Philippians 2: 1-13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Our reading from Philippians is one of the most familiar in all of Paul’s writings. It seems it is in fact an early Christian hymn which he has included in his letter. Soon after the resurrection of Jesus, Christians were meeting together and singing these simple moving hymns, from memory – we read about them in surviving Roman writings, singing in alternating parts.
These are beautiful words. They capture the life of Jesus in movement: first downward, emptying himself to be with us, life outpoured in teaching and acts of compassion, his humble obedience in the descent into suffering and death, then rising upward to be with God. Words which describe with hindsight the story Jesus lived in the present.
“Be of the same mind – have the same love” says Paul. How then might we do this?
Last week in the financial pages I read of an American businessman, Chuck Feeney. In the 1950’s he co-founded a company running Duty Free Shops, which spread across the world. In 1982 he decided that he would give away all his wealth and set up a foundation to distribute it. He did so secretly – in fact it was only when outed in a lawsuit many years later that it became public. The news last week was that he had achieved his goal and was now closing the foundation. In total he has given away over 8bn dollars. Now aged 89, he lives in a rented flat, owns one pair of shoes, a 10-dollar watch and no car. Bill Gates describes him as his hero. What he has done took courage – to go against his peers, becoming for some a living reproach – but according to his friend it also gave him the freedom he hoped for.
In a world where only money had any meaning, we could see Chuck Feeney’s story as a kind of self-emptying. In the real world his courage is as nothing compared to the courage of Jesus, giving of himself even unto death – a death on the cross which was so cruel it was used only for slaves and foreigners, a death described by theologian Morna Hooker as “the nadir of humiliation.”
And in the same way, the freedom of the philanthropist is as nothing compared to the eternal freedom of the risen Christ in glory.
Being of the mind and love of Christ, then, is to embrace this pattern, this story of humbling, of the outpouring of life and love, and to enter into the freedom beyond.
It is not a story of victimhood or martyred self-pity. For all that it seems to stand in contrast to so many of the supposedly good things in life which our philanthropist also walked away from, it is in fact the true “life in all its fullness.”
This pattern, this story, is woven into all of God’s creation – we see it all around us in the changing seasons. We find it also in quiet prayer, the emptying of self from noise and pride, a descent into what seems like nothingness, in search of the love and acceptance of God from whom we receive our life and being, in search of true freedom and fullness of life.
May we all embrace this pattern of life: in body, mind and spirit, and find in it our salvation.