I was transformed by today’s reading from the NT (Philippians 2:1-13). As I read it, something that I had always understood in one way was taken in a new direction. Maybe that’s because I’ve never really read this passage before.
Paul takes a super-familiar text to describe Jesus and incorporates it into his instructions for the Christian community at Philippi. Quoting an early creed or confessional statement, Paul writes,
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 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.
I remember in seminary learning that this was an important text that gave insight into the theological development of the early church—how they got from “Jesus is a really great guy” to “Jesus is God himself.” That’s a big leap, and I could write and write and write about it. I love that part of this passage. That’s where my focus has always fallen before.
But that’s not Paul’s point, and that’s what shocked me this morning. Paul isn’t explaining to us who Jesus is. The community to which he wrote likely would have already known that catchy little ditty about Jesus. For them, that wasn’t the source of the teaching. There wasn’t anything controversial about it. The real meat of Paul’s writing comes at the beginning of the quotation: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That’s the real kernel of the message.
When it comes to intracommunity relationship, Paul is calling us to have Christ-like minds. And what does that mean? It means to empty ourselves totally. Never has that been more important for the church than now.
We’re facing big changes—theologically, culturally, financially. People say this is one of those 500-year-moments (not sure I buy into that) when everything we know and value gets shaken up. Regardless of the timing behind it, things are being transformed. Battle lines are being drawn. Denominations are being torn in half. Dioceses are drawing swords. Parish are splitting. And none of that looks like what it means to have the mind of Christ.
We are called to a higher standard. Community itself is more important than being right or wrong. That kind of value judgment isn’t really supposed even to enter the equation. We are to have the mind of Christ, who lowered himself to the very basest point imaginable—total humiliation and obedience for the sake of the other. How might that instruction transform our conversation?