Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Last week, Pastor Mark introduced us to this letter to the Philippians. Mark reminded us of the deep roots that Paul calls us into cultivating. Through our deep roots we can truly embrace love for one another. This is so counter cultural! In our culture, we tend to glorify busyness over anything else. We don’t have time to cultivate or plant. We don’t have time to contemplate and lead a deeply considered life. From this point, into the next chapter, Paul doesn’t get anymore main stream. After cheering the people of Philippi to go deeper in their lives, chapter two encourages us to be like Christ in humility and obedience.
If we present this correctly to the congregation and in our own lives, this should be as shocking to us as it would have been to the people of Philippi. Humility? This is NOT how the world works. If we are successful, our culture (and the culture in Philippi) tells us that we are to gain glory and fame. We are to collect people by the very fact that we are just so great. Shouldn’t we be grasping for power and control?
Paul encourages just the opposite. In fact, this grasping for power and competition is what is causing such suffering to this community. Apparently, there is division in this congregation. There is dissent about how things should be done and who should be in charge. But Paul is what we call a pastoral theologian. He redirects the conversation to how life together looks. To help us with this he includes a hymn (vs. 6-11). We aren’t sure if Paul wrote this hymn or took a famous hymn and incorporated it into this chapter. Paul brings in elements of culture to redirect the conversation. Through this hymn Paul reminds us that Christ emptied (kenosis) himself in order to serve. Christ redirected life to not one about grabbing glory but about a life of service and love. This is so counterintuitive! Usually we don’t encourage life to be about a downward spiral which is what is seen as happening when God becomes human from being deity. Usually we don’t encourage people to humble themselves in order to love and to create life together. But this is what Christ does and if we want to know the mind of Christ we are called to do the same according to Paul.
Through seeing this Christ, we then know how God calls us to act. God’s essential character (by the claim that Christ is Lord) is of self emptying love and humility rather than grasping for glory. If we strive to be more like Christ, then this is our call as well. This emptying of self will allow us as Christian community to also strive for unity and love. This is a continuance of cultivating those deep roots.
Quotes of the Week “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” ― C.S. Lewis
“These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one’s self.
To mind one’s own business.
Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one’s dignity.
To choose always the hardest.” ― Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living
Philippians 2:1-13 (Message) If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.
Questions for the Week
How do you cultivate humility in your own life?
What do you find is the hardest part about being in Christian community?