To Share the Mind of Christ
By Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Of all the churches Paul had a hand in starting, Philippi seems to have been his favorite. It was where he made his first foray into Europe. According to Luke, Paul was staying in Troas when he had a vision. Luke writes,
“There was a man of Macedonia standing, begging him, and saying,
‘Come over into Macedonia and help us.’ …
immediately we sought to go out to Macedonia,
concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Good News to them.”
It got off to a great start. On the Sabbath, he and his cohort, Silas, went looking for a place of prayer. They found a group of women gathered on the banks of a nearby river. They invited him to speak, and he told them all about Jesus and that he was the Promised Messiah of the Jewish faith. As he spoke, a woman named Lydia opened her heart to the Lord. She accepted Jesus as the Christ and asked to be baptized … and not only her, but her whole household.
Then she invited Paul and his company to stay in her home as long as they were in Philippi. It became his base of operation and, I suspect, the home of the Philippian congregation.
As a footnote: If you ever doubt the importance of women in Paul’s life and the development of the early church, think of Lydia. She’s one of many women responsible for his success.
It wasn’t long before Paul ran into trouble. Long story, short he and Silas, were accused of sedition and thrown into jail. As you might expect, it only gave God an opportunity to show his glory. Here’s what happened.
Around midnight, there came an earthquake. The prison doors broke open. Paul and Silas were set free. But instead of running for their lives, they sat tight. When the jailer found them, he realized he owed them his life. Clearly, he was dealing with a power greater than anything he’d ever known.
He cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul told him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he did. Then he invited Paul and Silas to his home where he and his whole household were baptized.
They got out of prison, but they didn’t stay long. The first seeds of faith were firmly planted. They said their goodbyes and promised to come back. In the meantime, Paul would stay in touch by letter, and that brings us to the text for today. It begins,
“If therefore there is any exhortation in Christ,
if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit,
if any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy full,
by being like-minded, having the same love,
being of one accord, of one mind …
Truth to tell, the Philippians had a problem. To paraphrase a line from The Music Man: “Oh, you’ve got trouble … and that begins with T, and that rhymes with D, and that stands for division.”
They were divided along any number of lines. They all had one thing in common: Self-interest. One wanted this, another wanted that, and another wanted something altogether different.
Paul knew they’d never reach their potential to be the Body of Christ until they overcame their division. And so, at the heart of his letter he appeals to them to be of one mind. But how?
Start by building on your strengths. Paul knows there’s some measure of exhortation in Christ among them, some consolation of love, some fellowship of the Spirit, some tender mercies and compassion. Start with what you have and build on your strengths.
It’s said that within the best of saints, there’s a vestige of sin, and within the vilest of sinners there’s a twinge of virtue. The same holds true for groups and organizations, and that includes the church.
Some congregations are more loving than others; some are more mission-minded; some are better at planning community-wide events; some are better at intercessory prayer.
Bottom line: Some have greater strengths than others; yet, every congregation has strengths to build on.
What are your strengths? One, for sure, is the way you respond to a crisis within the congregation. When there’s a tragedy or death or life-threatening illness, you’re quick to circle the wagons and offer help and strength and support.
Build on your strengths. But don’t let human nature get in the way. Paul hastens to add:
“… (do) nothing through rivalry or through conceit,
but in humility, each counting others better than himself;
each of you not just looking to his own things,
but each of you also to the things of others.”
Listen: You’ll never fulfill your mission to be the Body of Christ in the world today until you lay aside your competitive spirit and self-interest. Yet, even that’s not enough.
Paul knows that, even the best Christians with the best intentions will become divided and at odds with each other, if left to their own good will. And so, he asks them not only to be of one mind, but to look for a power greater than themselves. He writes,
“Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men.”
What is it about the mind of Christ that sets Jesus so far above the rest of us and brings us together as one?
First, there’s self-denial. Jesus didn’t strive to be on par with God. Instead, he subjected his divine power and wisdom to God’s authority and God’s will for his life.
Sound familiar? Just last week we talked Adam and Eve and how they ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they wanted to be like God. They wanted to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong. They wanted to be their own gods. As a result, they severed their relationship with God and died a spiritual death. Jesus asked his disciples,
“For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world,
and forfeit his life?…
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it;
and whoever will lose his life for my sake
and the sake of the Good News will save it.”
Jesus lived a life of self-denial. What he did, he did for others. What he said, he said for the benefit of others. Where he went, he went to help others. And when it came to the end, he didn’t fight back and try to save his own life. Rather, he subjected himself to the cruelest form of persecution and suffering and death in order to redeem us from sin.
To share the mind of Christ is to let go of your self-interest and put others first. It’s to seek what’s best for all concerned in every situation. It’s to lose yourself in pursuit of God’s kingdom and so, experience the fullness of God’s peace, joy and love.
I have a friend who used to introduce himself by saying, “I’m nobody.” We attended a big church gathering years ago in Nashville, Tennessee. A well-known evangelist was working the crowd and came up to us with a big smile and said, “Greetings, men, I’m Dr. So and So.” My friend shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m nobody.” The other man looked flummoxed and didn’t know what to say.
Well, I can tell you, my friend was anything but a nobody. The point he was making was this: There’s a big difference between self-respect and self-importance. The more you draw attention to yourself, the more others focus their attention on you, and the less they’re able to see the presence of Christ in you.
And isn’t it ironic? Jesus was anything but a celebrated figure in his day. His birth was known only to a few. His ministry lasted three years at best and was mostly confined to the Galilee. He died between two thieves. In the eyes of the world, he was a nobody.
Well, I can tell you Jesus was more than a nobody. He was the only begotten Son of God. Yet, God used him, without acclaim, to reconcile the world to himself. Little wonder Paul will go on to say that,
“… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus lived a life of surrender and self-denial. He emptied himself. He also humbled himself and bore the burdens of others. He said,
“For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In one of the most beautiful passages I know, he put a towel around his neck and took a basin of water and, one by one, he knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. Then he told them,
“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you.”
And when they got into a big argument about who was the greatest, he said,
“… he who is greatest among you will be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus’ life was a portrait of humility. It was also a model of obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was his daily mantra: “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Years ago, one of the founding members of the church I was serving lay on her death bed. She was in her nineties and still as feisty as ever, though weakening by the day. At the end of one of our visits, I offered a prayer asking God to restore her health, if possible. She looked up at me and said, “And might I add another word?” Well, what are you going to say to that? “Of course,” I said, and we bowed our heads once more. She closed her eyes and said, “… and, dear Lord, not my will, Thine be done.”
Friends, that’s the mind of Christ. And that’s how Jesus would have us live our lives, not only at the end, but in each and every moment of each and every day: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
If we’d all lived by this simple rule-of-thumb, we’d never again experience division. As importantly, as others see the unity and common purpose we share as disciples of Jesus Christ, they’ll be that much more inclined to be part of our family of faith.
Paul ends this passage with a solemn charge:
“… not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence,
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling …”
Stand on your own two feet, in other words. Don’t rest on the laurels of your forebears. Work together, looking to God for strength and hope and common purpose. Trust God to lead the way. After all, you’re hardly starting from scratch.
• You have God’s written Word translated into your own language. Read it. Study it. Let it inspire you and empower you to speak and act as children of God.
• You have the strength of community, not only those who are mature in the faith, but children whose spontaneity is always insightful and refreshing.
• You have the legacy of a Godly heritage. You stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before you and left behind this lovely sanctuary and a faithful witness of service to the community and beyond.
Work out your own salvation by sharing the mind of Christ and walking in his footsteps, day by day. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014 Philip McLarty. Used by permission.