Homeless population. We could name a number of social issues and the people they affect. This is not to suggest a worldly political resolution to these issues. What I would suggest is that in unity with Christ, we would be present with these communities as the Church. Jesus did not come for those high in status with their lives put together. He came for those needing a physician, needing someone to give them grace for the challenges they’re facing in themselves and the world. He came to rekindle the relationship with people made in His image, meant to breathe His kingdom in the world. If we are His hands and feet, we should be going to the places and doing the things Jesus’ hands and feet did on earth. He came in the form of a slave. He came in the form of our fallen humanity. He came and was present in our sin and distress. This is our good God. We do not deserve Him and still He comes to be Immanuel.

A message like this is something I fail to really practice in my everyday life. I am not present in these communities. I struggle with being relatively wealthy and not knowing my role is in these issues. I hope God moves in my life to change this. Our faith is shared when His presence in us makes us present for those who need Him. We might get sick. We might follow someone to prison. We don't really know the challenges and sacrifices we might need to endure by following His voice of conviction. My hope is that we would be obedient to His Spirit to be with those that the world rejects, that they would know Christ and His community as a place where they find peace and rest.

Lord, we give the rhythms of our lives to you. Mold us and shape us to do your will in the world, to listen to your call upon us to care for those in need in our community. May we count all things as lost in order to follow you and go where you lead us. May the world know a wholistic and healthy community that can provide them with tangible evidence of your grace over them, that they may know you and glorify your name. Amen


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