Philippians 2:5-11--A Whole New Way of Being in the World
Lent is a season of transformation. As the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness, we let the Spirit take us out into the wilderness to work on us so that at Easter we have some newness in our life to celebrate. In this Lenten wilderness, we could do nothing better than meditate on Philippians 2:5-11 and let these words transform our way of living. Whether Paul actually composed these words or was simply passing on an early Christian hymn, the author points us to a whole new way of being in the world:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited
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 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.
These words challenge our usual way of thinking about life. We go into the wilderness with one culturally conditioned “mind” and Paul challenges us to adopt a mind formed by Christ. The mind we take into the wilderness is a mind shaped by a market-driven, dog-eat-dog, competitive world where the goal is to win and get ahead. The mind we take into the wilderness has been trained to crush the competition and prove that we are better than the other guy. Then comes Paul with these words just prior to this hymn: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others” (2:3-4).
Such words could easily be dismissed as the naïve ramblings of someone living in a dream world. But then Paul connects these words to the crucified and risen one: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This counterintuitive way is possible because Jesus, a human being like the rest of us, lived it. If we keep our attention focused on him, we can adopt his “mind,” and offer the world an alternative way.
Just imagine a church governed by this alternative Christ mind. Just imagine a group of Christians not driven by proving that we are better than other religions, but free to acknowledge that others are often more on track than we are. Just imagine a group of Christians not driven by their own financial security, but by a mind concerned about the overall well-being of the broader neighborhood. Just imagine a group of Christians not obsessed with American exceptionalism, but able to see the exceptional nature of all nations and peoples. Just imagine a group of Christians whose lives are conduits of God’s self-emptying love. Such a church is what the Spirit is trying to birth in the wilderness of Lent.
A church with the mind of Christ does not come into being as the result of will-power; it comes into being through the life-changing power of the Spirit of God. Our job during Lent is to open ourselves to this transformative power by focusing our attention on Christ in prayer, worship and reading and meditating on God’s Word; the Spirit will do the rest. This is what happens with great intensity during Holy Week. Starting with Palm Sunday, we spend a week contemplating the one who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” We make ourselves present to this incredible story and something shifts inside us. This is also what happens every Sunday around the Lord’s Table. We receive the broken body and the poured-out blood, and we are changed by the self-emptying love of God.